Thursday, August 26, 2004

SPORTS: Lies, statistics and BIG WHOPPERS

There is going to be a strike in the NHL this fall. Hardly profound, but tis the sad truth. During the week or two before the insanity begins, both sides will attempt to convince you and me that their side is right. A pox on their houses.

Let's talk about some points that will be whined about. The players will say business with any restraint on the free market economy is wrong. Well, sports is NOT business. As Microsoft and many others have proven, the role of most businesses is to strive towards a monopoly position. Sports teams NEED competitors. A couple of years ago, George Steinbrenner was moaning about less than a full house at Yankee Stadium where the locals were hosting the inconsequent Kansas City Royals. He used THAT as a reason for needing a new stadium. That's the equivalent of the murderer of parents asking for sympathy as an orphan. HE spent the Royals into trivial status and his fans knew it and stayed home.

Furthermore, many, many sports owners operate their sports teams as vanity businesses. Mark Cuban comes to mind, until this year. Guess all that money he used to lavish on the Dallas Mavericks is now going to go to make really bad TV.

When gigantic egos are involved, then you get inane decisions. Again, Steinbrenner was once reputedly a star. Over-hearing two scouts raving about a player of moderate ability playing for the Angels (Spike Owen), he decided to tell his GM of the week (this was before Cashman) to go get the player, offering up two million reasons why the player should jump to the Yanks. Since that almost TRIPLED the salary he was ready to accept from California, you shouldn't be surprised at the result. A new well-paid Yankee. A year later, every banjo-hitting infielder, including Toronto's Alfredo Griffin, had that contract starred and at the top of their arbitration data book. Steinbrenner's idiotic contract cost many, many clubs millions of dollars immediately. And since the Griffins of the world were worth more, than the REALLY good shortstops were worth even MORE.

And to think, arbitration was an OWNERSHIP idea!!! Yes, these titans of industry and neophyte sports owners, conjured up the WORST SINGLE IDEA in the history of sports ownership. And it wasn't just baseball. Hockey followed suit just as disastrously. All in a lame attempt to end holdouts. Take the current labour agreements of both hockey and baseball, eliminate arbitration and set restricted free agency to a certain age and then unrestricted free agency thereafter, and the sports would get healthy that much quicker.

Arbitration is impossible, with apologies to those who try each off-season. In baseball, when Baltimore gives Cal Ripken a huge contract for what he means to the local community, the value of the contract should have NO bearing on contracts to other players who don't share a similar career-long importance. Ripken, at the end, was making two-thirds of his money on his service to the organization, not what he was doing on the field of play. But that sentimentality doesn't show up in the raw numbers.

Another whining point I've heard, most recently from Chris Pronger, is that hockey players don't get unfettered free agency until age 31. He points to the earlier free agency of football players making it sound like hockey slavery that football players get unrestricted free agency as much as nine years earlier. Chris, and the rest of you who point to football and basketball--STOP using examples from games with salary caps. They all claim they can't make the big money until they're almost ready for retirement.

So what? Where is it written that a professional player must be rich beyond all belief before becoming middle-aged? They play a sport. I hope they get compensated for it. Compensated to the extent that they don't ever have to work another day in their life? Doesn't interest me a whit. Today's population will AVERAGE three careers in their lifetimes. Most everyone will change jobs about every 12-15 years, on average. Few are narcisistic enough to believe they only need to put one good decade in and park the butt permanently.

Which brings me to another plaintive whine from the players. "Well they OFFERED us the money, we didn't demand it!" That's like my mother denying me food cuz I looked forlornly hungry rather than saying, "Ma, I'm starved!" Beyond that, if anything has become obvious in the last five years, is that eating everything that comes your way is NOT HEALTHY. There's nothing wrong with leaving some behind. Those leftovers might make another meal, or feed another family. Being a pig when led to the trough isn't something to claim loudly, it's something to clam up about.

Next season, when Peyton Manning has one fewer weapons (either James or Harrison will leave as a Free Agent next summer because Manning's status as the most-highly paid player in football doesn't leave money in the kitty for both), do you think he'll wish he WASN'T the richest dude in football. One day, he'll be looking up at the roof of the Indianapolis Dome when some second-rate running back or lineman missed a block on a blitzing defender that crunched him and he'll say to himself, "I wished I'd given some of that money up for better guards!"

Some things are mysteries that need millions of man-hours to solve. Say, the long-lasting light-weight battery. Other mysteries are only mysteries to fools with an inability to look past their own nose. Ownership in ALL sports have a workbook for success. It is called the NFL. It has a cap. It doesn't hand out guaranteed contracts (although some of the bonuses are getting baseball-like silly). And it's owners share their money. Ergo, Green Bay plays with the big boys. Everybody makes the playoffs every couple of years, unless management REALLY hires a series of screwballs. In which case, they SHOULD be lost in the wilderness.

The NFL wasn't alway first. Baseball was America's game for about a century. Football built slowly, creating a fair field for all teams. Each team was guaranteed profit, LOTS of it if the team did well. THAT'S the kind of franchise that makes owners think about investing in. Football teams don't get put up for sale and last years on the market. Football teams don't declare bankruptcy. Football teams aren't threatened with folding by commisioners of their sports. Football just does things right (mostly).

The owners in hockey have to share revenue. Within a few percentage points of completely. If the NHL owners don't, hockey NHL-Style won't be played for another couple of years. A new logo will be about the only news coming out of the NHL.

Auditors are going to have to be brought in from third-party firms to determine all revenue. One of the great lies in today's sports is Rogers' Toronto Blue Jays losing 30 and 40 millions of dollars in recent years with a $50 million payroll. Of course, the Jays weren't getting much in property rights from their broadcasts given that their broadcaster were their PARENT corp. Don't even get me started on ad revenue.

Okay, enough of MY whining. Here's how we settle this thing.

The ownership revenue-sharing will be phased in over a period of three years. Let's call it 75, 88 and 95 per cent shared. There WILL be a salary cap with a salary floor. It too comes in in a three-year span, with a luxury tax the first two years while operating with a bigger cap. The tax will hurt, but not cripple, the Maple Leafs of the world. Contracts will be limited to four years, with only the first year able to be fully guaranteed. The succeeding years can only be guaranteed to 50 per cent. Players injured in play or organized team traning are fully guaranteed only one succeeding year. Career insurance is a player's issue.

Free agency is restricted for players to the age of 27. Unrestricted after that. No arbitration. Players who hold out with valid contracts in an effort to renegotiate will be fined by the NHL itself when they miss their FIRST regular season game. Such players will be barred from rewriting or otherwise altering their current agreement for the length of the contract.

The world-wide entry draft will be changed to five rounds. Each draftee will IMMEDIATELY be treated as a restricted-rights free agent. The only difference will be that the player who decides to sign elsewhere BEFORE playing with the original drafting club has enhanced compensation. In addition to the draft-pick compensation option used currently, which will be reduced in severity, the team losing the draft pick can take the indicated draft-pick package, match the offer, OR pick a player from the other team's roster, who's upcoming salary for the next season is LESS than 90 per cent of the average value of the contract the player is signing with the other team .

Oh yeah, contracts will specify a salary and that's it. No bonuses that are not team-oriented. No contract riders that end the contract prematurely. No no-trade provisions. Simple is better. The NHL contract comes into effect as soon as the player plays five games for the NHL team. The bouncing player between the NHL and the AHL team will at least get paid for the yo-yoing, as long as he dressed for at least five games.

Active rosters will be reduced by one player, hopefully each team's designated goon.

And finally we come to ticket prices. ALL ticket prices will be rolled back two percent for each month missed until there is an agreement. The players' contracts will be rolled back 1.5 per cent on the same basis. And when the game returns, teams will be limited to cost of inflation increases each year for the first three years of the agreement, and double it, thereafter, unless moving into a new arena. There ain't going to be much of THAT for the next while.


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