Cooney: Has the NFL reached saturation point?
By Frank Cooney
It is suddenly time for that query we should forever link to Hank Jr. — Are you ready for some football?
Well, you darn well better be because next week pro football returns — assuming it ever left — as 31 NFL teams begin the first of four consecutive weeks with at least three days of workouts called OTAs (organized team activities) or minicamps of some sort.
But there is nothing mini about the NFL as it pushes and blurs the boundaries among in-season, off-season and now we have the elongated draft season, which apparently will become an annual traveling side show.
Indeed, Barnum and Bailey would be proud of the NFL’s perpetual three-ring circus. With its own television network as a 24/7/365 barker, the NFL is both creating and feeding a frenzy that may exhaust even the most ardent fan by September 4 —the date that real, in-season games actually begin.
Throw in numerous new rules that are changing the game as we know it — in the politically, socially and legally-correct name of safety — along with law suits by former participants that would bankrupt small countries and, we really must ask ...
Can the NFL survive this all-out blitz?
The reflex answer is, of course, absolutely. After all, this is the NFL, smartly differentiated by former Oakland Raider defensive lineman and current FOX analyst Howie Long in his Hall of Fame induction speech, when he said: “Baseball is America’s past time, but football is America’s passion.”
But as a mature adult can see by watching, or remembering, the actions of a teen, passion is not necessarily forever. It is sometimes fickle.
The NFL was born with vigor and innocence in 1920; became a part of America’s consciousness behind the presence, prescience and person that was Commissioner Pete Rozelle (1960-1989); grew almost exponentially behind the bartering of barrister/Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (1980-2006) and, under the guidance of current Commissioner Roger Goodell, is in a constant struggle to support the significant weight foisted on itself by deeds and expectations past, current and oncoming.
The NFL not only reflects the social, political and legal struggles of this country, it magnifies them by the mere act of being, well, the NFL.
It is a burden the league, and Goodell, must embrace. The question is, should the NFL continue to push forward in a manner reflected by that old John Maddenism: “Forget the horse is blind, load the wagon?”
Or should the league take stock and get its house together in a way to assure a stronger future?
There are many who believe the league already is near a point of implosion.
Hank’s “Are Your Ready For Some Football” first opened the Monday Night Football shows in 1989. By the time he was released in 2011 (for inappropriate social, political comments), the league already expanded to Thursday, Saturday and Sunday Night Football, an ongoing series that many believe not only is a hardship on players, but devalues itself.
Now the league is discussing Wednesday games, an overseas team, expanding the playoffs with an eye towards expanding, well, everything it can. More of anything equals more money. Or it does for as long as the fans buy into it.
Mark Cuban, outspoken and controversial owner of the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA, predicts that if the NFL continues on its current course that it will fall off the cliff in about 10 years.
“When pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered,” Cuban said, talking about the NFL recently. “And they’re getting hoggy. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I’m just telling you, when you got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns against you.
“They’re trying to take over every night of TV. And initially, it’ll be the biggest rating thing there is. Then, if they get Saturday, now they’re impacting college. And then if they go to Wednesday, at some point, people get sick of it.”
And Cuban, who has public relations issues of his own to address these days, is not a lone gunman taking pot-shots from afar at the NFL.
Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman is concerned.
“At one time, watching football was an event,” said Aikman, now the lead NFL analyst for FOX. “Monday Night Football was a big event. Now you get football Sunday, you get it Monday, you get it Thursday and, late in the year, you get it on Saturday.
“People in Los Angeles realized, ‘You know what, life’s OK without the NFL.’ If I’m an owner, I don’t want any fan thinking that.”
Aikman says he doesn’t have any real data to support his concern, especially after the league is coming off a record year on many monetary levels.
“I believe, and this is my opinion, that at some point football is not going to be the No. 1 sport,” Aikman said. “You talk about the ebbs and flows of what’s popular and what’s not. At some point, the TV ratings are not going to be there. I can’t justify that because the numbers say otherwise, but I guess time will tell.”
Meantime, for those who are ready for some football, here is how the NFL’s 2014 calendar is presented by one of its own on the Buffalobills.com
“Mark these dates on your calendar for the 2014 NFL season.
“There is no off-season. Not for players. Not for coaches. Not for fans. Those three, short months from the end of the Super Bowl until the Draft — that’s when we know the hard work gets done. That’s when our teams are re-born, futures defined and championships built. We are never in off-season mode. We are on the clock.”
The remaining schedule:
n OTA (Organized Team Activity) or minicamps on the weeks of May 26, June2, June 9, June 16 (check local team schedules).
n June 2 — Deadline for Prior Club to send “June 1 Tender” to its unsigned Unrestricted Free Agents. If the player has not signed a Player Contract with a Club by July 22 or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later, he may negotiate or sign a Player Contract from that date until the Tuesday following the 10th weekend of the regular season, at 4:00 p.m., New York time, only with his Prior Club.
n June 2 — Deadline for Prior Club to send “June 1 Tender” to its unsigned Restricted Free Agents who received a Qualifying Offer for a Right of First Refusal Only in order for such player to be subject to the CBA’s “June 15 Tender” provision.
n June 16 — Deadline for club to withdraw Qualifying Offer to Restricted Free Agents and still retain exclusive negotiating rights by substituting “June 15 Tender” of one-year contract at 110 percent of the player’s prior-year Paragraph 5 Salary (with all other terms of his prior-year contract carried forward unchanged).
n June 22-28 — Rookie Symposium, Aurora, Ohio.
n July 15 — At 4:00 p.m., New York time, deadline for any Club that designated a Franchise Player to sign such player to a multi-year contract or extension. After this date, the player may sign only a one-year contract with his Prior Club for the 2014 season, and such contract cannot be extended until after the Club’s last regular season game.
n Mid-July — Clubs are permitted to open preseason training camp for Rookies and First-Year Players beginning seven days prior to the club’s earliest permissible mandatory reporting date for veteran players.
Veteran players (defined as a player with at least one pension-credited season) other than quarterbacks or “injured players” (as defined in CBA Article 21, Section 6) may report to a club’s preseason training camp no earlier than 15 days prior to the club’s first scheduled preseason game or July 15, whichever is later.
Veteran quarterbacks and injured players may be required to report to the club’s preseason training camp no earlier than five days immediately prior to the mandatory reporting date for all other veteran players, provided the club has already opened (or simultaneously opens) its official preseason training camp for all Rookies and First-Year players.
A three-day acclimation period will apply to players who are on a club’s roster up to and including the mandatory veteran reporting date. Players who join the roster after that date may practice (including wearing pads) and play immediately after passing a physical.
n July 22 — Signing Period ends for Unrestricted Free Agents to whom a “June 1 Tender” was made by Prior Club. After this date and until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the Tuesday following the 10th weekend of the regular season, Prior Club has exclusive negotiating rights. (* or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later.)
n July 22 — Signing Period ends for Transition Players with outstanding tenders. After this date and until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the Tuesday following the 10th weekend of the regular season, Prior Club has exclusive negotiating rights.
Training camps begin.
n September 4, 7-8 — Kickoff Weekend 2014
Well are ya? Ready?
Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, covered the NFL and the draft since the 1960s and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.