From Super Bowl to super mess

Posted: February 05, 2011

DALLAS - Roger Goodell looks at the icy roads, closed Dallas-Fort Worth airport, and deserted streets and restaurants and sees a smashingly successful Super Bowl.

The NFL commissioner says he wants to see a "success story" in Michael Vick, so he doesn't look too closely at Vick's role in promoting a party at a Dallas nightclub Friday night.

Goodell is capable of boasting about the "most-watched NFL season ever" one minute, then lamenting that "the economics aren't working" for billionaire owners and justifying laid-off team employees the next.

The reality is that this Super Bowl week has been a bust. People were seriously injured by ice falling from Cowboys Stadium. Fans are having trouble getting into town and even more trouble getting around once they do. The game will be played Sunday come hail or frozen water, and then the countdown will begin to a labor war Goodell and NFL owners have been planning for two years.

So his annual pre-Super Bowl news conference Friday morning felt a little like Nero's upbeat State of Rome address. The fires were no big deal, he expected them to be brought under control shortly, and wouldn't everyone enjoy a little fiddle music?

Here's the main problem. If Goodell is willing to stand in front of us and paint a pretty picture of the mess we can all see around the flash-frozen Metroplex, how do we trust what he says about the things we can't see for ourselves? Once you demonstrate your willingness and eagerness to ignore the truth, people tend to suspect you're lying the rest of the time, too.

After three days of listening to Goodell, his chief negotiator, and the NFL Players Association discuss the challenge of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, a hazy picture emerges. The owners have realized there is potential for vast increases in revenue over the next decade or so, and they simply can't bear the idea of the players getting the percentage called for by the 2006 CBA. That is at the heart of this thing.

In their posturing, the two sides have created at least one interesting conundrum. Goodell and the owners have pushed hard for expanding the regular season from 16 games to 18. Part of their campaign is to trash the value of preseason games, which would be cut from four to two. These are the same games NFL owners have forced season-ticket holders to pay full price for over the last 20 years or so.

So what happens if the union holds the line and refuses to accept the 18-game season? It is going to be impossible for the league to go back to pretending the preseason games are anything more than consumer fraud, but they'll have to. They're not going to give up the revenue.

The union has a similar problem. Executive director DeMaurice Smith denounced "any change in the season that increases the risk of injury, increases the risk of concussion, increases the risk of a long-term consequence from playing football [that would] shorten careers."

So how does Smith agree to an 18-game season without admitting he used the players' health and well-being as a bargaining chip?

Such is the danger of all this public rhetoric. The union says it cares most about the fans and just wants to play. The league says it cares most about the fans and just wants a fair deal. Meanwhile, the fans are already sick of hearing about the whole thing. It's impossible to enjoy even a standard sports conversation about the Eagles - Should they trade Kevin Kolb? Go after Nnamdi Asomugha? - without adding the obligatory disclaimer:

"That is, if there is a season this year."

If you're tired of the rhetoric now, just wait until March 3, when the current CBA is scheduled to expire. If there is a lockout, if the union responds by decertifying and using the courts to fight back, if there are no minicamps and more club employees lose their jobs, if there is another round of posturing as training camps are jeopardized - well, this is a litany of misery that would be utterly impossible for Goodell or anyone else to justify.

Now that you're cheered up, the good news: This thing just might get done without a single shot being fired.

Jeff Pash, the NFL's lead negotiator, said Friday that there is a significant difference between the tone of the public rhetoric and what goes on in the actual negotiating sessions.

"This is a business negotiation," Pash said. "I don't even see it as a business dispute. It's a negotiation."

The two sides were scheduled to meet Saturday and again next week. They have a month to figure this thing out and avoid a colossally stupid and self-destructive labor war.

Until then, maybe someone could have arranged to have some rock salt shipped to North Texas.


Follow columnist Phil Sheridan on Twitter: @SheridanScribe. Read his blog at http:// go.philly.com/philabuster or his recent columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan

 

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