Editorial: Salary cap is good for NFL fans

Published 8:36 am Monday, March 8, 2010

Let’s hope that the NFL owners and players can work together for the betterment of their league. It seems they are on the verge of two horrible possibilities: work stoppage or only rich teams win.

Of all the major sports leagues, the NFL has the largest following by far. What makes the NFL more interesting to watch than other sports leagues is that all teams have a fair shot at winning regardless of their market size. Green Bay competes on par with New York. Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers have much more reason to believe their team can win the big one than fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Fans of NFL teams also seem drawn to watch other teams (not just look up standings) all through the season because of the any-given-Sunday possibility. Baseball, basketball and hockey wish they had as many fans who follow the league as a whole to the same degree. Why? Many leagues operates like each team is a fiefdom; football operates as a league.

But at midnight Friday, the NFL and the Players Union couldn’t reach a contract agreement and now enter the final year of their existing contract. The final year has no salary cap, a key instrument that levels the playing field among teams. One season without it probably won’t harm the league, but if it is allowed to continue over two, three, four or all seasons, the result will be that big-stadium, big-market teams will tend to win more than the others because, like the hated New York Yankees in baseball, they can buy the best players. The salary cap, in turn, has a salary floor, which ends up preventing small-market teams from slashing their rosters. Players and fans don’t like that. Yes, the salary floor is gone this season, too.

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Further, here is why a lockout could occur: In contract talks, the owners say the players are taking too big of a cut of the revenue. The players ask the owners to open their books and let them see what they claim. Owners say no. Players estimate their own figures. Owners dispute those figures. Players also don’t like some of the existing free-agent rules. There is a heap of bitter feelings. And the whole thing is just a mess.

So with March 4, 2011, being the start of the next year for how the NFL structures its calendar, that is when a lockout would start. The owners, players, league leaders all say they do not want that to happen, but they sure seem to be stepping ever closer to it.

Let’s hope they don’t end up ruining the most fan-oriented league of the major sports leagues.