SI.com thought the lack of trust between league and players didn't bode well.
The players didn’t trust the owners when they said revenue structuring was required for the health of the league. The owners didn’t trust the players enough to open the books and prove it to them. Now the fans don’t trust either the owners or the players. The owners don’t even trust each other . . . now, Commissioner Goodell has sent a letter to every NFL player, trying to erode their trust in each other.
But that’s not what I want to talk about. Even though I’m late to the party on this, it’s worth bringing up again: the NFL’s competition committee ruled that there will be no Calvin Johnson rule; they will not review the language that describes what is and isn’t a catch in the end zone. Though the way the Going-to-Ground rule was applied and interpreted flatly contradicts the text and intention of the rule, and Calvin’s game-winning catch clearly passed Brad Childress’s “50 drunks in a bar” standard, the NFL is just fine with the rule as-is—though they might scribble in some of Mike Pereira’s made-up language to make it look good.
The CBA, the lockout, the union, the owners . . . we can forgive all that. $40 parking, $8 beer, $4 bottles of water you can’t have the cap of, so your kid immediately spills it everywhere . . . we can forgive that, too. Paying hundreds of dollars a year for NFL Sunday Ticket, two minutes of ads before and after every kick and punt? We can probably even forgive that, too . . . just don’t mess with the game.
The NFL is a professional football league. We pay to watch football be played at its highest level. The best players, the best coaches, the best officials, the best stadiums, that’s what we want to see, week in and week out. Unfortunately, the NFL no longer thinks of itself as a sport, but as a television product. What did Roger Goodell have to say about this year’s Super Bowl? He called it “the most-watched show in television history.” Not event, “show.” Meanwhile, hundreds of fans paid astronomical prices for legitimate tickets that didn’t correspond to actual seats.
It’s undeniable: the league now considers itself a television product first, a spectator sport second—and who can blame them? The NFL’s ratings, time slot, and demographics bring in unprecedented truckloads of carrier and advertiser revenue. It doesn’t matter whether the outcome is fair, as long as you keep watching.
The NFL is a long way from MTV Celebrity Deathmatch, or even the WWE. I’ve never believed the NFL is “rigged,” or that predetermined outcomes would even be possible in an NFL game with 90 active players, 30+ coaches and assistants, and seven on-field officials. However, rulings like this pull the game closer and closer to “Sports Entertainment:”
Sports entertainment is a type of spectacle which presents an ostensibly competitive event using a high level of theatrical flourish and extravagant presentation, with the purpose of entertaining an audience.
Throughout my lifetime, every time the NFL has changed a rule, it’s made the game better. Instant replay is a great example: the NFL was first to adopt it, and first to decide that unlimited replay dragged too much on the game. They abolished it, then brought it back in limited form when the technology allowed it to be fast. They’ve continued to fine-tune it throughout the years, constantly balancing the need to get calls right with the cost of interrupting the flow of the game. Even when I’ve disagreed with the NFL’s individual decisions on replay, I’ve always understood their thinking, and applauded their efforts.
I have no idea what they’re thinking now. You won’t find any observer of football that believes Calvin Johnson didn’t really catch that ball, or didn’t really score a touchdown—just those who’ll point at the NFL’s rules, and nonsensical interpretation of them. Clearly, defining a catch five different ways (in bounds, at a boundary, non-scoring/scoring, going to ground) has dumped muddy gray paint all over the rulebook; that the Competition Committee looks at it and sees a “bright line” makes me wonder what their motivation could possibly be.
When you combine it all with the CBA, the lockout, the $40 parking, the $8 beer, the $4 bottles of water you can’t have the cap of, so your kid immediately spills it everywhere, the hundreds of dollars a year for NFL Sunday Ticket, and the two minutes of ads before and after every kick and punt, it makes me not trust the NFL.