Paul Tagliabue has announced his retirement as the NFL Commissioner and the focus of much of the media attention at the moment is on his successor and
his legacy. That is as it should be but there is another angle to this event that bears discussion. Tagliabue presided over the NFL for 15 years or
so and there has been labor peace and constant growth in league revenues during that time. His counterpart in the NFLPA, Gene Upshaw, deserves a
large part of the credit for that situation even though it is fashionable for some folks to paint Upshaw as a 'management lackey'. He is not.
The labor situation in the NFL is set for a while - unless one of the parties to the current agreement opts to re-open negotiations two years early,
as is a provision of the extant collective bargaining agreement. Whenever the next round of negotiations begins, it could be that Gene Upshaw is the
key person in the room. Upshaw has been a player and has been through the work stoppages and the 'replacement players'. The majority of owners were
not there for those confrontations and none of the newly minted owners has any real football background other than jock-sniffing. If Upshaw is not in
the room and the NFLPA also has a representative with no experience of the confrontations of the 1980s, there is a danger that the new heads of the
negotiating parties will be ignorant of history and thereby doomed to repeat it.
The NFL is the goose that lays the golden eggs and it has been that way for a long time now. It would take a financial misfit of Forest Gump
proportion to own an NFL team and actually lose money on the deal. So neither side ought to be motivated to allow the words 'work' and 'stoppage' to
be present in the same paragraph, but if the two parties go into the room with a real ego-need to demonstrate how tough they are, the goose that lays
the golden eggs might not be killed, but it could suffer some long-term disability.
I don't want to make Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw out to be geniuses or leaders at the forefront of management/labor negotiations. They are not.
But they have found a way to work together for the betterment of the parties they represent and in so doing for the fans too. Tagliabue's retirement
might toss some sand into the gears here; if Upshaw retires too, this situation bears close watching...
The other big story of the moment is the confrontation between the Washington Nationals and Alfonso Soriano over where Soriano will and will not play
on the field. As usual, everyone seems to be rushing in to figure out who is to blame for this mess. And as is always the case, there is plenty of
blame to go around; the exercise of 'assigning blame' is sort of fun for the person doing the assigning but really doesn't amount to much of anything.
I have no idea how this will all sort itself out but let me say here and now that Alfonso Soriano and the Washington Nationals do not have a long
future together. In fact, I would not be shocked to see the Nats trade him away - at a bargain basement price - within the next several weeks just to
put this whole mess in their collective rear view mirrors. I just read that the Mets' second baseman is hurt. Hmmm...
Here is how you can determine if the Nats are the targets of the baseball gods' wrath/ire/whimsy this season. Assume they trade away Soriano and get
nothing much in return because he will not play left field. Then four days later, their second baseman, Jose Vidro goes down with a season ending
injury. Even Peter Angelos working on his 'Nats voodoo doll' wouldn’t do anything that cruel.
Let me talk for a moment about NBA teams and their salary structures. Of course, any such discussion has to start with the NY Knicks. My paper this
morning says that the Knicks have a record of 19-47 and that makes them a half game worse than the Portland Trailblazers and one game better than the
Charlotte Bobcats. Hey, someone has to have the second worst record in the league. The problem is what the Knicks are paying to attain that record.
Their payroll for 2005/06 is $123.5M. Ladies and gentlemen, that is a whole lot of money poured down a rat hole! As a yardstick, the Knicks payroll
for 18 players exceeds the NY Jets' payroll for 60 players.
And it doesn't get a whole lot better for the Knicks in the next two years; they are currently committed to a payroll of $125.4M next year and in
excess of $64M for the two years after that. The dysfunctional back-court tandem of Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury will get - notice I did not say
'earn' - $33.2M next year while Allen Houston pockets $20.7M for staying home. It's not worth the time to assign blame to all this, but the situation
is a royal mess.
Meanwhile, look at the Philadelphia 76ers. They are saddled with the contracts of Allen Iverson and Chris Webber. These guys pull down $35.5M this
year and $38.9M next year and then $42.4M in 2007/08. That assures no salary cap wiggle room and these two players are capable of getting a team in
or near the playoffs and nothing more than that. Webber's contract is up in 2008; Iverson's runs through 2009. And at a smaller number but still
burdensome is the contract for Samuel Dalembert, which runs through 2010/11 and tops out at $12.2M per year. There are lots of empty seats in the
Wachovia Center this season; there will be even more next year and the year after that.
Next, look at the Golden State Warriors. The good news is that they are only five games behind the team in the eighth and final playoff spot at the
moment. The bad news is they aren't going to make the playoffs and they have locked themselves into a series of long-term contracts that look
bloated. Baron Davis is a good but not great player who seems always to be injured; he is signed through 2008/09 and his contract will top out over
$17M per year. Ouch. Troy Murphy is a better than average player and he is signed through 2010/11 and tops out at $12M. Adonal Foyle is a mediocre
center and he is signed 2008/09 and tops out at $9.75M. Jason Richardson is the only player signed to a long-term deal who might actually be worth
having around when his contract ends in 2010/11.
Finally, here is an observation from Brad Rock in the Deseret Morning News:
'George Mason is in the Sweet 16, which is good news in Fairfax VA.
'That makes GMU the sixth most famous Mason around, right behind Perry, Jackie, Pamela, Tommy, and the home canning jars by the same name.'
But don't get me wrong, I love sports... ... ...