Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Football Fraud

-I haven't talked about pro football since the draft, but it's time to get something off my chest. The NFL pre-season is a total rip-off, a bait-and-switch game, an empty promise bordering on fraud, that is forced down the throat of football fans by the greedy owners. Wshew...I feel better. Now let me explain.

There is no reason to play four pre-season games other than to give the owners an excuse to charge full-price to their, maybe overly-loyal, fans to watch meaningless practice games. It in effect turns a 16-game season into a 20-game scam. One pre-season game after a couple of controlled scrimmages would be plenty to decide on a team's roster. But, it seems most people who have season tickets have become resigned to the fact that buying pre-season tickets is just part of the deal. You want good seats for the games that mean something?..then you pay for the four games that don't too.

What's really dumbfounding to me is that it really makes very little sense for the owners from at least one financial standpoint. These guys, and at least one gal, invest millions of dollars in their players...then send them out onto the field for pre-season "run-throughs" and often a high-priced player will suffer a season, or career-ending injury. Admittedly, the high-priced players aren't on the field very long...that's what makes these games uninteresting. But they're out there long enough to occasionally get hurt playing a very violent sport.

For example, Washington's star running back Clinton Portis dislocated a shoulder in the Redskins' game this weekend. He may be back in time for significant duty during the season, but why do they put these guys in harm's way? Many a star player has had a promising career cut short while on the field in a practice game. We all remember New England wide-receiver Daryl Stingley's horrible paralysis-inducing hit from Jack Tatum of Oakland in 1978. That occurred in a pre-season game.

Portis, speaking at a press conference Monday, immediately started a campaign to at least shorten the pre-season by a couple of games. Problem is, he's just one guy. For anything to be done about it, the players union would have to make shortening the pre-season a major bargaining issue. That won't happen as long as Gene Upshaw is running the union and continues his "buddy-buddy" relationship with the commissioner. They'd have to come up with a way to replace the money they're making in the pre-season...and I don't know how that would be done.

The smart players who have positions on their teams locked up, have already invented some sort of "nagging injury" for themselves. This, so they can semi-legitimately limit their practice and playing time in pre-season games to avoid injury or work. If you look at the NFL injury reports, you'll find that a goodly number of the highly-paid players are dealing with some mysterious ailment that limits their activity. Terrell Owens...ohGod I've written his name again...is smart enough to have invented a nagging hamstring injury that keeps him off the Dallas Cowboys practice, and playing, field, much to the annoyance of coach Bill Parcells. He's far from the only star with a made-up injury. So, there you have another reason to call pre-season games a fraud.

So, the fans don't like pre-season games. The players don't want as many. The coaches surely don't either. The television people don't mind broadcasting meaningless games...but ratings are traditionally poor. Who's left? Oh yeah, the owners. They like it for the above-stated reason. They know that fans will pay handsomely for practice event tickets, as long as they have to to get regular season tix. Make Joe Fan shell out...even if he just gives the tickets away. Borderline criminal.

But what's an NFL fan supposed to do...organize a national movement of some kind? Write his congressman? Stage protests? Maybe. But, I really haven't heard very much uproar over this collossal money grab. Have you? I guess if you have the money for NFL season tickets, you aren't all that concerned about shelling out for the pre-season. And, if you don't have the money, you're not that affected because you likely are watching games on TV anyway.

I guess it will continue as is as long as there's no uproar. But everybody should remember that it's the pretend Rams, Seahawks, Bears...etc. playing in these games. Remember that it's just a bunch of guys that are invited to put on pro-football uniforms and sacrifice their bodies for four weeks. Remember that the cost of a beer, burger, parking and a ticket are the same as when the real pros play.

I guess we just root for the uniforms these days anyway...and not the men wearing them. Right?

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