Something’s Rotten in the State of Football

I live in what is locally known as SEC country.  No, I’m not referring to the Securities and Exchange Commission.  In these parts, SEC is synonymous with the Southeastern Conference.  And as any true sports fan can tell you, the SEC means college football.
Alabama-Stadium
Arguably, in recent years the SEC has been the most dominant NCAA college football conference in the country.  An SEC team has won the NCAA football championship every year since 2006 and the odds on preseason favorite to win the 2013 title for the third consecutive year is the Crimson Tide of the University of Alabama.

I would consider saying “Roll Tide! ” at this point, but my personal college sports allegiances actually reside within the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Perennially, the college footballTop Ten lists, such as the AP and Coaches polls, are dominated by SEC teams.  At the moment, five SEC teams are listed in a 2013 preseason composite listing of the top 10 college football teams.

Regrettably, there’s another less well known listing which is filled with the names of athletes who play football for SEC schools; presumably institutions of higher learning.  That would be a listing of those individuals who have been arrested on charges ranging from misdemeanors to felonies.
handcuffs
At the moment, the Universities of Alabama and Florida (both SEC schools) lead the nation with arrests of athletes who play football for their school’s teams.  Both Alabama and Florida have had five current players arrested during the period January through June 2013.  The University of Kentucky comes in a close second with four players running afoul of the law during the same period.  The University of Georgia and Texas A&M have each placed three players in the pokie so far this year.  I won’t belabor the point by listing those SEC schools which have had only one or two players charged.

In total, between January and June 2013, there have been 25 Southeastern Conference football players arrested on a variety of charges.

Now before you think I’m picking on the SEC, this is a problem which is plaguing college football regardless of the conference in which teams play.  So far this year, there have been a total of 76 arrests made involving college football players across the country.  In 2012, 264 college football players were arrested; in 2011 there were 226 players arrested, with 88 such arrests being made in 2010.

Equally alarming are the numbers of college basketball players being arrested each year.  Year to date in 2013, 38 college hoops players have been taken into custody for one thing or another.  In 2012, the number charged was 74.

Given the fact that the number of players on a college basketball team is a mere fraction of those found on a football roster, the arrest percentage found among college basketball players may actually dwarf that of their football playing classmates.  I just don’t have the time nor the inclination to do the necessary analysis.

So where am I going with all of these arrest statistics?  No where in particular, other than wondering aloud if this trend is the direct result of the “win at all costs” attitude which predominates these days in college sports; particularly within the big conferences such as the SEC, the Big Ten, and the PAC 12.

After all when coaches, who have posted winning records for multiple seasons and are 9-2 during the current season, feel that they’re in jeopardy of losing their jobs – it just seems to me that there’s something badly out of balance.  Is it any wonder that they recruit and play anyone, regardless of past or present behavioral issues, who they believe can help their team win?

Here’s to simpler times.

Rickety Rack, Rickety Rack – Go State!

OM

Arrest statistics available at: arrestnation.com
Photo credit: sunsurfr Foter CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: The.Comedian / Foter / CC BY-NC

 

 

Which Way Will the Pigskin Bounce?

Whether or not you consider yourself a football fan, and without a doubt you should be, there is at least one very compelling playoff game that should be well worth viewing this coming Sunday afternoon.
Seattle-Seahawks-LogoRedskins
Twelve months ago, the Seattle Seahawks were finishing up a disappointing 7-9 season, while the Washington Redskins ended 2011 with a, dare I say it, dismal 5-11 record.  With seasons like those, it came as no surprise that neither team qualified for the 2011 post-season playoffs.  And at the time, not many expected that to change any time soon.

What a difference a year makes; not to mention having an early pick in the NFL draft!   Fast forward to 2012 and we find that Seattle will be bringing it’s 11-5 record to FedEx Field in the nation’s capitol for their Wildcard Weekend clash with the NFC East champion Redskins who finished 2012 at 10-6.  Kick off is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. EST.  Make a note of that and put it on your refrigerator door.

Both teams have experienced a significant resurgence in their pigskin fortunes this season.  One of the more popular explanations for the turn around which both organizations have enjoyed begins and ends with their team’s brand new rookie quarterbacks; the Seahawks’ sometimes diminutive, sometimes gigantic Russell Wilson and Washington’s Robert Griffin III, aka RGIII.
media-frenzy
It’s true that it’s virtually impossible for a team to excel in the NFL without quality talent at the quarterback position, but I would like to think that in its frenzy to cover Wilson and Griffin, the media will attempt to find some time to focus a little attention on the contributions made by those often overlooked guys who play in the other 21 positions; and I’m not even including the kickers!  As glamorous as a quarterback can be, it’s extremely difficult for him to win that many games without those other guys showing up and playing their positions well.

In any event, I’ll be intently watching game on Sunday to see which of these two teams will progress to Week 2 of the playoffs and a showdown with my hometown Atlanta Falcons.  Did I mention that the Falcons have the best record in the NFL at 13-3?
Falcons fan
The really big question in my mind is which Falcon team will be showing up for that game.  The championship quality team which earlier this season shut out the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants, or that bunch of bumbling, no-tackling, smack-talkers who lost to both the hapless Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  If the Falcons fail to win and don’t progress to the NFC Championship game, the media backlash against Atlanta’s sports reputation will rival the coverage given the December 21st Mayan Apocalypse. None of us want to see that repeated.

I dare not say more for fear of provoking the football gods and drawing their attention any more than necessary.

I Think I’m Finally Getting the Hang of This Thing

I’m a sports fan.  Frankly I enjoy just about every sport you can name; from baseball to football, basketball to golf, lacrosse to tennis.  I even follow the English Premier League (soccer) and that’s saying something for an American southern boy!

When the fantasy sports craze began to take off a few years ago, I decided that I’d give it a whirl to see what it was all about.  In hindsight, it was probably a mistake for me to pick major league baseball for my first foray into the complex world of fantasy sports.

I quickly discovered that I wasn’t ready to make the commitment in terms of time and research which is necessary to effectively manage a fantasy team in a sport with a 162 game season.

So I went into fantasy sports dormancy for a number of years.

That is until a couple of weeks before the kick-off of this year’s NFL season.  I was watching something on ESPN when, during a commercial break, I saw an advertisement for NFL.com’s Fantasy Football leagues.

Hmm? I thought to myself, surely I can commit to managing a fantasy team for the NFL’s 16 game season (not counting the playoffs)!

Just to be on the safe side, I chose the easy, low-impact option by joining a league that featured an automated draft.  This allowed me to put my toe into the water without having to do any of the lengthy preparation required to effectively participate in a live player draft.

Yeah, I took the easy way out, no doubt about it.

I was pleasantly surprised at the team which the NFL robot drafted for me.  At quarterback I ended up with the Patriot’s Tom Brady and Eli Manning of the Giants. Between them, they owned five Super Bowl rings.

I was beginning to think that this might be fun!

After a very slow start, I went 0-3 for the first three weeks of the season, I’m starting to understand how to pick up players on waivers and in the process slough off some of the deadwood residing on my roster.  Once I found the NFL.com Fantasy app for my iPhone, I really became active on the waiver wire and have managed to strengthen my line up significantly.

Now 5 weeks into the season, my team is 2-3 and my fantasy point totals each week are starting to climb into the respectable range.

I’m also finding that my interest in each week’s games has increased.  I’m watching games on Sunday with the television remote in one hand and my iPhone in the other so I can keep up with my how players are doing in real-time.

Am I going to win my league? Probably not.  But I’m starting to think that I’ll be doing this again next season and might even conduct my own draft.

Have I fallen victim to NFL.com’s cleaver ruse to utilize fantasy leagues as a means of increasing interest in their product?

Absolutely!

A Momentary or Complete Loss of Perspective?

I’m as big a football fan as the next guy, but I’m having a very difficult time generating any real empathy for the position of the “regular” NFL officials who are still essentially out on strike.

I’m all in favor of people being properly compensated for their work, but I also believe that the free market economy should have a significant role in establishing what is a fair and equitable rate of compensation for any job.

NOTE: I’m going to leave out post-season play for the purposes of the following comparisons.

Do you know what NFL officials earn now?  Under the current agreement, NFL officials earn an average salary of $149,000 per year.  This is for a season that runs from August until December; a 5 month work year.  NFL officials are, and always have been, considered to be part-time employees.  By the way, a brand new first-year NFL official earns $78,000 per year.

For comparison purposes, Major League Baseball umpires earn an average of $200-300,000 per year.  Now before you scream “foul” in favor of the downtrodden NFL referees, let’s remember that the MLB umpire work year stretches from March (spring training) through October, 8 months.  The MLB umpires are also considered full-time, professional employees.

So let’s compare.  A part-time job which pays $149,000 per year versus a full-time job which pays $200-300,000 per year.  That sounds like a fair balance, particularly considering that in the case of both positions, the league in question pays all of their travel and hotel expenses.

How many of you who are reading this would turn down a part-time job paying $149,000 per year?

Another sticking point in the current negotiations between the NFL and the officials is the league’s desire to eliminate the current NFL official’s pension and replace it with a 401k plan.  I have to ask, what other part-time job comes complete with a pension plan in the first place?  The NFL’s position is that most corporations are doing the exact same thing for their employees.  In fact, Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, is not covered by a pension plan.

The officials are apparently okay with this proposal in principle, but in practice they want the NFL to fund their individual 401k plans to the tune of  approximately $38,000 per year.

$38,000 per year.  Did you know that $38,000 per year is more than the current annual median income in the United States?  I worked in the corporate world for over 30 years and I can assure you that I never received a 401k matching contribution anywhere close to $38,000 from my employer.

So where are we?  $149,000 per year annual salary, a part-time job with a 5 month work year, all travel expenses covered, and the company wants to kick in a 401k plan.

I have to tell you; that’s sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.  And I’m sure it does to the hundreds of thousands of folks across this country who currently find themselves under- and unemployed.

My advice to the NFL officials who continue to hold out for more:  Either get back to work or tender your resignations so somebody else can take your place.

Time to get on with it, gentlemen.

Right Down There with Used Car Salesmen and Congress

Such is the plight of the NFL’s replacement officials!

I was watching Monday Night Football last night.  The Atlanta Falcons were hosting the Denver Broncos.  As much as I would have liked to have been focused on the athleticism of the players, the play calling of the coaches, and the ebb and flow of the game; my attention was constantly being drawn to the performance of the replacement officials.  I wonder how the average football fan would rate the performance of the replacements through the first two weeks of the regular season?  Probably not very highly.

I have a real sense of empathy for these guys.  Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be walking in their shoes.  No matter which way they turn, they find themselves in an undeniably difficult,”Lose-Lose” situation.

“Say what?”

They know that regardless of how well they perform their jobs, they will shortly no longer be officiating NFL games.  They know that the NFL coaches and players relate to them as students often relate to substitute teachers, figuring out just how much they can get away with – and then pushing for just a little more.  They know that given their own inexperience, every call they make will likely be challenged and open to ridicule.

Is it any wonder that they sometimes take a bit too long in throwing a penalty flag and then sometimes take inordinately long periods of time in deciding what to do next?

On average, it takes 3 hours to play a typical NFL game.  It took just under an hour to complete the first quarter of last night’s Broncos at Falcons game.  At one point, I was considering the possibility of going on to bed and getting up this morning in time to catch the 4th quarter.  Fortunately, the pace picked up in subsequent quarters, but it still took 3 hours and 20 minutes to complete play.

Now I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the regular officials who are holding out for a better deal, which of course means more money from the NFL.  After all, they earn an average salary of $148,000 per year for a part-time job and that sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

But I do think that it’s time for the NFL to cut to the chase and come to an agreement that gets the experienced officials back on the field; and the quicker the better.  For years, I’ve thought that it would be in the best interests of the NFL to have full-time, professional officials – but at this point, that’s a story for another day.

That said, I also think it’s time to cut the replacement officials a little slack.  If they weren’t out there on the field, would there even be an NFL season right now?  I hope that they’re being well compensated and, after the dust settles, will be able to look back on this experience with a least a little bit of a smile.