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Monday, January 24, 2011

Striking Before Super Bowl Would Fail

Over the weekend I saw a proposition on Facebook that originally had me rolling my eyes, then surprised at the number of people who “liked” it, and finally realizing that it definitely had me thinking.

And, yes, it was sports related. Sorry to disappoint.

ESPN’s Sean Salisbury, or someone claiming to be him, put the idea out that if the NFL players were serious about settling the labor dispute quickly they should go on strike – now. As in just under two weeks away from the Super Bowl.

A few disclaimers are in order before I continue. I found the post via a Facebook link indicating that a Facebook friend of mine had liked the status, and I cannot find it again. (That’s actually driving me nuts right now.) Salisbury appeared to get into a heated exchange with someone else commenting and disagreeing with him, though I could only find Salisbury’s responses to the commenter. Possibly this lead to the post being deleted? I don’t know.

I’m not trying to be mysterious about this, I’d like to quote the post properly. I honestly just cannot get back to it.

Also, Salisbury’s point was that striking now – I believe he suggested starting the strike on Wednesday, the first day of Super Bowl practice – would cause the owners to give in to the players demands immediately. He went out of his way in the comments section to say that he wasn’t advocating striking through the Super Bowl, insisting that it would never come to that. He also admitted that the players would never have the “balls” to do it.

Now that I’ve covered my butt, I can respond to the idea. Even if it wasn’t actually Salisbury posting, the suggestion is at least thought provoking.

The idea is an exciting one in a society that thrives on this type of would-be controversy, but has some fundamental flaws that would cause it to be a complete failure.

First of all, there was no contingency plan. The insistence that the owners would buckle, and therefore the plan wouldn’t be a threat to the Super Bowl, is stupid. The very simple question, “What if they don’t give in?” needs a better answer in such a risky maneuver than, “Trust me, they will.”

Baseball players never thought owners would forego a World Series. They did.

I realize the circumstances are different. The Super Bowl is probably even bigger to football than the World Series is to baseball in terms of finances, and the network airing the game (Fox) would go absolutely ballistic as it is the biggest day of the year for generating advertising revenue for any network.

I also get that there are already chinks in the armor of the owners. Steelers owner Dan Rooney basically blasted the idea of an 18-game schedule, reportedly a huge sticking point in negotiations with the union, on Friday. “We play enough games. You have a system that works. Why add them?” the New York Times quoted him as saying on Friday. “I don’t know the personalities,” he added. “There is maybe distrust. Maybe dislike is a better word. But that’s beyond. You have a situation like this, you’ve got to get a deal. You’ve got to forget personalities.”

But . . . what if?

If the players did strike this week, and the owners don’t buckle, the players would have lost any leverage they have going into a lockout. Plus, they would be putting all of the pressure on two teams.

As an Eagles fan, it feels like the Steelers go to the damn Super Bowl every year. And the Packers aren’t exactly new to the experience. But I’m guessing the players on those teams wouldn’t take too kindly to the idea that they just give up the chance to play in the biggest game of their lives, many doing it for the first and possibly only time, for business reasons.

I haven’t seen any polls, but so far fans don’t really seem to be taking sides. Eventually, though, if this drags into the summer and every bit of minutiae of the bickering is in our faces non-stop on ESPN, we will. We’re fans. It’s what we do.

Right now, the best argument that the players seem to have is that they are willing to play under the current agreement. Well, take away the last, biggest game of the season that even non-football fans treat like a national holiday, and see how well that argument sells.

The idea of replacement players for the Super Bowl was rightly shot down in the Facebook debate, but overall the argument that owners could just bring in replacement players seems to make sense if the players strike. I’m not a lawyer (which is probably a good thing in many ways), but I’m pretty sure owners have a much larger legal hurdle to clear for bringing in replacement players if they initiate a work stoppage. Lowering that hurdle by going on strike now would be virtual suicide for the players.

We live in a “right now” society, but some of us actually remember the ‘80s. NFL players went on strike in 1987 after starting the season. Replacement players were used within weeks. Fans started going to games and watching on television very quickly. It pretty much broke the NFL players union, until they later found success in the courts. In fact, even after the players came back, the owners made them sit out a game and let the replacements play. (Eagles fans may recall Buddy Ryan refusing to actually coach the replacements, losing all three of the replacement games, and missing the playoffs because of it.) It really wasn’t just some movie.

Ever heard of the United Football League? Ok, neither have most fans. But the league was actually on television last season. Someone watched. Someone else, stupid or not, paid to televise those games. And that was with the NFL in full swing.

The minute the owners lost the Super Bowl, the worst would be over for them. I would have to that they would be able to use replacement players again, and have plenty of time to organize rosters. The networks have already signed deals paying the league even if there aren’t any games to play.

The thought of players going for broke by striking right before the Super Bowl may have been titillating, but it wasn’t a very viable plan.

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