The discovery of several scheduling anomalies leaves only one conclusion: the league is bracing for the possibility of the labor dispute lasting into the regular season.
Apparently, those of us at Viking Update
weren't the only ones that looked skeptically upon the 2011 NFL schedule when it was released earlier this week. At the time, we thought it was strange that the bye weeks were scheduled to begin a week earlier than normal and that, for an inexplicable reason, there were no bye weeks in Week 10.
The biggest question when it has come to the NFL planning for a season that may not start on time is how do you reduce the number of games without creating a disadvantaged playing field? One theory has arisen that makes too much sense because it makes no sense.
Since the NFL and AFL merged in 1970, there has never been a single week in which there were no divisional games played. It would seem that the likelihood of that streak extending beyond three or four years is very likely, much less a 40-year drought, since prime-time games often pit division rivals against one another. However, in 2011, there is a perceptible gap – almost as pronounced as a couple of missing teeth up front.
Built into the 2011 schedule are two weeks (Weeks 2 and 4) that don't include any divisional games, ESPN's Adam Shefter noticed. If forced to make a change to reduce the schedule from, say, 16 down to 14 games, by eliminating games in Weeks 2 and 4.
Not convinced? Consider the statistical probability of the following scenario. All 16 teams that are at home in Week 2 games (New Orleans, Detroit, the Jets, Buffalo, Washington, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Carolina, Minnesota, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Miami, New England, Denver, Atlanta and the New York Giants) are on the road in Week 4 and the 16 teams that are on the road in Week 2 are at home in Week 4.
The smoking gun in this scenario comes with the Jets and Giants. Since they both share the same stadium, they would be the potential sticking point for a pre-planned scheduling scenario. How could the schedule-makers get past that? Give the Giants a home Monday night game in Week 2, while the Jets play at home on Sunday – no owner would lose the revenue of more than one game under this scenario.
Is it possible that the league scheduled two weeks in which there were no division games early enough in the season so that, if the current labor impasse extends into the regular season and changes are needed on the fly, they could "conveniently" be eliminated? Sure, it's possible – even though it has never happened in the modern era of the NFL and is scheduled to happen twice in three weeks in the first month of the regular season. But, the odds that, under a 14-game scenario in which two weeks are eliminated, all 32 teams would have seven home and seven road games? If that wasn't done intentionally, it was a masterstroke of luck.
However, the CSI gang isn't buying it. Those weeks were done intentionally. That seems clear, whether NFL executives want to dismiss it in the same way those who believe in counter JFK assassination theories, UFO sightings or believe Elvis didn't die in 1977 are clumped together as a collection of crackpots. It explains why, after years of starting the bye week season in Week 4, it has been pushed back to Week 5 for this season. Is that another happy coincidence?
If the NFL isn't coming up with alternative plans, its 2011 schedule would beg to differ. Everyone claims they want a 16-game schedule, especially in a year where the NFL would likely seek to find a way to tie in the opening weekend of the season with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedies, where teams like the Jets, Giants and Redskins practiced with the still-smoldering ruins of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 visible on the horizon. While everyone is talking about wanting to do it for the fans, as far as the schedule is concerned, it seems clear that – admitted or not – the schedule has been tailored to take into account a compressed 2011 season. They can deny it all they want. Who are you going to believe – them or your own lying eyes?
The NFL is taking a bit of the offensive against the demands being sought by the artist formerly known as the NFL Players Association. In a couple of recent interviews, Roger Goodell has pointed out a couple of claims that attorneys for the players are seeking – effectively viewing the NFL as 32 independent companies that would not only outlaw a salary cap, but would also eliminate the draft, allowing college players to sell themselves to the highest bidder. It is such a policy that has turned baseball into a joke and the NBA into a league in which more than half the league toils in front of half-empty houses at a time when teams like the Lakers, Celtics and Heat buy star players from have-not organizations (Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James, respectively) to create Super Teams that hog all the headlines and national media attention. Yet, even those leagues have drafts of talent – if anything should be viewed as illegal, it's Major League Baseball drafting players who are 17 years old, much less grooming kids from Central America in their early teens. The idea of scrapping the NFL draft would likely lead to elite high school players bypassing a college education to join the NFL as quickly as they can. It would be chaos. But, given the cynical nature of anything related to the labor negotiations, it may simply be a red herring the players association is throwing out only to take back later as a "concession." There is some deep thinking being done by both sides (see above) so it can't be dismissed. There is likely no way to eliminate the draft of players. It's not like law firms hiring recent college graduates. The basis of sports, especially football, is competitive balance. A free-spending Wild West of the NFL would implode on itself as teams become marked by the haves and have-nots.
The taxing structure for the stadium proposal is starting to come forward. According to legislative analysts, the revenues being sought include a 10 percent tax on sports memorabilia, a 6.5 percent tax on luxury suite rentals, a 6.5 percent tax on satellite TV/DVR packages and a 5 percent state income tax on Vikings employees who make more than $250,000 a year.
For anyone in that income stratosphere, under the stadium bill proposal a $250,000 annual income from another company would be technically worth more than a $262,000 salary from the Vikings.
The interesting part is that estimates have it that the memorabilia tax would generate more than $15.5 million a year. Given my Division II math skills, projected forward for a 30-year lease with no increase in the cost of hats, jerseys, etc. (good luck with that concept), the memorabilia tax alone would generate $465 million – enough to cover the state's investment with interest added in.
There is also a plan to add a state lottery game with proceeds going to the stadium repayment effort. If living in Minnesota has taught me anything, it's that Minnesotans like their scratcher tickets. If you price one at $5 or less, the income off that alone would pay for the state's end of stadium costs.
Visanthe Shiancoe, when he arrived to Minnesota, was a sullen individual who kept answers to media questions short, accurate and curt. He has blossomed in the last few years, becoming a popular quote machine who, if asked the right question the right way, will give extremely frank and insightful answers. He has taken his show on the road. In an interview on Comcast SportsNet's "Washington Post Live," Shiancoe, a former D.C. resident, admitted he talked with Donovan McNabb over a few drinks about coming to play for the Vikings, calling the conversation a "heart to heart." NFL front office types can't talk to potential free agents, but they apparently can't avoid having players talking up the Purple Kool Aid.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.