Thursday, September 28, 2006

The “Flat” World & The NFL

So lately, I’ve been reading a book by New York Times best-selling author Thomas Friedman entitled, “The World is Flat.” The basic premise of the book is that the playing field is becoming more level with every passing second and that those who are currently ahead must adjust to accommodate the forces of a flattening world. Skill development – often gained through tertiary education (beyond high school) – is one way of adjusting to these forces.

Another way to stay on top and not risk sinking to the depths is to guarantee lifetime employability. Now, I want to go into the technicalities that Friedman gets into because I don’t have 500 pages to write. (Even if I did, you wouldn’t read this.) The notion of lifetime employability versus lifetime employment is the change of culture utilized by IBM under new leadership amidst decreases in customer service and stock. Basically, do your job and your job well, not being just average, and continually adding to your skill set along the way. In this respect, the NFL mirrors the change of culture that took place at IBM.

This reminds of why the NFL franchises are so great: no guaranteed contracts. NFL franchises have had to adjust their strategies since the advent of free agency and the salary cap. (Nonetheless, the cap is ever-increasing and accommodating to big spending teams like the Redskins and Cowboys.)

As a result, dynasties are made not to exist on this difficult terrain and keen cost-control measures separate winners from losers. In turn, the NFL Draft is the second most important day of the year because the successful teams always build from this within. And I’m not talking about Day 1, but Day 2 of the draft and the rookie free agent signing period after the draft ends. There are 53 players on an NFL roster and many of them may not be selected on Day 1 unless your team has a permanent trading partnership with Joe Gibbs. Essentially, this means widening funds for scouting and personnel development.

Owners are also investing in preventive health measures to be proactive in the fight against increased cases of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureas (MRSA), a type of bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics and are usually manifested as skin infections (e.g. boils, pimples). In essence, the skill set is widening and it must continue to expand if the league and its 32 franchises wish to stay atop the sports landscape in America and potentially beyond.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Poor Officiating

Here’s an analogy. A rainy day is to an outdoor wedding as poor officiating is to sports. It ruins pretty much everything you intend to do. You generally play competitive sport not only for the love of the game, but to win; however, when you can’t determine a clear winner due to outside effects which should be just that – outside – the result is muddled.

Last weekend, in both professional and college football, poor officiating did in the Philadelphia Eagles and Oklahoma Sooners. Tied at 24 in the overtime session, Brian Dawkins seemingly intercepted a pass in which Vincente Shiancoe placed a hand on [followed his second hand]. A loose paraphrase of the NFL rule states that if both players catch the ball, the tie goes to the offensive player. Having spoken to a few non-Eagles fans and seeing the play with my own eyes, I’m appalled not only that the Eagles were not awarded the ball, but also that the play was not reviewed. In regulation, the referees wasted time reviewing an obvious catch by Amani Toomer to the chagrin of both coaches. Given that, why don’t you check the play that is in heavier doubt? Isn’t the role of officials in sport to get it right and maintain the sanctity [and sanity] of the game? Blame it on lazy officials who rely on replay to have their back and an internally-flawed replay system based on conclusive video evidence to overturn obvious initial mistakes. Add a society where admittance of being dead wrong the first time around is a major weakness, and you have where we’re heading with sports. All in all, the Eagles will rebound from this loss in which dropped passes and complacency played a larger part in their defeat.

Now, let’s add BCS Bowl money and the millions it brings to the equation.

The Oklahoma Sooners had their slim national title hopes crushed on Saturday by two critical referee mistakes in their 34-33 loss to Oregon. First, how did they get it wrong? More importantly, how did they get it dead wrong in a ‘get-it-right’ style of instant replay? They just did. I refuse to justify anything the PAC-10 does. Is there an East Coast bias? Hell yes. ESPN didn’t start in Palo Alto. It started in Bristol. That’s a whole ‘nother entry. A win in Eugene would’ve made the Sooners a good contender for a BCS Bowl now that there are five. So much for that. That is just one year. How about history?

Now, let’s go back to January 19, 2002.

Yes, I’m going there and by the time, I finish writing this, you will have said “he went there.” On this snowy night, Tom Brady and the Patriots benefited from the infamous tuck role and won a game in overtime that they should’ve lost. This not only got them an undeserved ticket to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship game – it altered football as we know it. No win in Pittsburgh, no Super Bowl with the Patriots being announced as a team, no acceptance speech by Patriots owner Robert Kraft exclaiming that “Spirituality, faith, and democracy are the cornerstones of our country …” in an emotional season after the global tragedy of 9/11. Squadoosh. Those two Super Bowls that followed. Probably not both, but maybe one. Sure, the Raiders went to the Super Bowl the next year, but they were not as stout defensively as the team that got thumped by the Bucs and it led to their demise.

Poor officiating is not exclusive to football. It happens in almost every sport. Nevertheless, it’s something we could all do without. Sure, it gives me more to talk about, but I’d rather focus more attention on the things that deserve more attention – the action on the field, coaching, and play-calling.