Monday, November 01, 2010

NFL Armageddon 2011 – a call to arms?

While not literally a call to arms Houston Texans owner Bob McNair sent a message to each and every member of the National Football League Players Association – we are out to prove a point and prove a point we (the NFL owners) will. McNair had members of the Houston Texans front office ‘invade’ the Texans dressing room looking for performance enhancing drugs.

USA Today first reported Friday the Texans had staff members remove any products from lockers that are not approved by the NFL. Two of Houston's players — left tackle Duane Brown and linebacker Brian Cushing — served four-game suspensions for different violations of the league's policy on banned substances.

McNair told the USA Today Friday he believed it was in the best interests of his organization to take a step to prevent future occurrences. He believes the Texans have the right to control players while they're in the team's facilities.

"We concluded that one thing we can do is to just go through the locker room and make sure that if anybody is using anything, it's a product from one of the approved manufacturers," McNair told USA Today. "That's about all that we can do."

Team spokesman Kevin Cooper said the procedure took place "about a month ago." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the decision "is a club matter."

"We've gone through the locker room and anything that wasn't manufactured by the two or three that are authorized are thrown out," McNair said. "They can't have it in the locker room at all. Even though it might be something that's pretty innocuous, you just can't run that risk. You just don't know what's in some of these products."

"Some of them had some supplements that they've been taking since high school," McNair said of the Texans' sweep. "They said, 'I've been tested since high school, the NFL has been testing me for two years and this is what I've always done.'

"I say, 'I'm sorry. Out.' That's all we can do. I don't know what else we can do."

The NFLPA has yet to react. Peter King of NBC reported during halftime of the Tulsa-Notre Dame game that, according to Texans G.M. Rick Smith, the lockers weren't searched. Regardless of whether or not the individual player lockers were examined management sent a message to their workforce as McNair so aptly put it -- “We concluded that one thing we can do is to just go through the locker room”

Was, and is this, an invasion of privacy? If as the Texans allege Texans personal did not go through players lockers, has a first fateful step been taken? Will that second eventual step include an invasion of even greater resolve on the part of management? Is the domain of a professional athlete not his locker?

Texans left tackle Duane Brown who, along with linebacker Brian Cushing, were both suspended by the NFL for four games for positive tests wasn’t that unhappy when he heard that the Texans locker room had been invaded. But remember, Brown has been suspended by the NFL.

"Whatever you decide to bring into this stadium, whatever you decide to have in your locker, I feel like they have a right to know," Brown said. "There are a lot of things out there where you feel like it's perfectly fine. Some things you could be taking, you could've taken for a while, and it can just come up one time and get you.

"I think they have the right to do that."

A dangerous precedent has been taken. If “Pandora’s Box” has indeed been opened, what will stop an owner from taking that next step and what will that next step include? What happens if a professional athlete’s locker is raided and something is found in that locker that can be used against that player? What exactly will stop an NFL owner now that that fateful first step has been taken?

These will be some of the issues NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith will talk about in the coming weeks and months.

Speaking before Sunday’s London Bowl 2010 Goodell addressed the issue at the forefront when it comes to the business of the National Football League – how and where are negotiations with the NFLPA?

“There are discussions going on,” Commissioner Goodell said of negotiations with the players’ union for a new CBA. “As I keep saying, it’s not just about discussions. It’s about progress, and I would like to see more progress. I think everyone has an interest in getting it done sooner rather than later.

“We’ve been very clear about the fact that the longer it goes, the harder it gets,” he continued. “We’ve also made the point that revenue will start decreasing. It probably already has in certain categories. As that revenue decreases, it’s less money to be able to negotiate over. So it will be harder to get a labor agreement at some point. Plus, and I think you’re seeing it already with the decertification, they’ll pursue litigation strategies. I’ve often said this is going to be about collective bargaining.”

Commissioner Goodell noted that a new CBA is necessary to allow for investment in new stadiums. “There has not been a stadium agreement since the 2006 CBA was signed,” the Commissioner said. “The only stadiums that have been built were on line or already on the ground – Kansas City, Dallas and the New York stadium – since 2000. Since this new CBA was put in place, it makes it even more challenging to get a stadium built, and then you add the economy on top of it. It’s a difficult environment to get stadiums built and that is sort of the core – the investment that the ownership is making to generate revenue.”

In March 2008 the NFL hired Bob Batterman as their lead attorney responsible for dealing with the NFLPA, a lawyer the NFLPA already has a nickname for (Bob “Lockout” Batterman).

“Bob Batterman is an outstanding labor attorney. He has not only represented the NHL, he’s represented many other organizations and reached successful conclusions without a lockout. We’re not going to be told who to be represented by. We’re going to get the best representation and he’s an outstanding attorney.

“They can call him anything they want. His intention is to get labor agreements that work for both sides and I think he has an incredibly successful record on that front. The other issue is both sides are going to be prepared for all alternatives. That’s what they should do. Anyone who gets into a negotiation and is not prepared will probably not be successful. I’m sure the players have been making preparations. They’ve been talking about how they’ve been doing that for some period of time, and the owners will be doing the same.”

When a current CBA is negotiated money will play a key role. Currently NFL players are receiving 60% of football generated revenue. Does Goodell believe, given the current economic state of the NFL, that the players are making too much money?

“The biggest change in the NFL economics over the last 15 years is the investment in the stadiums. The clubs are making more and more private investments in those stadiums. In addition, then they have to maintain those stadiums in many cases. That’s a financial obligation that they didn’t have. Then the third, which is starting to hit us with new stadiums that have been on line for 10 or 15 years, is they have to upgrade those stadiums – capital expenditures, which is an extraordinary amount of money in addition to that. Those are expenses that we’ve never had before. It’s not something that I would overlook. There has not been a stadium agreement since the 2006 CBA was signed.

“The only stadiums that have been built were on line or already on the ground – Kansas City, Dallas and the New York stadium – since 2000. Since this new CBA was put in place, it makes it even more challenging to get a stadium built, and then you add the economy on top of it. It’s a difficult environment to get stadiums built and that is sort of the core – the investment that the ownership is making to generate revenue.”

A week ago Goodell addressed the issue of how hard NFL players were hitting each other and handing out fines as high as $75,000 per player. Goodell hopes it was a step forward for how he sees the NFL.

“We’ve been focused on this for the last several years about making rule changes that will take certain techniques out of the game. I think we’ve been very successful at it. It’s not the first time we’ve done something similar to what we did last year. In fact, I think it was two seasons ago we sent a very similar memo to the clubs saying there are still violations of these rules and these techniques are still being used, and you’re being warned right now the discipline will increase. It was very similar to what we did last week. And it wasn’t a rule change. It was simply saying that they’re still violating the rule and we’re going to start disciplining. The competition was great last week. There were none of those types of hits. The players adjusted and coaches adjusted. The game adjusted. It was the kind of competition that we’re looking for.”

Nonetheless as Goodell well knows and accepts players are getting bigger and stronger.

“This isn’t something that just happened in the last three or four years. Throughout our history we have looked at rules and techniques and taken them out of the game. Go back to the head slap, the clothesline, the chop block, or the horse collar more recently. There’s always been techniques that sort of develop. My guess is they develop potentially in other levels of football or the coaching style or players just develop this as a concept that they think helps them perform at a higher level. We identify those through our studies and we make a rule change to try to eliminate them from the game. And I think we’ve been quite successful at it. But it’s clear, even though you have a rule, sometimes they’re going to get violated. And unfortunately we’ll have someone who will violate this rule again I’m sure, but we’re on record now that there will be more serious consequences.”

Saturday in the second quarter University of Miami quarterback Jacory Harris was knocked out of the Hurricanes game against Virginia after defensive tackle John-Kevin Dolce hit him squarely in the chest. The impact appeared to lift Harris off his feet and he landed hard with his helmet hitting the ground first. The pass was intercepted and no flag was thrown.

Goodell can do his best to be the ‘cop on the block’ on any given sunday. Do Goodell and the NFL believe the Lords of the Pigskin should be setting an example?

“It’s very important for us. We recognize we play a leadership role and I think you saw it last week. I think I read that three college players were suspended for at least a game. I’m not saying it’s because of what we did and the focus we had, but I’m sure it was a contributing factor of some type.”

There has been a great deal of speculation the NFL is moving towards an 18-game regular season schedule, to take two games away from the four game preseason schedule and add these games to the regular season.

“Remember, it’s a 20 game format. We’re playing 20 games right now – just 16 and four. What we’re doing is evaluating and working to see what other changes we can make because of the quality of what we’re doing in those four games. Unfortunately, the players get injured in preseason games also, and that’s even more frustrating. The players are the first ones to say, we don’t like the preseason games. The fans clearly don’t like the preseason games. So we have to adjust to what’s happening in the game of football and try to do it in a way that’s responsible and considers all factors including the health and safety issues. We have to come up with something that works better. We’ve considered a variety of different alternatives and we think this is something that merits a tremendous amount of consideration.”

Goodell is correct in the concept of a 20 game schedule but other than bits and pieces most NFL starters don’t see much playing time during the four game preseason schedule. A question that needed to be asked is does Goodell see the need for an NFL development league, a league the NFL used to develop players before the league was folded in 2007?

“There’s different view points on that. Some football people think that it’s great to have a developmental league. Some people would rather not have a developmental league and would rather have more people in their camp. One of the things with the 18 and two season potentially is would you have larger rosters, including practice, or active rosters. A lot of coaches think that’s a better way to develop players than having a developmental league. There are also some concepts where you could have some sort of a combination, and you could even have a split developmental league where you play some in the spring, let them go into camps, and those that don’t make it come back and play in a developmental league in the fall. Those are all things that we’re evaluating in the context of 18 and two. I don’t know if we’ve drawn a conclusion on it. There was some discussion with the UFL probably a year ago, but there hasn’t been in quite some time to my knowledge.

“I don’t think it alleviates the desire for us to try to limit injuries. That doesn’t change anything. If you have injuries, it gives you a greater pool potentially, yes, and develops players. One of the criticisms of reducing the preseason games from a pure football perspective is how do you develop the young players? How do you give them the time to develop their skills and identify them, because they’ll have less playing time. We’ve addressed that to some extent in some of the thinking about maybe bringing the younger players in earlier for camp and giving them the chance to compete against one another, or maybe have larger rosters for some period of time, and then you get a chance to evaluate the players. Preseason camp is really about evaluating players, developing players and making sure everyone’s in football shape.”

For this is Howard Bloom. Sources used in this Insider Report: USA Today

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