Friday, November 12, 2010

0 comments John Tamny Has Had Enough of the NFL's Socialist Values

John Tamny writes for Forbes and he thinks the NFL practices "soft socialism" which may be similar to "compassionate conservatism" as far as being a term that feels like it was somewhat made up. He thinks the NFL tries too hard to make everything fair for losing teams and has better ideas on how to make everything fair for all NFL teams. So he wants to end the way how the NFL divides up the collegiate resources for a more equal and fair way to divide up these resources. It's replacing "soft socialism" with "soft socialism now with a twist of capitalism." Either way, he's wrong.

At present the National Football League (NFL) towers over all U.S. sports leagues in terms of profits, television ratings, team valuations, and just about any other measure of popularity and success.

Immediate changes are necessary then! Rather than make small adjustments that help the league grow, let's do some major overhauls do the drafting and ownership system. I also like how he put "NFL" in parenthesis after "National Football League" in case anyone didn't know these two were the same entity. Possibly in a financial magazine this could happen, but still, the NFL is a pretty well known brand.

In that case, for an outsider to question the league’s business model is surely the height of hubris.

Which means in about five seconds an outsider (John Tamny) will immediately question the league's business model. This is the sort of writing used when a writer wants to act like he is self-aware. Unfortunately, simply because the writer is aware questioning the NFL's business model is the height of hubris doesn't mean when he writes the article doing this exact thing he is off the hook.

Still, in a number of areas the NFL practices a modern version of Karl Marx’s well known communistic principle, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Every major sport does this. Even in the NBA teams with bad records have a better chance to draft higher through the lottery system. It's how sports work well. To not realize this works well in the NFL is to not understand completely how the NFL competitive system works.

This works to the league’s detriment. Ultimately the weak prey off of the strong in the NFL, and this, at least on the margin, softly tarnishes what remains a brilliant product.

Not true. John Tamny wants to amputate the league's drafting system when it only needs some stitches. Really, there isn't a problem with the NFL's drafting system, but with teams that draft poorly. Look at the Rams this year and tell me the drafting system hasn't worked for them. Look at the Lions and tell me the drafting system hasn't worked for them. Teams with good upper management that realizes talent will thrive in the NFL, just like in the business world. When a person who knows what he/she is doing gets in charge, then positive things will happen.

Yes, there are owners in the NFL and management in the NFL that don't make the best drafting choices, but failure during a season which leads to high draft choices aren't always the result of being "weak prey."

Take the Dallas Cowboys for example. They are projected to get a Top 5 draft pick this year and they won a playoff game last year. They aren't "weak prey" because of poor management, it has just been one of those bad years for them. They aren't a terrible team overall and have a history of being competitive. Take the Carolina Panthers as another example. If they had a competent quarterback they would not be 1-7 right now. Why should they not have the opportunity to draft a competent quarterback in the 2011 draft because they made a bad personnel decision in evaluating their quarterbacks in the offseason?

Consider the NFL Draft, which on its own speaks to the league’s immense popularity. Not only is it a prime time event, but so great is the interest in it among fans that the draft now occurs over three days. The problem with the draft is one of incentives when it comes to the order of teams selecting players.

Here goes the typical "teams are tanking to get high draft picks" argument, which fails on two levels for me.

1. As many people know, getting a high draft choice isn't exactly a thing that teams want. High draft picks are expensive and a #1 overall pick is nearly impossible to trade away. So teams wouldn't probably tank intentionally because of the lack of options they have when given a Top 3 pick. It is nice to have a Top 3 pick, but a team in the Top 3 may have difficulty getting rid of that pick (and getting fair value for it) if they don't like their options. So losing intentionally isn't worth the risk in many situations.

2. What is tanking anyway? Did the Rams tank last year when they started Keith Null at the end of the year? They put a rookie in at quarterback, which didn't give them the best chance to win. Was this tanking or was this putting a young quarterback on the field to see if he has a future with the team in preparation for the upcoming NFL draft? If the Rams were thinking of drafting a quarterback then seeing if Null could play in the NFL was a smart move. In the NFL, there is a fine line at times between tanking and giving younger players a chance to see the field at the end of a bad year.

The NFL seeks parity, and as such, each year the team with the worst record gets to pick first. At first glance this seems like a good idea for obvious reasons related to the league’s stated objective to make each team competitive, but given a second pass it becomes apparent that such a system rewards a team for failing.

There's few draft systems, outside of choosing what teams draft where by taking numbers out of a hat, that doesn't reward a team for failing. What John Tamny needs to realize is that "failing" one year doesn't necessarily mean a team has a history of "failing." The NFL is fickle. If Peyton Manning gets injured then the Colts are pretty much fucked. This one injury could decide the entire year for them. So if the Colts go 4-12 then there is a good team that gets a high draft choice, does that make it a more fair system than if the Cardinals go 4-12 because Kurt Warner retired and none of the other quarterbacks on the roster panned out? How about if the Lions go 4-12 this year, do they not deserve a high draft pick even though they seem to have used their picks wisely over the last couple of years? In the NFL, there is more reasons than just "failing" for why a team would have a bad year.

What's a truly valid reason for a team to "deserve" to get a high draft choice anyway?

To fix this, the NFL should copy the NBA’s lottery system, but with one substantial alteration.

So fix the unfairness of the "soft socialist" NFL draft system giving the worst teams the chance to draft higher by creating a system where all the bad teams have an equal shot at drafting higher. Substitute one "socialist" system for another basically.

At present the weakest NBA team has the greatest odds of drawing the number one pick. The NFL should reverse this, stage a lottery among the 10 worst teams, but give the greatest odds to the least weak of the ten teams.

This makes no sense to do though. This entire system is based on the idea that the 10th worst team in the NFL is trying harder or is more deserving of the #1 pick. At this point the team with the best chance of landing the #1 overall pick is Cleveland. Minnesota would be #9 on this list. The team that is left out would be the San Diego Chargers at #11. These would be the "most deserving" of the lottery teams, while the Chargers wouldn't deserve a chance at the lottery.

This idea doesn't sound absolutely terrible, I will grant John Tamny that, but the idea behind it is faulty. He's taking an assumption, that the worst teams in the league are intentionally losing or are "failing" organizations, then punishing them for being this way. While he is doing this, he is making an assumption that the least of the worst teams are really trying and aren't a "failing" organization at all. This new plan is based completely on assumptions.

If so, fans paying enormous sums of money to attend the games will no longer have to question the effort of teams and coaches at season’s end. Knowing that they’ll be rewarded for not being the worst team, players and coaches will more likely give maximum effort.

I'll play Devil's Advocate for a minute. Teams generally don't like really high draft picks. Not always, but with no rookie pay scale it is sometimes a punishment for a team more than a luxury. Say you are the Detroit Lions and you know about the draft system rewarding teams with high draft choices who have good records. You are currently No. 5 in the draft order and don't want another high draft choice, would you put Matthew Stafford on IR instead of play him injured, so you don't get another expensive high draft choice? Wouldn't this be tanking?

What if the Cardinals see they are No. 8 in the draft order and they don't want a Top 3 pick, or at least don't want to possibly get one, would they start playing younger players who guarantee them less of a chance to win? The idea of tanking in Tamny's world would still be taking place in this situation.

Teams have knowledge of the rules and if we assume a team will lose under the current system to get a high draft choice, wouldn't it be safe to assume teams that don't want a high draft choice would start losing under the "Tamny system?" If we are going to start assuming things, this isn't a terrible assumption either. I don't get overall why a team that went 6-10 or 7-9 should get the opportunity for the #1 pick.

Also, as evidenced by the stupendous failure of recent #1 picks – think JaMarcus Russell, Alex Smith, David Carr and Tim Couch – the benefit of selecting first is really more of gamble that often places the team in question in salary cap hell for years on end.

So using Tamny's own assumption that the #1 pick is a punishment of sorts, why would he want to give this punishment to teams with a better record? Isn't this entire idea to reward teams that try to win games? If the #1 pick is a gamble that places a team in salary cap hell (which may not be entirely true) then why "reward" a well-run team with this punishment? I'm just using Tamny's own assumption that teams with bad records tank and aren't well-run. By giving them less of a chance to get a high draft pick, using the very own logic Tamny uses above, they are being rewarded for tanking.

Again, I don't believe all of the bullshit he is writing nor do I believe his assumptions, but I am using his assumptions just to point out the inconsistencies in his argument.

If parity is the league’s goal, the weakest teams should be relieved of the burden of the first pick; one that forces them to pay through the nose for unproven talent.

Then why would the strongest teams have to take on this burden? Is a high draft pick a burden or a reward? I don't think even John Tamny knows for sure.

Regarding ownership, it truly matters. For evidence, all one need do is compare Bill Belichick’s record with the Cleveland Browns under the hapless Art Modell versus his winning ways under Bob Kraft.

Art Modell won a Super Bowl in 2000. I don't know if you could call him hapless.

We can’t do counterfactuals, but if Joe Montana is the best quarterback ever by virtue of his years with the ‘49ers, does anyone think he would have achieved even a fraction of his brilliance if he’d been drafted by Bill Bidwill’s (then) St. Louis Cardinals?

Probably not, but it wasn't the ownership that made Montana what he ended up being, it was playing for Bill Walsh. Walsh was the coach, not the owner. Yes the owner has a say in choosing the coach, I get that, but I know what he is getting at and I don't agree with it.

If ownership’s importance is then agreed on, why doesn’t the NFL as a private business reserve the right to relieve unfortunate owners of their teams?

Because the owner owns the team and is running the team. I understand the NFL could potentially remove owners from their spot since they are a private business, though I think Congress may have something to say about this if the owner complained, but this problem is fixed by the fans. Don't support the team. That's the solution to a bad owner.

The likely response to the above would be that giving the league or the league’s owners this right would drive down the value of all teams. Maybe so in the near-term, but this assumption seems shortsighted.

Short-sighted like creating a new draft system for a problem that has just been created by John Tamny...that problem being teams tank and aren't well-run enough to "deserve" the punishment of a high draft choice?

What's really interesting is that Tamny suggests the owners voting whether to keep a losing franchise from being owned by a bad owner after five years of losing. The Bills have had one winning record since 2000, so is Tamny suggesting the NFL takes away ownership of the team from Pro Football Hall of Fame member and founder of the Bills team Ralph Wilson? It sure sounds that way.

Lastly, revenue sharing in terms of television and licensing contracts needs to be revisited. Oddly, this form of socialism is always the one that establishment NFL commentators rave about. To hear them say it, revenue sharing has made the league what it is today thanks to revenue equality driving team parity. Really? When’s the last time the ‘49ers, Bills and Lions contended for anything, let alone proved consistently worthy opponents to the rest of the league?

The Lions are rapidly improving and the 49ers and the Bills just need a General Manager/coach with a plan and a way to implement that plan. These teams should not be denied revenue sharing because they aren't good teams.

Indeed, does anyone think the Fords (Lions), Bidwills (Cardinals), and Browns (Bengals) would still be owners today if the financial success of their teams over the years had solely been a function of their individual abilities? Not by a long shot.

I would just like to add the Cardinals and Bengals made the playoffs last year. In fact, the Cardinals almost won the Super Bowl two years ago. I'm not sure John Tamny has been paying attention of late. Notice he leaves the Bills off this list, because he knows no one will support the team being taken from Ralph Wilson. Therein lies part of the problem with this idea. The owners who are voting on which owners could keep the team and which have to sell would base it on the owner himself and how they like that person. There would need to be a consistent procedure that would ensure the worst teams get rid of bad owners for this to be an effective policy.

At present, the innovative owners in the league (think Jerry Jones and Bob Kraft to name but two) are forced to prop up the failures.

Jerry Jones currently has a 1-7 team. Isn't this supposed to be a sign of bad ownership in Tamny's opinion?

If it were to abolish revenue sharing, the NFL would in one fell swoop rid itself of its free riders on the way to attracting wealthier, and more ambitious owners.

That doesn't mean this owners would be better at owning a football team (see: Snyder, Daniel). There are free riders in nearly every system in every sport. Unfortunately, this is all a part of owning a team that is a part of a league like the NFL.

Team valuations would soon go skyward thanks to the league erasing a success penalty that funnels hard earned profits to the laggards.

This is pure speculation and a potentially incorrect assumption used to prove Tamny's point.

So while logic says not to mess with success, it seems worthwhile to consider the NFL’s amazing success through the prism of seen versus unseen

I don't like the idea of an unseen problem. It's a problem that may very well not exist. It's like using intangibles to rank one baseball player over another. There's a reason many times an unseen problem isn't seen, and that's because it doesn't exist or isn't such a problem that it should be focused on.

The seen in this case is the success of a league that grows more profitable each year, but the unseen is how much more profitable and popular the NFL would be if it ceased propping up the weak at the expense of the successful.

So it is not really an immediate problem for the NFL, but an opportunity for future growth? The draft doesn't prop up the weak the expense of the successful because many times successful teams don't want high draft choices for financial reasons. As far as revenue sharing goes, I can't generally be in favor of getting rid of owners no matter how terrible they are. Fans can show their displeasure with an owner by not showing up to games, but I don't know if changing the revenue sharing around is a realistic idea nor would it improve the quality of the NFL ownership candidates.