Just in time for Thanksgiving I'm unveiling a new feature here at EBH called simply, "5 Things...". Simple really, every week I will pick a topic and ramble on about 5 things I love, hate, can't stand, would change, etc. about said topic.
This week we take a closer look at the NFL and how I would change things if I had my way.
5. Sex Sells But Apparently Doesn't Pay
The NFL is built on the two things that most wildly popular entertainment-based entities in this country are built on, sex and violence. There are no two ways about it, people love big hits and big... well you know. And every Sunday, Monday and sometimes Thursday from September through January the NFL delivers both.
Yet while the players on the field are earning millions, albeit for putting their health and safety on the line every week, the pretty girls on the sidelines in their barely-there outfits are lucky if they see hundreds, plural.
As spelled out in great detail by ESPN's Gregg Easterbrook, NFL cheerleaders are overworked and underpaid to the point of exploitation. I'm not saying that the act of being a cheerleader, which entails bikini and lingerie photo shoots in addition to normal cheerleading, is exploitative. But for a league which brings in billions (with a 'B') of dollars each year to pay their performers as little as $100 a week is flat ridiculous.
On top of that, NFL cheerleaders are required to sign away subsidiary rights which gives the league license to use their image in advertising without having to pay them a cent.
Between time spent practicing, appearances off the field, photo shoots and gameday, cheerleaders should at minimum be making a few thousand dollars a week for their efforts. When you factor in how much money the NFL makes selling cheerleader-centric merchandise and television advertising featuring them, they should be making quite a bit more.
4. Make The No Fun League Fun Again
To their credit, the NFL seems to be allowing a little more celebration this year than I can remember in previous years. Still, the NFL's rules against what they deem to be over-the-top celebrations are far too stingy in my not-so-humble opinion.
Now to be clear, I am not advocating mocking the opposing team or directly showing them up during celebrations. Terrell Owens running out to the star in the middle of Dallas Stadium was over the top, despite how much I loved it as a Niners fan.
No, what I want to see are more Ocho Cinco-esque celebrations that incorporate some real creativity and involve more teammates. Football is the ultimate team sport, why not let everyone join in on the fun?
I would impose a strict one-minute time limit on touchdown celebrations to keep things from turning into full on shows, but otherwise I say have at it. It's an unwritten policy in the NFL that players (Peyton Manning-level stars excluded) should be kept under their helmets and act like good little soldiers. But I say let them have their fun, because in the end what harm does a little show and dance really do?
3. Kill Sudden Death
There are some good arguments in favor of the NFL's current overtime format in which the first team to score wins. It's quick, it's clean and can make for some dramatic moments.
But clearly the system used in the college game these days is equally as dramatic and ultimately more fair. When two teams fight so hard just to get to overtime, giving each team an opportunity to match or beat the other is simply the only way to go.
In college each team starts their offensive possession at the 25-yard-line, but I would propose that in the NFL each team would start from the 50-yard-line, eliminating the almost automatic field goal if a team doesn't gain a single yard.
Other than that the rules would be the same. Each team gets a possession to try and score and if after two overtimes the game remains tied teams would be required to go for a two-point conversion should they find the endzone after that.
I guarantee this overtime system would lead to some great finishes just as it has in college football and the fact that it gives both teams and an equal chance makes it that much better than sudden death.
2. I'd Guarantee It
No other athletes in major American professional sports put themselves at more risk on a weekly basis than NFL football players. With an average career length of barely three years (it takes four for them to earn their pension, shocking), playing football at the highest level is risky business.
Meanwhile there are no guaranteed contracts in the NFL which to me is just wrong. I can understand from the management side of things not wanting to sink lots of money into players who could ultimately get hurt tomorrow, but there has to be a better answer to this issue.
What happens instead is players hold out for bigger signing bonuses (which are guaranteed) and rookies do the same without ever having played a down in the league, trying to maximize their value ASAP.
I would propose two things. First, a certain percentage (say 50%) of a player's annual salary is guaranteed over the span of his contract regardless of injury or poor production. This would actually lower signing bonuses, which have gotten a bit out of hand and force teams to be smarter about who they sign and for how much, holding player personnel people to a higher standard (cough...Matt Millen...cough), which is a good thing anyway.
Second, a hard rookie salary scale should be implemented so that players who have never stepped onto an NFL field won't be making millions and millions more than 10-year veterans who have managed to survive and remain effective players.
Most notably these changes would guarantee players who put themselves on the line each week a chance to keep paying the bills should they get hurt. And much like the issue with the cheerleaders, is that really too much to ask for a company like the NFL which rakes in billions (again, with a 'B') in revenue? I think not.
Danger Is My Middle Name
Last but certainly not least is the issue of roughing penalties, which in my opinion have simply gotten out of control over the last couple of years. Defensive players can't so much as breathe on a quarterback wrong without seeing a flag fly and officials have taken it upon themselves to insert themselves into the action far too often.
This is still football people. It's a dangerous sport where sometimes people are going to get hurt and I understand trying to protect players to a certain extent, (i.e. chop blocks, leg whips, etc.) but in the end you have to let the players play.
We teach kids who play football growing up the importance of aggression and hustle and playing through the whistle, then we expect them to suddenly hold up when it's the QB. Something about that seems counter-intuitive doesn't it?
I've never understood how anyone can expect a 300-pound battering ram to come to a complete stop on his way to the QB half a second after the ball leaves his hand. It's almost physically impossible and tends to pose an injury risk to the defenders themselves as they try and contort their bodies in an effort to avoid contact.
I'm all for policing late hits and blatant cheap shots to the head and knees of QBs, but they knew the job was dangerous when they took it.