Saturday, November 05, 2011

Work, Cam Newton and an alternative to the NFL

So I'm going to cover three things today.

The first is an advanced warning that in about two weeks time all my work shifts are changing ahead of the Christmas period. This means that the likely hood is that my production of posts will a) drop in number as I'll have less time to dedicate to the blog, and b) become more erratic, as the time and times that I have to work on the blog will be less consistent from week to week. Which is a pain in the butt to say the least, but bills must be paid etc.

The second thing I want to address is some of the extreme hyperbole surrounding Cam Newton, because it's now reaching ridiculous proportions.

Cam has had a great rookie season so far by anyones standards. I'm slowly being converted to the Cam Newton bandwagon. Slowly. In fact this season has probably surpassed anything that even the most ardent of pre-season Newton supporters thought possible. It has been something quite remarkable to watch. But appears to be leading the growing charge among the press in putting Cam Newton up there as a "top ten quarterback".

Now just hold the f**k up a second. Top ten quarterback? In eight games so far this season Newton has won two, lost six, beating the 2-6 Jaguars and the 3-4 Redskins, while losing games to the Cardinals, Packers, Bears, Saints, Falcons and Vikings. Now I appreciate that wins and losses aren't all the fault of the quarterback, so let's take a closer look at his individual numbers according to the stats page on Newton.

So far Newton is averaging about a 60% completion percentage for the season. He consistently fell below this in weeks 3-5, twice coming close to just 50%, but got a huge boost in week 7 against Washington when he completed 18/23 for a 78% completion rating, which pulled his season rating back up again. His average yards per completion is currently 8.3, but even that is riding largely on two games (Redskins and Cardinals) which hauled it up from his normal sub 10 yard showings, though the 4.6 against the Jaguars does pull it down somewhat to kind of compensate.

Newton has so far thrown 11 touchdowns in these 8 games, but then three of those came last week against the Vikings. A more typical showing from Newton is to throw just one touchdown. He also has 9 interceptions, though the Packers and Falcons games accounted for 6 of these in just two games, so normally Cam has actually been pretty good at not turning the ball over. He also has given up 17 sacks so far, but I'm actually prepared to call this a good result for Cam, because if it wasn't for his running ability then he'd have given up way more behind what is frankly a bit of a shambles of an O-line.

So there we see, some good, some bad. But Cam is not a top ten quarterback. Nor should we expect him to be. He's a rookie and for a rookie, yes, he's playing pretty darn well. However I think some people need to get a reality check. He hasn't suddenly become a first ballot hall of famer overnight. If he progresses with his career in the same manner he has this season, then you can expect good things for him in the future. I just wish sometimes the press would tone it down a little. Calling him a top ten quarterback in the NFL is not only misleading, but it serves his career no good to make such wild claims, which will undoubtedly be turned against him in the future at an opportunity of the media's choosing.

So that's one and two out of the way, now for the main event.

Number three of the things to cover today is my crazy ass idea for an alternative league to the NFL, or rather how I would approach such a task if some mysterious benefactor dropped $20 million in my lap and said "make it happen". This is by no means an exhaustive list of my many mental ramblings on this subject and if and when I think of new things to add, I'll drop back here to edit and update. If anyone has any suggestions, by all means leave a comment or email me here;

Let the madness begin!

First off the bat is the need to avoid some of the difficulties suffered by the NFL as a result of it's status as a legal entity. Now realistically speaking, the NFL is a series of franchises, not able to conduct profitable business if separated. If the Dallas Cowboys dont have access to games with other NFL teams, then they don't sell tickets, they don't generate TV money and they go out of business pretty sharpish.

The law doesn't quite seem to see it that way however. So the immediate goal would be to create a single entity, a league that not only organises the schedule and lays down the rules, but actually legally owns all the franchises and the assets attached to those franchises. Team "owners" would purchase the right to run the franchise and all its associated operations (player signings, coaching decisions etc) in a fixed location and then the revenues from the league as a whole would be pooled together and dished out to the "owners" (as well as a cut for the league entity), perhaps with some locally generated income purely kept for the local franchises.

I'll admit that I haven't given a huge amount of thought to that side of it.
So where would these franchises be based? How many? What would the league structure look like?

Well the priority is to try and hit markets that don't already accommodate football teams, or if they do then accommodate some of the NFL's lesser franchises. It's also important I think to try and keep the franchises reasonably co-located, literally within a few hours drive of each other if possible. The purpose of this is to keep down the travel costs early on, while starting to build the rivalries between local teams that make football special.

Preferably the league would start with no less than six teams, located in one local division. Nothing is worse than the approach adopted by the UFL, where they had just four teams on the go. That hardly makes for an enticing season. At least with six teams you get five home games and five away games, with a league wide bye in the middle, allowing for 11 weeks of football. If two divisions of six could be formed that would be even more ideal, with the winner of each division meeting at some neutral site for a bowl game.

This also plays well into the timing I'm thinking of, namely somewhere in the late April to mid July region. The obvious purpose of this is to dodge going head to head with the NFL like a raging bull. It's also a time when the football news dries up and fans are left dangling for any slight sliver of something that might be interesting and football related. A decent outdoor league would do the trick nicely.

Of particular interest to me, area wise, are;

- The North West, including Tahoma and Spokane in Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Vancouver and Surrey across the border in Canada.
- California, including, Sacramento, San Jose, Fresno, Bakersfield and Riverside, possibly with Las Vegas, Nevada and/or Tuscon, Arizona thrown into the mix.
- Texas, specifically San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Austin, Lubbock, maybe Fort Worth (a little close to the Jerrah Dome!) and maybe Houston, or Oklahoma City if you're prepared to travel a bit North.
- North Eastern, including Providence, Rhode Island; Hartford, Connecticut; Springfield, Massachusetts; Albany, New York; and possibly some other cities in and around that area.
- Northern New York, including Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, perhaps Albany in this one, maybe Pittsburgh, maybe a cross border incursion to Hamilton in Canada.
- Central North, basically centered around a northern Ohio/Northern Indiana/Michigan type division, including Akron, Columbus and Toledo in Ohio, with maybe Fort Wayne, Indiana; and Grand Rapids, Michigan, thrown in, or perhaps a more south Ohio/Kentucky type look, with Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio; Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky; with a few other cities thrown in.

That's just a brief, off the top of my head (and Google maps aided) list. Obviously the presence of willing backers and available stadiums would dictate much of where any actual league took place.

So now we've got our league set up, but who's going to play in it? The level of football can't match the NFL right? Well... probably not quite that level, no. But every year a ton of kids from college who are pretty handy football players either go undrafted and unsigned, or at the very least get dumped from NFL training camps never to return, not even on the practice squad. There is actually a reasonably decent talent pool to choose from, the key is just to hold off the draft until November-December time, to give the wannabe but never will be NFL players a chance to slip through all the appropriate cracks in the NFL system and give them time to realise that they're best shot is to take an offer from the alternate league, or else go join the unemployment line with everyone else.

So we now have a pool of players, but how to assign them? A draft, like the NFL?

Well actually I'm thinking not. I understand why some players complain about the draft system. It really isn't that fair. Your choices when selected by a team are basically sign, or sit out for twelve months. So I'm thinking of a system altogether a little more complex, but probably more fair in the long run. Basically the league would issue teams with a bunch of blank contracts of varying values, based on draft order.

They would range from long term contracts with solid guaranteed salaries and nice signing bonuses, down to one or two year deals with virtually no guaranteed money and crappy signing bonuses. If we use the NFL's 32 team system for a moment just for convenience, the team with the worst record would be issued with the best contract, then perhaps the next five or six teams would be issued with a second tier contract, the next ten teams with a third tier, and so on down, going through the "draft order" over multiple rounds, so that each team ended up with seven contracts of gradually decreasing values.

On draft day/week they would then be free to offer these contracts to whoever they pleased in a giant free for all, and the players would be free to agree to whichever deal they liked most. So maybe they sign with the highest offer, or maybe they turn down a slightly better offer in favour of joining a winning team. Teams could trade the contracts as much as they like, just like teams trade picks now. The draft day/week would be less of a formal, structured event and more of a lot of haggling over the phone with the occasional announcement that so and so player has just signed a deal with abc team.

At the end of the process, each team has to offer all of it's contracts to somebody (well they don't have to, but the contracts are only good for that rookie signing period). Any players left who haven't been offered deals become "undrafted" free agents. Any player who has been offered one or more contracts but refused to sign any is deemed ineligible for the season and must reapply next year. This way teams get to try and sign players who they perhaps wouldn't normally, while players get at least some say in who it is they ultimately end up playing for, although weaker teams still hold the balance of power somewhat.

So now we have teams and those teams have players. But how do we get the word out?

The answer is right in front of you. The Internet. There are many reasons why the UFL failed, but prime among them was the fact that their web presence was shocking. Their website was total garbage. They had a YouTube channel, but it had nothing worthwhile on it. No player profiles, no highlight reels from their college days, no game highlights (or at least very short, badly shot ones).

For the amount of money that the UFL had, they surely could have invested in - at the very minimum- some "Prosumer" cameras and got some local college media students to shoot the games from a decent vantage point, then posted 10-20 minute highlight reels on their YouTube channel, so at least the general public had some idea of what a UFL game looked like.

I'm just stunned at the lack of a forceful online presence. In this day and age it doesn't cost a lot for a business with millions to spend to get itself established on the web and to get its content out there for fans to see. Maybe if they'd earned enough hits, they might even have been able to persuade someone to give them a TV deal of some sort.

So we've got our teams, who have their players, and we're getting the word out about the league. But what are the fans going to see on the field that differs from the NFL? What's the selling point? This is where I mainly go into rant mode about all the little changes that I'd like to make to football, so excuse me if I kind of go off on one. I'm pretty sure that not everyone would like these changes, but then this is just me farting out ideas so take it for what it is - the ranting of a semi-madman.

- The kick off would be moved back to the 35 yard line and all kicking is to be done in the punting style. That includes kick-offs, field goals, free kicks and punts. No holders, just a snap to the kicker who steps up and kicks, without the ball touching the ground. Illegal touching rules still apply to the kicking team except on kick-offs and the receiving team may return any kick that comes down inbounds and doesn’t touch the end zone (automatic touchback), with the exception of an extra point. I just hate the whole holding and placekicking business. Just punt kick the thing and let's get on with it.

- The clock would not stop on an incomplete pass, it would keep running. The only way to stop the clock is with a foul, a time out or throwing the ball out of bounds/running out of bounds. I've just never understood why the clock stops for an incomplete pass, but not a failed run for example. The only thing I can think of is because it would prompt teams in the lead to chuck that thing all the way downfield, hoping that it doesn't get picked off. This also means no spike plays, but hey, you might just get a QB lining up and kicking in desperation!

- The college rules regarding when a receiver gets one foot down in bounds to make a catch and when a runner is ruled down would be used. I've always hated it when a receiver makes a catch, then gets touched by the faintest glance of an opponents foot and is then deemed down. Just make every player who goes down, down, regardless of whether they've been touched or not.

- Once the ball has been pitched or handed off by the quarterback (or the first person after the center to touch the ball) it can no longer be thrown. This precludes any kind of reverse pass, half back pass or flea flicker type plays, which I've always hated. Dont ask me why, I just hate them.

- The roughing penalties would be changed so that incidental contact to the quarterback or kicker would not be flagged. Only blatant late hits or deliberate shots at the kickers standing leg (without attempt to block a kick) will be flagged. Hitting the quarterback below or including the knee would be permitted.

- One of my pet hates now, I'd make sure offensive pass interference was properly enforced and put a ban on receivers "rubbing" past each other, to pick off defenders. I hate it when offenses do that. To me that's effectively a "get a first down for free" card, and it especially bugs me some of the more blatant examples of offensive pass interference that I've seen. We have to give everyone a chance to make a fair play, not just the offense.

- The "Tuck" rule dies. If the quarterback gets hit and loses the ball in the act of throwing a pass then tough s**t, that's a fumble.

- To give offenses a break for a minute, I'd also stop defensive players from jumping into the neutral zone. I don't understand how if an offensive lineman twitches that is considered to be this big deal, but a defensive man can step right across the line trying to jump the snap count and providing the ball isn't snapped is allowed to recover back to his position. Not anymore. Instant offsides flag I think.
- Intentional grounding rule changed. I hate it when defensive guys make a great play and a quarterback can just toss the ball away to deny the sack. So I'd change it so that any quarterback regardless of where he is on the field, who is in the clutches of a defender, must either complete or nearly complete his intended pass. Throwing the ball out of bounds will be considered intentional grounding.

- Speaking of balls, I'd rather use the college style ball with the white markings on one half, to make it easier for both players and fans to track it. After all, the fans are what football is all about.

- From a league standpoint, official warnings and suspensions would replace the NFL's system of fines. I understand that the fine money is given to charity, but the NFL's fining policy has almost zero consistency and at times appears to be geared towards just extracting money from players for the sake of building up the charity pot. It also fails to change behaviour in most cases.

- Officials would be trained to identify concussion like symptoms and have the authority under obvious circumstances to eject a player from the game on medical grounds.

So there you go. There's my crazy ass plan for an alternative league to the NFL. If anyone wants to give me $20 million to get it going, you just go right ahead. I'll be back tomorrow for my week 9 picks.

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