x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Could the NFL lockout resolution stall to avoid pre-season games?

Is it too much to ask for NFL players to take management's offer under consideration, publicly express outrage, privately embrace it, dilly-dally until August, then ratify it?

George Atallah, the NFL Players Association spokesman, right, has helped players and management edge closer to a resolution.
George Atallah, the NFL Players Association spokesman, right, has helped players and management edge closer to a resolution.

Whew. Modern civilisation is about to be saved. All of humankind can prepare to exhale in relief. Any day now, the NFL is expected to hang an "open for business" sign. The super-rich in the players' association and the super-duper-rich from the league management are converging on the desired location of happy medium.

An owners-driven lockout, declared on March 12 and raising the angst in America to levels not seen since Michael Jordan took up baseball, could be called off as soon as tomorrow if team bosses meeting in Atlanta pull out their gold-plated pens and sign a deal.

Then fans, fretful that Sundays devoid of football would force them to spend actual quality time with their families, can stop bashing both camps for trifling with the national pastime. (Hush, baseball people. You are so 20th century.)

In fact, by one measure, talks moved along briskly - not lazily, as often perceived. Not only did the feuding family have to carve up the stack of revenue that reaches to the top row of the nosebleed seats, the table was crowded with free agency procedures, a rookie salary format, a salary cap, players' insurance coverage, benefits for retirees, training camp practice schedules and off-season workout limitations.

No, this has not been your garden-variety labour dispute. Beyond the thicket of issues, it has been complicated by an active players' anti-trust lawsuit, a retired players' lawsuit over pension and disability and a lockout damages case involving the television networks - all of which could disappear with the new agreement.

Given that the sides did not get serious until after confetti fell from the roof at the Super Bowl five months ago, this was as quick as a two-minute drill, thanks in part to impatient judges who kept prodding for out-of-court amity.

Nonetheless, the principals should be forced to run 10 sets of stadium steps as punishment for not starting much earlier. Their foot-dragging was inexcusable. It drove a nation to near despair, toying with citizens' lives. Well, those whose lives centre on watching men engage in collisions that shorten lifespans, all to advance the oddest-shaped ball in sports.

So, let's hear some tepid applause for the authors of this impending deal. Not too boisterous, please. More like the type of muted cheers directed to a starting pitcher as he walks off the mound with an 8-5 lead and two on in the seventh inning.

Best of all, authoritative word has it that the agreement would cover the next 10 seasons, several more than the traditional deal. Meaning, no more of this nonsense until Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are retired. And Chad Ochochino has sampled every sport, silly and otherwise, under the sun.

Now, at the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth: is it too much to ask for the players to take management's offer under consideration, publicly express outrage, privately embrace it, dilly-dally until August, then ratify it?

Why?

Two words: pre-season games.

Two more words: delete them.

They are the biggest sham foisted up on our sports nation. No other institution charges full price for tickets to practice games, events or rounds.

Patrons at sold-out stadiums have no choice but to pay full fare. Exhibition games are stapled and duct-taped into the season-ticket package. Would you be willing to pay top price for a Broadway play, only to have the main actors sleepwalk through their parts, then step aside for understudies early in the performance?

Did not think so.

The average NFL ticket last year went for US$75 (Dh275). With two pre-season dates per team, each season ticket purchaser was robbed of $150. They saw more of Curtis Painter than Manning with the Indianapolis Colts, more of Brian Hoyer than Brady with the New England Patriots.

This is no backdoor suggestion to reduce the exhibition schedule to two weeks and extend the number of real games to 18 apiece. Sixteen is sweet for fans and quite enough for players.

If the owners insist on increasing ticket prices during a recession (30 per cent from 2007 to 2010) and hitting up taxpayers for new stadiums (the Minnesota Vikings, behind the implied threat of relocation out west, seek a mostly publicly financed building in their cash-strapped state), they should slash the cost of attending glorified scrimmages involving many players who will be unemployed or bound to the Canadian league by autumn's first chill.

Sure, televised exhibitions draw plenty of eyes, but usually for snippets. Only the desperate or the incurably bored sit through three hours of these penalty-laden 16-13 games. They are a bowl of snacks, tiding fans over until the full meal.

Maybe the players' union could stretch out the stand-off a few more weeks and wipe out these dreadful games. Take your time, fellows.

sports@thenational.ae