A tale of 2 CBA’s

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A lot has been said about the looming NFL lockout. Bill Simmons over at ESPN wrote a great article about the mentality of NFL owners over the last 20 years and how it threatens to alienate the fan base that feeds their fortune. Less has been written about the trouble NBA is headed towards. These 2 situations, while distinct, have a lot in common. They are both a result of broken systems that haven’t been addressed until now, and the NF,L and soon the NBA, are going to extremes to do what they feel will rectify the system.

The problems for owners with the NFL system are plentiful. For a team to get a top 10 draft pick is turning into a death wish. The 1st pick of the draft continues to break the rookie salary record and this is a trend that we can expect to continue this year. Elite players are getting paid tens of millions of dollars in guaranteed money. It’s becoming harder to keep good teams together because of salary demands versus the salary cap. The NFL’s solution is to keep a greater share of the $8 billion in revenue the league sees each year to maintain better facilities, maintain top staff, etc.

However, these problems are of the owners own doing. The NFL doesn’t have a rookie pay-scale, so it’s common for 1st round rookies (and their agents) to gouge teams for large contracts. Everything involving salaries is based on the lie that there is “guaranteed” money in football. Peyton Manning can sign a contract “guaranteeing” him $25 mil a year for 5 years, but if he’s released, his income stops and he doesn’t see another dime. In fact, depending on the circumstances surrounding his release, he could end up being asked to return any bonus money he was paid. And the huge, million dollar contracts are the exception, not the rule for NFLers. The average NFL player is in the league 3 ½ years with an average base salary of $990,000. But you have to remember that that’s an AVERAGE between the Peyton’s and Albert Haynesworth’s of the world compared to those who’re making the league minimum $295,000 for players who were active for 3 games a season.  Why do you think you always hear about the quarterback picked from off his couch, or the linebacker who was working construction? The system forces these players to demand as much as they can while they can because all it takes is one bad hit for there to no longer be a tomorrow.

And I haven’t even touched the most contentious issue being discussed; the 18 game season. We all know that football is a dangerous sport. Team owners and the league’s front office have been pretending to care about player safety all season. But instead of mandating safer helmets, they just want to continue to penalize James Harrison and add 2 games to the regular season. This is an issue on a massive scale. Unless something is done to substantially reduce concussions and other severe injuries, the league cannot expect the players to agree to this proposal.

The NBA’s salary structure is actually pretty good, and should be mimicked by the NFL to some extent. There’s a rookie salary scale to prevent top picks from gouging needy teams and contracts are guaranteed, requiring a buyout for players to be released. The biggest problem is that DARKO MILICIC IS MAKING $5 MIL A YEAR!!! Yes, as in the former 2nd overall pick who was considered a bust is making $20 million over 4 years to come off the bench to average 9 points a game and 5 rebounds. With all of the big moves during last year’s free agency period, the largest contract was given to Joe Johnson for Six years, and $119 million. That’s $20 Million a year. For Joe Johnson. He’d be a 4th option on the Bulls.

Normally, this would be okay except that according to Forbes Magazine, 12 NBA teams lost money during the 2008-09 season. Despite record revenues, the league is still hemorrhaging money to the tune of $380 million last year according to their own numbers. A lot can be done to balance teams’ books without cutting current salaries. Increased revenue sharing, like the NFL does, would make a huge difference. Creating a stricter salary cap would make you think twice before you sign Darko for $5 million a year. Players will have to make some concessions, mainly smaller max contracts going forward and contraction should be on the table.

In all this should be an interesting couple of months ahead. The likelihood of a lockout that disrupts either league’s schedule is unlikely. But any effort to balance the books off the backs of those doing the work, like the fight in Wisconsin, would be unjust. Owners in both leagues should share in the sacrifice and ensure that they’re providing for their employees as well as their fans.