7 Biggest Problems Facing the NFL in 2014-15
Nothing in this world is perfect, not even the mighty NFL.
Like every other sports league in existence, professional or not, the National Football League constantly faces a stream of existing and incoming problems. Thanks to the league's massive popularity and earning potential, these issues are often brushed aside if not outright ignored.
These problems exist nonetheless. With the 2014 NFL calendar right around the corner, we will examine a few of them over the next few pages.
Each entry is meant as an example of a potential issue facing the league as it heads toward the 2014-15 season. Each problem is based on the NFL's current state and current rules, though some may be addressed during the offseason.
This list is not meant to disparage the NFL, which remains one of the most well-run organizations in sports. It is, however, meant to show just where the league still has room for improvement. If you have questions or comments, we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.
A Parody of Parity
The NFL prides itself on parity, perhaps more than anything else. The league wants a world where all 32 franchises have a realistic opportunity of reaching the postseason each and every year.
The salary cap is supposed to ensure that there is no football equivalent of the New York Yankees and that every franchise is on equal footing financially. Free agency is supposed to allow teams to easily return to contention when they stumble.
This is a wonderful plan in theory, but it seems to regularly fall short. If parity really was the way of life in the NFL, a team like the New England Patriots would not have 13 consecutive winning seasons while a team like the Oakland Raiders has endured 11 non-winning ones.
Unfortunately, correcting the problem is much easier said than done. The NFL cannot mandate that high draft picks play to their potential or force front office to stop making questionable coaching hires (sorry, Cleveland Browns fans).
According to ESPN.com's Jane McManus, the league is strongly considering playoff expansion. While additional playoff teams might help to ensure that the Buffalo Bills do not go another 14 years without a postseason appearance, it could add to the next problem on our list.
Push for Expansion
According to NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell, the postseason is only one aspect of the league that is up for expansion.
Goodell has not hidden the possibility of the league moving to an 18-game schedule or the possibility of eventually basing a franchise in London, England.
Having a team on the other side of the Atlantic would obviously present a number of logistical nightmares, which the league has done little to address.
Adding two more games to the regular-season schedule would create an entirely different set of problems. The league year would have to be adjusted, rosters likely expanded and contracts renegotiated.
A longer season would also raise even more concerns over player safety, which has been a heavily discussed topic in recent years. NFL players have a difficult enough time making it through the current schedule healthy.
The problem is that the NFL seems quick to capitalize on expansion in order to increase profits without taking the time to consider the complications or first addressing the issues that currently exist around the league.
Too Much Thursday Night Football
One area that the NFL has already expanded is its slate of Thursday night football games.
Once a rare novelty, the Thursday night game has become a huge part of the NFL season. (There were 14 Thursday night games during the 2013 season.) The problem is that more is not always better.
As Bleacher Report National Lead Writer Ty Schalter pointed out in a recent article, the quality of play on Thursday nights was not always top-notch. Forcing two teams to play on a very short week often resulted in a less-than-stellar product and a physical demand that some players do not seem to appreciate.
As Schalter points out, however, there is no actual data to support the idea that this physical demand results in a greater risk for injury, and the games themselves are certainly not turning away viewers.
According to Sports Business Journal's John Ourand, the league is looking to sell its package of Thursday night games to another network, which could create a demand for a more appealing on-field product.
Increasingly Confusing Rules Regarding Player Safety
While not all fans will agree about the quality of Thursday night games, a bigger problem is that no one seems to be able to agree on what constitutes a legal hit anymore.
The term "defenseless player" is clearly defined, yet incredibly confusing. What contact is allowed with a defenseless player (and quarterbacks) is even more confusing.
When the players themselves are unsure of what is and isn't legal, there could be a problem. When the men officiating the game don't know what to call, there definitely is.
The 2013 season saw plenty of examples of unnecessary roughness penalties that were incorrectly called and a number of penalties that should have been awarded and were not. What makes matters worse is that referees cannot review such penalties in order to reach a correct conclusion, a concern that Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti recently brought up via the team's official website.
While the league's new-found focus on player safety is a good thing, the NFL needs to come up with a way to definitively enforce its new rule changes in a way that does not risk the integrity of the game. The human element seems to work in baseball, but not when awarding a team a free 15 yards when a high-speed collision looked to be illegal.
The Blackout Rule
Watching football from the comfort of your own home has its advantages. If you have ever been to a live NFL game, however, you know that it is a completely different—and usually memorable—experience.
If you have been to an NFL event, you also know that it is rarely an inexpensive experience.
With average ticket prices for some teams exceeding the $100 mark, it can be difficult for the casual fan to afford attending games on a regular basis. Owning season tickets (which often carry licensing fees) can be even more unreasonable.
High ticket prices combined with on-field under-performance has caused some franchises to struggle to sell out home games, which leads to local television blackouts per NFL policy.
This year, three franchises had to be awarded extensions to avoid local blackouts in the postseason.
While franchises are unlikely to start significantly lowering ticket prices, the league should consider adding value to the live fan experience or at least updating the blackout rule, which dates back to 1961.
No Developmental League
Ever since NFL Europa was disbanded following the 2007 season, the National football League has been without any sort of official farm system.
Since the college ranks produce a fair amount of NFL-ready talent each and every year, the lack of an NFL minor league is often dismissed as a non-issue.
However, there are a number of reasons why the league could benefit from a developmental league and why most other sports have them.
For starters, a developmental system would allow major-league hopefuls to hone their craft in an environment that more closely resembles the type of play found in the NFL. A number of arena and CFL players undoubtedly find their way to the NFL each year, but due to the differences in rules and play styles, a successful transition can be difficult.
Perhaps more importantly, a developmental league would allow the NFL to test-drive potential new rule changes, train officiating crews (or provide them with year-round employment) and increase the pool of experienced professional coaches.
A Lack of Front-Office Diversity
The NFL is far from the only major institution to feature a lack of diversity at its highest level. However, the fact that a league that features such a diverse pool of former players even has such a problem is a bit baffling.
According to league rules, franchises seeking to fill a vacant head coaching or senior operations position are required to interview at least one minority candidate. Yet, no minority candidates were among the 14 head coaches and general managers hired last offseason.
According to Sports Illustrated's Peter King, the league has created a panel to identify worthy candidates with special emphasis on minorities.
Whether or not this panel will actually help increase diversity among head coaches and football executives remains to be seen. However, as long as a lack of diversity is an issue, it is likely to cast the league in a negative light.
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