Two interesting things occurred prior to the start of the NFL's 2010 season. In the first, the company that determines television ratings, Nielsen Media Research, conducted a study to determine the most popular teams in the NFL.
The top five consisted of the Dallas Cowboys, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Chicago Bears, the New York Giants, and the Green Bay Packers.
The second took the form of a little covered court case. In it, a New York Jets season-ticket holder and lawyer named Carl J. Mayer sued the New England Patriots over the Spygate scandal.
The case reached the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals where it was ultimately dismissed. The reason for this was not due to the fact that the Patriots had cheated as the court felt the NFL was entitled to punish its own.
No, the reason the judge dismissed the case was because your ticket is merely a license, one granted to you by the team, to see a football game.
This does not mean league rules have to be followed in that game. If a team cheats, if referees miss calls, or if the game is outright rigged, you the ticketholder have no recourse. You paid to see a football game, and you saw a football game.
There is no doubt that the NFL is entertainment. When taken to court, it often argues that fact as it did before the Supreme Court in another case in early 2010.
Do you believe the NFL can manipulate the outcome of its own games?
To be entertainment, then, the league must engage in as much "show business" as possible to attract an audience. This is why we must endure fireworks, cheerleaders, fly-overs, mascots, and halftime shows with each and every game.
But these entertainment "presentations" (which is an announcement made prior to each and every NFL game, warning fans that all may not be as it appears) today are not necessarily created to drive fans to the stadiums.
Where the profit of the NFL lies is in television to the tune of nearly $6 billion a season. This is money shared equally among owners. In fact, 80 percent of all money generated by the league is shared. When one team profits, they all share in that windfall.
So if the league is merely entertainment, or if it is "the greatest reality show" on television as Patriots Owner Robert Kraft supposedly said according to the New York Times, it then falls under a different legal status.
If your ticket doesn't entitle you to a fair game, how much right does the fan watching at home possess? Couldn't the league manipulate games to create more interest in its product in the very way "reality" TV programs do?
This is exactly what I argue is possible. There is no law preventing the NFL from fixing its own games.
If, as the employer, the NFL orders its employees (referees, coaches, or players) to conduct themselves in certain ways during certain games, no law is being broken.
One team may benefit from such a pre-determined result, but since so much of the revenue generated is shared, in reality all teams can profit on the back of the other.
Were all of the following games, then, rigged by the NFL? Not necessarily. A "bad call" may have just been a bad call, and not one dictated by the league in a fashion similar to how the NBA works according to former referee Tim Donaghy.
But even if just one game was fixed by the league, then its credibility, the trust you have given it, should be destroyed.
Here, in chronological order, are games (many of which had "bad" calls that clearly altered their outcome) in 2010 that deserve closer inspection:
WEEK 1 - Detroit Lions v. Chicago Bears - Calvin Johnson makes a spectacular catch in the endzone late in the game to win it for the Lions. Except the referees, after looking at the catch during an official review, determine Johnson didn't maintain control of the ball all the way to the ground.
Outcome: The Lions endure another miserable season. The Bears (one of the five most popular teams in the NFL) reach the NFC Championship Game.
WEEK 1 - Washington Redskins v. Dallas Cowboys - The Cowboys are called for 12 penalties in the game, the most prominent being a hold after Tony Romo hooked up with Roy Williams for what seemed to be a game winning TD.
Outcome: Neither the Redskins or Cowboys amount to anything in 2010. Of note is that while the Cowboys were predicted by many to be contenders in the NFC, the Super Bowl this season will be held in the Cowboys' home stadium.
The NFL has yet to have a "home" Super Bowl team despite the site being determined years in advance. So could the league's most popular team have been railroaded out of contention all the way back in Week 1? Their unforeseen collapse made headlines for most of the first half of 2010.
WEEK 5 - Cincinnati Bengals v. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Tied with only seconds left in the fourth quarter, Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman completes a pass to his wide receiver, but the WR clearly bobbles the ball on his way out-of-bounds.
Instant replay this time rules a non-catch is actually a catch. On the next play, the Buccaneers kick the game-winning field goal.
Outcome: The Bengals continue to be league doormats. The Buccaneers remain in the playoff hunt until the final week of the season. Though they do not sell out a home game all year, fan interest in the Bucs remains high all season long.
WEEK 6 - New York Jets v. Denver Broncos - Trailing late in the fourth quarter and down to a 4th and 6 play, Jets QB Mark Sanchez underthrows a 46-yard bomb to Santonio Holmes.
Both Holmes and the Broncos DB fight for the ball which ultimately falls incomplete. After a moment of apparent indecision, referees flag the Broncos for pass interference.
Outcome: The Broncos endure Spygate II, fire Head Coach Josh McDaniels (who instantly secures another top job in the NFL as offensive coordinator with the Rams), and spiral downward until Tim Tebow steps behind center (coincidentally, his jersey is the #1 most sold in the US). The Jets are propelled into their second straight AFC Championship game.
WEEK 7 - Minnesota Vikings v. Green Bay Packers - Two calls alter this game, and both favor the Packers. The first call occurs in the second quarter when Packers TE Andrew Quarless catches an Aaron Rodgers throw in the back of the endzone.
Replay clearly shows Quarless did not have possession of the ball when he landed on his back, but the TD stands.
Then, near the end of the first half, Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe makes a diving catch in the endzone. This play is reviewed and it's ruled the ball hit the ground. No TD. Two plays, two game-altering incorrect calls.
Outcome: The Vikings completely fail in 2010, including their home stadium (are they now Los Angeles bound?). Meanwhile the league's fifth most popular team the Packers march into the Super Bowl.
WEEK 7 - Pittsburgh Steelers v. Miami Dolphins - Once again, late in the fourth quarter an incorrect call changes the fortunes of two teams. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger dives for the endzone only to fumble the ball.
It's recovered by the Dolphins, except, well, let's go to the replay. The referees oddly rule that yes, the ball was fumbled, but since replay couldn't determine who recovered the ball, they give possession back to the Steelers on the half-yard line. The very next play, the Steelers score the game winning TD.
Outcome: The Dolphins season fades from this point while the Steelers (the league's second most loved team) reaches the Super Bowl yet again.
WEEK 12 - Indianapolis Colts v. San Diego Chargers - This time, one of the calls is so bad, the NFL actually apologizes on behalf of its officials.
San Diego Chargers S Eric Weddle clearly turns Colts WR Reggie Wayne in what should've been ruled defensive pass interference. Instead, Weddle intercepts the pass and returns it for a TD. Chargers win.
Outcome: Though its the Colts and media darling Peyton Manning that reach the playoffs, this loss helped its division rival the Jacksonville Jaguars which was suffering through repeated blackouts dating back to the season before.
With the Jaguars in the playoff hunt all season, the team became more profitable and the threat of its relocation diminished. At the same time, the Charges inability to reach the playoffs may send the team to its original home of Los Angeles (if the Vikings don't beat them there).
WEEK 13 - Chicago Bears v. Detriot Lions - In a small bit of deja vu all over again, the Bears game-winning drive is influenced by a bad call against the Lions. While scrambling, Bears QB Jay Cutler crosses the line of scrimmage and is pushed down by Lions DT Ndamukong Suh.
The referees flag Suh for a "non-football act" (it's ruled Suh hit Culter with a forearm to the back of the helmet which replays proved was not the case). The extra 15-yards aid the Bears in driving into the endzone to win the game.
Outcome: See Week 1's controversial game.
WILDCARD WEEKEND - New Orleans Saints v. Seattle Seahawks - What happened to the World Champion Saints? How did they lose to the 7-9 Seahawks in the playoffs no less?
Outcast RB Marshawn Lynch is suddenly a world beat capable of breaking 10 tackles in a single, ground-shaking run? Or were the Saints simply tired and ready to go home after last year's Super Bowl run?
Outcome: Suddenly the talk of playoff realignment or reseeding due to the Seahawks losing record was wiped away. One win could do all that.
DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS - Las Vegas has an uncanny knack of knowing how to set a betting line. Throughout these playoffs, however, the line has yet to come into play (this includes both the NFC and AFC Championship Games) even once.
In the divisional round, two underdogs won outright (the Packers and the Jets) and two favorites covered the spread (the Steelers and the Bears). Nothing seemed wrong, did it?
Outcome: Consider what the NFL would have been left with in match-ups had the other two underdogs and favorites won: Seahawks v. Falcons and Ravens v. Patriots. Not as exciting as Packers v. Bears or Jets v. Steelers.
Nor would those alternate games have featured three of the NFL's top five most popular teams (numbers 2, 3, and 5 while considering number 1 was perhaps ruled out due to locale of this year's Super Bowl) or two of the country's biggest media markets in New York and Chicago. That was all mere coincidence, right?
FILL IN THE BLANK - I'm certain if you've made it to this point in the article there is a game or two you think may not have been on the up-and-up.
Like perhaps the Monday Night Football game in Week 6 between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans in which the referee asked each head coach during the two-minute warning to use their time-outs unnecessarily so ESPN could air the commercials they needed to in order to meet their sponsors demands.
Oh yes, I'm certain the NFL is lying to you. Be it with their "investigations" or drug testing, they do not tell their fans the reality. They tell them the spin. Why? Billions of dollars.
The question then isn't "can games be fixed?" because they most certainly can be. Gamblers and organized crime can prove that to you. The question is "are games being fixed?" That answer remains elusive, and one I continue to search for.
For more, visit: www.thefixisin.net