NFL Lockout During Sports Purgatory: A Casual Conspiracy Theory

Caleb GarlingCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2011

WASHINGTON - MARCH 4: A woman walks past microphones outside the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service building March 4, 2011 in Washington, DC.  Representatives from the National Football League (NFL) and National Football League Players' Association (NFLPA) continue to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement between players and owners during a 24 hour extension in negotiations.  (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

I’ve always considered the month of February “Sports Purgatory.” I don’t care for college hoops; it’s a little too early to have a meaningful conversation about MLB and the PGA; the NHL and NBA haven’t entered playoff crunch time; and we’re still pounding water to rid our Super Bowl hangover. You can even see it on SportsCenter; if you’re paying attention or have watched since the Patrick/Olbermann days, the broadcasts juuuust take on the slight awkward tinge of forced conversation. They know they’re not getting the most mustard on their fastballs during Sports Purgatory. March Madness, preseason baseball and the battle for basketball/hockey postseason births can’t come soon enough.

With all that in mind, let’s take on the role of a businessperson—what do we see here? An opportunity, right? The market has a need (tapping veins in arm, “SPORTS!!”) and there isn’t enough supply. Time to step up, someone.

So what’s been our biggest, consistent news item?

The potential of an NFL lockout. Nothing else has been close.

But now let’s take on the role of a detective—­say, Kojak. Doesn’t it seem strange that the owners were largely absent from the early negotiations? If there was a fight over your billion-dollar baby, wouldn’t you be on ground zero? Doesn’t it seem remarkable that there have been ostensibly NO leaks over this entire negotiation? If parties were arguing over billions of dollars, wouldn’t the losing side start playing the Spin Game? We get little bits and pieces of trivial details, but this process has largely been a black box. A lot of writers have chalked this up to a deal being close and no one wanting to spoil the party.

Let me take that in a different direction: We’re watching a charade.

Not extending far from Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, I think a solid framework deal has been agreed in principle for some time. Maybe a few minor details have to be ironed out, but I think this drama during Sports Purgatory has largely been a red herring—a dance to keep the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE on our screens.

Did you notice that negotiations went hot right into of the Combine, then slowed? “Oh, we’re still talking, give us a couple weeks. But here, check out this Cam Newton press conference until we’re back.” As soon as the Combine ended and we’d wrung out all the coverage of college kids running and jumping that we could, the billion dollar advertising court decision was handed down and we were back to extending the deadline one more time. (I’m not suggesting Judge Doty is party to this.) And talks continued.

The new deadline is this Friday, but what if the two sides keep extending until we can bridge the coverage gap to the April 28th Draft? Let’s say the new agreement gets resolved and certified around the start of April; that gives the media a couple weeks to distill and recap the impact and every local writer to go through their team implications. Then, once we’ve exhausted the legalese, we smoothly turn coverage over to the coaches, scouts and the Class of 2011(and “what are your credentials again?” Mel Kiper).

After the Draft and into May we discuss rookie potential with each team and the effect of the new CBA on them. Late May and June roll around and at this point, I think the NFL waives a white flag to the NBA Playoffs/Finals (And NHL. It’s a great game, people!), and doesn’t compete for the coverage; off-season drama only holds so much weight compared to games.

Then we’re into Training Camps, and on we go….

Boom, Madden-style! The NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE is one more step to becoming year-round. That’s less than two months out of twelve where they aren't Top 3 Dog.

Earlier I wrote about how I believe the NFL dignifies player idiocy with Goodell’s statements simply for the press coverage, not the justice. This CBA Dance, to me, smells like another such move. Can I produce tape recordings and emails to back this up? Of course not. That’s why I’m calling it a conspiracy theory.

But can I observe whether it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and acts like a duck? Of course. Someone had to step in and capitalize on Sports Purgatory. Why not the nation’s new pastime?