March 28, 2014

The Day the College Football World Stood Still

By - Keith Smith

College football and the NCAA held it's collective breath this week while awaiting a decision by the National Labor Relations Board on the request by Northwestern University football players to unionize.

That noise you heard was the wind being knocked out of them when the NLRB punched them in the communal gut and ruled that the players aren't "student athletes," but rather employees whose work generates substantial revenue for the school.

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I've been saying for years that money was ruining sports. More specifically, major college sports. The decision by the NLRB may very well be the beginning of the end of college athletics as we know it.

The immediate effect will be negligible, since that decision will inevitably be appealed. But if the courts uphold the NLRB's decision, college sports will change forever. It would pave the way for collegiate athletes to demand being paid.

Many people have been lobbying for that for years. I'm not one of them.

The argument can be made that these kids have never really been amateurs, since most of them are awarded thousands of dollars in scholarships every year. I would tend to agree with that, personally. Does there need to be a vast overhaul of the NCAA and college athletics rules and regulations? Certainly. Does it need to be ruling the athletes as employees and compensating them above and beyond their scholarships? I don't think so.

Nonetheless, depending on how this turns out, athletes may be able to negotiate contracts, percentages of bowl money, and any number of other ties to the multi-million dollar franchise that is intercollegiate sports.

The decision of the NLRB only applies to private institutions (for now), because they have no power at all over the state-run universities, but rest assured that it will only be a matter of time before it applies to everyone, if it isn't overturned on appeal.

In all likelihood, the final outcome is probably years away. But if the NCAA and the individual conferences and universities are smart, they will begin working on some type of settlement. Otherwise, they won't have any say in how the final outcome gets resolved. They could be looking at anything from a total overhaul of their system, to possibly the major conferences breaking away and forming their own "league."

March 27, 2014

The Issues Surrounding an 18-Game NFL Season

By - Tim Swift

Last week, the NFLPA elected Eric Winston as the new president, and one of the first things that came up was the proposed 18-game season.

Photo by: Getty Images
From the get go, Winston and the players have been dead set against the idea of taking away two preseason games and adding them to the regular season. I've gotten the opportunity to talk to several current players on the subject, and this is the only topic that I can remember that they all seem to be in total agreement on.

The NFL offices in New York City can talk about their continued commitment to player safety and new policies that will help players in the future, but as soon as Roger Goodell and all his cronies speak of an 18-game season and take the "that's what the fans want" route, the hypocrisy reigns supreme.

If there is going to be an 18-game season, the owners are then going to have to make some major concessions with the roster numbers and the amount of guys you can dress on game day. Currently, once the season starts, you have 53 guys on your roster and dress 46 on game day. If the owners aren't willing to expand the rosters by the second half of the season, teams will be signing guys off the streets, and the quality of the games will suffer. Another idea along the same lines is expanding the practice squad roster, which currently consists of 8 players.

Bye weeks are yet another major issue that the NFLPA and the owners would have to hash out if an 18-game season happens. One of the ideas that has been proposed is that each team would then get 2 byes at some point between the 3rd and 16th week.

Salary cap issues have been brought up by both sides in this battle, and with the cap increasing by $10 million this year, future major increases would have to happen; especially if the rosters are expanded by 10 to 15 guys. Minimum salaries could also be changed. As of right now, the league minimum ranges from $420k for rookies to $950,000 for 10-year vets.

The reaction of the fans to the proposed 18-game season has varied. The ones who simply love the sport and can't get enough don't care if it's played on Monday, Thursday or Saturday, and those are the fans Goodell and the owners are directly attempting to cater to. Many people have taken to the idea that they don't want to put even more money in the pockets of the owners, and that there's no sense in changing something that is fine as is. There is definitely a "don't fix it if it ain't broke" mentality to this segment of fans.

March 26, 2014

More Heartaches Befall the Buffalo Bills

By - Brad Heerschop

It's not as if being a Buffalo sports fan is an easy gig by any stretch of the imagination. If you're a Sabres or Bills fan, you know hardships. You have for years.

The Bills are currently 14 years removed from their last postseason berth, the longest active streak in the NFL, and the longest such streak in franchise history. To boot, they haven't won a playoff game since 1995.

Photo by: Timothy Ludwig
Things weren't always terrible for Buffalo fans, but they were never great. From 1990-1993, led by Jim Kelly, the Bills became the only team in NFL history to appear in four-consecutive Super Bowls.

However, we all know how that story ends. They earned the dubious distinction of losing all of them.

Since then, the team has been on a steady decline and are now one of the most disappointing franchises in the NFL. To add salt to the wound, they have spent years in jeopardy of a potential move to any number of cities, namely Los Angeles or Toronto.

Now, somehow, things look even worse.

Bills owner, Ralph Wilson, a huge proponent to what has kept the Bills in Buffalo, passed away in his home on Tuesday afternoon. Wilson was a pioneer for the NFL, and a big part of the 1970 merger between the NFL and AFL, a move that brought us the league we know and love today.

The Hall of Fame owner was 95-years-old and due to declining health, hadn't attended a Bills game since the 2010 season. His passing should come as anything but a surprise, but nonetheless, it is a devastating blow to the city of Buffalo and its football fans.

Hopefully this doesn't eventually lead to the one thing Wilson fought against for years; franchise relocation.

Many people reading this may not have even been alive when the Bills were good, but it's a time that should be fondly reminiscent in the hearts of the people of Western New York. The team was successful, due largely in part to their quarterback, Jim Kelly. As a life-long Bill, Kelly is one of the Queen City's most beloved athletes.

Still, one thing he has lacked is luck, and it only seems to be getting exponentially worse.