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Goodell Appears On "OTL" To Discuss
CBA Negotiations, 18-Game Schedule
Sunday's edition of ESPN's "Outside The Lines" featured a taped interview with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell discussing the current CBA negotiations and issues facing the league. Goodell said the idea of an 18-game regular season came after fans said they "want more football.” Goodell: “More importantly, they've made it very clear they don't like preseason football and they don't think the quality of the preseason reflects what we do. … The question is can we make the game safer by changing the rules, looking at advances in equipment, making sure that we're training our athletes in a proper way and we think we can. We think the game has changed significantly enough." Goodell said there is “probably some anxiety -- (that) is probably the best way to put it" -- about how players feel about the CBA negotiations and "about what's going to happen and how fast we can get something.” He said, “They want to be playing football and we want to be playing football. We just have to get the right system." Goodell noted he has "great respect” for NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith, saying, "I think he respects the game. I think he wants to do what's in the best interest of his membership as he should." Goodell said, “Eventually there's going to be a deal. That's clear. It's a question of how difficult it is to get there." He said he did not have a “biggest fear,” but noted, “I recognize the responsibility I have.” ESPN's Bob Ley noted Smith and NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash had originally agreed to appear on the program but subsequently cancelled.
THE GAP BAND: ESPN's Chris Mortensen said the gap between the two sides "feels like the Grand Canyon." SportsBusiness Journal’s Liz Mullen said, “You have a huge gap. You have the owners, who want to reduce the salary cap by 18% and at the same time they are not giving the players any indication that they're losing money. They won't open the books. That's going to be a major issue.” Mullen added decertification is a “real possibility." She noted that current NFLers and union leaders she has spoken with "don't see why should they take this pay cut when they see the league making money." Mortensen: "The players don't expect the owners to open their books and the league will certainly point out that that's never helped any labor negotiation previously and the owners are not claiming they're losing money. What they're claiming is that their profit margin is shrinking and their ability to reinvest and therefore grow a larger pie” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 8/29).
NOT A LIAISON: The Browns were one of seven teams Goodell visited this summer, and LB and NFLPA Exec Committee member Scott Fujita said of the visit, "Guys are eager to ask questions. He's not answering them. Guys are coming in there with simple, straightforward questions, and the response is kind of disappointing." Fujita's contention was that Goodell was "evasive on key topics, to the point where several Cleveland players left the room calling him 'Dodger Goodell.'" Fujita: "He works for the owners. To come in and say, 'I'm a liaison, I work for the game,' I mean, come on. We all know that's not the truth" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/29). Chiefs LB and NFLPA Exec Committee member Mike Vrabel said he has seen Goodell "on two fronts." Vrabel: "I have been negotiating with him, and then you see him in front of the players, it's two different guys. Think about it. He was somebody who wanted to be the liaison between the owners and the players, and that's just not true. He works for the owners, and we understand that, and he's part of the negotiating team with the owners, too." But Goodell said, "These visits are designed to meet with the players, coaches and front office and some of the fans." Chiefs OT and NFLPA Exec Committee member Brian Waters said he believes there is "going to be some delay in the season" next year. Waters: "It's just a matter of whether it's going to impact the training camp or the season, I don't know. Because everything has to be reconstructed, it's going to take some time, and at the pace we're going right now, we're not getting anything major done" (K.C. STAR, 8/29).
Kraft Among Many Owners
Eyeing An 18-Game Season
OWNERS SUPPORT 18 GAMES: Jets Owner Woody Johnson said expanding the regular season to 18 games is "good for the game." Johnson: "I don't think two games make a huge difference one way or the other." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft: "Fans have said pretty loud and clear that they'd like fewer preseason games. It's a win-win all around" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 8/28). But in Pittsburgh, Joe Starkey wrote it is "downright scandalous ... for the NFL to be peddling an expanded regular season even as evidence mounts of football-related collisions causing long-term brain damage." The players "see through the owners' ruse," and "even increased pay won't make this idea fly among the rank and file." Starkey: "There should be talk of shrinking the already ruthless 16-game season, not piling on. ... At the very least, the NFL should refrain from adding more games until it sees more research" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 8/29). SI.com's Jeff Pearlman wrote an expanded regular season would be "good for the commissioner, the owners -- and absolutely nobody else." When Kraft "states that fans crave fewer preseason games, he conveniently fails to mention" that they feel that way because teams "charge full prices, and insist that season ticket holders pay for those games." Pearlman: "The bottom line here is that, in extending the season, the NFL is continuing to treat players like yourself as cattle, not human beings. The concussions will increase. So will the sprains, the tears, the spinal injuries" (SI.com, 8/27).
BETTER ALTERNATIVE? In N.Y., Bob Raissman wrote Goodell should "simply fold the under-performing, distribution-challenged" NFL Network. Such a move would allow Goodell to "take the eight-game package, seen on that network during the second half of the season, and add eight more games from the first half, which would be plucked from the current schedule." That would be an "attractive schedule to sell to either a broadcast or cable network," and the league "would be cutting expenses and making dough." Raissman: "Players would not be at an even higher risk of suffering injuries that lead to serious health issues when their playing days end" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/29).
Wozniacki Is From Denmark
The U.S. Open begins today, and as the geographical center of talent in women's tennis "migrates farther eastward," the question facing the WTA Tour is whether it matters if the "bulk of the players on tour come from a different part of the world than the bulk of the people supporting it," according to John Branch of the N.Y. TIMES. Twenty-six of the top-50 ranked female players are from Eastern Europe, compared to just six in '90. There are just three U.S. players in the top 50. Branch notes in "some ways, the proliferation of Russian and Eastern European players on the tour is similar to the influx of South Korean women" on the LPGA. The "challenges and opportunities facing the women’s tour are not as striking on the men’s tour, which remains, for now, centered on Western Europe." Still, in the WTA's "perfect world, the rankings would have an even distribution of players from as many countries as possible." The Tour has "broadened its breadth of major sponsors, but none are based where a majority of players come from." Individual players, too, "find few sponsors back home" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/30). The N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE's Michael Kimmelman writes female tennis players have "certainly never hit harder and not just on account of improved equipment." They are "stronger, bigger, faster, better trained." The top 100-ranked players "now come from 33 countries, most of the best" from Eastern Europe, and "America’s problem, if there is one, may be a lack of urgency and the fierce competition from other sports." One positive is that tennis has "developed a larger, increasingly global audience," and now the WTA Tour is "banking on China." WTA Tour President David Shoemaker said, "I have no doubt that there will be a Chinese No. 1. People say the Chinese don’t know how to develop players, that they’re too rigid, but they’re wrong" (N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE, 8/29 issue).
NATIONAL EMERGENCY? In L.A., Diane Pucin reports at the U.S. Open, "where Americans love to cheer for their own, the women's draw is missing any title contenders" from the U.S. outside of Venus Williams, who has won the event twice but not since '01. The tournament's main draw includes 12 U.S. women, but only four "got in without either qualifying or receiving a wild card." Tennis Channel analyst Jimmy Connors said, "We should have been worrying about this a long time ago." ESPN Senior VP/Programming & Acquisitions Len DeLuca said, "We need to dig deep and make the (other American players) interesting or provocative or entertaining as possible and try to steer our audience into having a great appreciation for these up-and-coming players" (L.A. TIMES, 8/30). In N.Y., Filip Bondy writes under the header, "With U.S. Open On Tap, Future Of American Tennis Looks Bright." Bondy: "Time is running out on tennis around here, whether or not anybody wants to admit as much. People will always come to the Open, a special TV event. The TV ratings, however, are certain to shrink, as long as we stink" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/30).
NOT AS BAD AS IT LOOKS: In San Diego, Mark Zeigler notes tennis "at the professional level -- usually a key determinant of a sport’s general interest -- is at its lowest ebb in decades for Americans," but participation and retail numbers "across the country are headed in the exact opposite direction." A study from the Physical Activity Council shows that tennis "saw its participation numbers in the United States grow" 43% from '00-09, the most among "traditional" participation sports. Retail figures "showed similar spikes." DeLuca said, "This is a global sport. ... Yeah, it’s great to have Americans up there. But the sport stands on its own" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 8/30).
Somes NBA Execs Alarmed By James, Wade, Bosh
Deciding To Team Up And Play For The Heat
The NBA offseason has been "upsetting the league’s balance of power and undermining a system that was once fine-tuned for parity and stability," and it "may well become the Off-season That Changed Everything," according to Howard Beck of the N.Y. TIMES. The "reckoning will come, as with everything else, at the bargaining table, where owners will try to wrest back control in the next labor deal." There has already been talk "among team executives of franchise tags and heavy financial penalties for players changing teams, measures that are anathema" to the NBPA. The NBA for years "cultivated a system of superstar inertia, providing players every possible incentive to stay put." Rarely has "so much high-level talent been on the move." It is a "potentially dangerous trend for the league." Beck noted one solution would be to "increase the financial incentives for a player to stay home (or, conversely, increase the penalties for leaving)." Another possibility would be to "adopt the franchise tag system used in the NFL," under which teams "can bind star players to another year of service, essentially delaying their free agency." An NBA team exec said, "It will be discussed. I can’t see it happening" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/28). The NBA's offseason was highlighted by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teaming on the Heat, and 76ers President Rod Thorn said, "All those guys were free agents. They didn't do anything illegal. They used their rights under the collective bargaining agreement to play where they wanted to play. I give Miami credit for being able to get far enough under the cap to do it." Thorn added, "The one thing that surprised me personally was that James went to Miami. After meeting with him (as president of the Nets), I thought he'd end up staying in Cleveland. That was just my inclination" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 8/28).
IndyCar CEO Bernard Open To
Possible Return To Milwaukee Mile
Izod IndyCar officials are "talking to potential promoters about getting the Milwaukee Mile back on the schedule," according to Chris Jenkins of the AP. IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard Saturday said that "'several' promoters are interested in bringing the series back to Milwaukee." Bernard: "I want that event bad." However, Bernard "doesn't seem to be counting on any financial help from the state of Wisconsin." Bernard: "The state's in a pickle in their own mind. I never want to be a parasite to any state. I don't think that's fair to the state, (and) I don't think it looks good upon IndyCar. But it has to be viable. So right now, we're trying to figure out how we make this event viable with what we have to work with." Jenkins noted while it "remains unclear whether a deal can be put together for next season" for a Milwaukee Mile race, the track "could replace Chicagoland Speedway as an IndyCar venue." Bernard Saturday "didn't sound optimistic" about Chicagoland's IndyCar future. Bernard: "ISC has their primary objectives and IndyCar has their primary objectives, and I'm not sure if we're all on the same page right now" (AP, 8/28). Jenkins Sunday noted it is not clear when a Milwaukee Mile race "might be held," but it "is clear that IndyCar probably wouldn't race in two markets so close to each other" in Milwaukee and Chicago. As a result, Saturday's Peak Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 at Chicagoland "might have marked the last time IndyCar runs" at the track "for the foreseeable future." Driver Dan Wheldon: "I think it would be a shame. It always produces the racing that I think the fans like to see" (AP, 8/29).
FUTURE PLANNING: Bernard Saturday said that the '11 IndyCar schedule "could be complete by the end of next week but may not be announced for some time afterward." In Milwaukee, Dave Kallmann noted the schedule "in all likelihood ... will again include 17 race weekends, counting the Texas Motor Speedway doubleheader" as a single event. Bernard said the series needs "some short tracks." Bernard: "We want to say we're the most versatile, fastest race car and race drivers in the world. When you combine that with superspeedways and short tracks and road courses and street courses, that just plays into our diversity." The '10 schedule "includes four ISC tracks," and Bernard said, "We want to talk to all of the promoters ... and say, 'OK, which ones of you want to do the best job for IndyCar?' Which ones are going to activate on their marketing?" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 8/29).
OWNERS, INDYCAR UNITED: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin reported "all decisions regarding the Izod IndyCar Series' new car program for 2012 will be made by project manager Tony Cotman, a move that seemed to please owners gathered Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway." Bernard said that Cotman "represents both the league and the teams." Bernard: "It's his baby." IndyCar team Owner Michael Andretti said that owners and league officials "left united." Cavin noted Bernard "got a welcomed vote of confidence from an unlikely team owner," Vision Racing co-Owner and former IRL CEO Tony George. Bernard: "He said he supported what we're doing and that he'd help however he could. That was great" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 8/29).
Devils Still Waiting To Hear From
NHL On New Kovalchuk Contract
In N.Y., Mark Everson reported the Devils again are waiting for the NHL to "approve their latest contract" for LW Ilya Kovalchuk. The deal, which was submitted Friday, reportedly is for 15 years and $100M. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in a statement said, "We are reviewing the new contract and will make a decision in the appropriate time frame as prescribed in the CBA" (N.Y. POST, 8/28). On Long Island, Steve Zipay noted the NHL "has until Tuesday to approve or reject" the deal. Should the league turn down the Devils, Kovalchuk "could bolt for SKA St. Petersburg of Russia's KHL ... or the NHLPA could appeal for another arbitration" (NEWSDAY, 8/28).
LEADING BY EXAMPLE: CBSSPORTS.com's Wes Goldstein noted Donald Fehr is the "favored choice" to become the next NHLPA Exec Dir, and there is "no doubt Fehr would have the most immediate impact on the game as union leader with the start of negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement getting closer." Fehr is a "skilled negotiator but a hard liner who made baseball players very rich during his 26-year tenure" as MLBPA Exec Dir. The NHL is "looking for a lot of givebacks in the next contract and that's not something Fehr generally does" (CBSSPORTS.com, 8/27). Mets RF and player rep Jeff Francoeur said, "When we used to have our meetings Don always used to talk about how the hockey players are basically getting screwed. When we saw the hockey players signed their deal, we knew they didn't get the best deal they could" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/30).
FINE CHINA: In DC, William Wan reports in a front-page piece that MLB officials "have adopted a guerrilla-warfare-type strategy" in developing baseball in China, including "identifying areas where baseball can gain ground at minimal cost and settling in for the long haul." MLB "finally got serious about China" around '02, and the "biggest push ... has come in the past three years with the establishment of the organization's Beijing office." MLB since then has "created and sent a traveling baseball amusement park around the country." Execs "declined to go into detail about costs but said the annual budget for operations in China is at the million-dollar level" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/30).
SAFETY IN NUMBERS: IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said it is "great" that drivers are developing an advisory association for the sport. Bernard: "They came to me before the big meeting, met with me in Watkins Glen and asked my opinion. I said, 'Look, I love it. Twenty-four minds are better than one.' When you get together, there are going to be some great things about it and some not such great things about it. What we have to do as a sport is to look at what is in the best interest for us going forward long term. At the same time, if you bring us great ideas, there’s no reason why we’d turn them down. If we can create better relationships with the drivers, it’s a win-win." He added, "The Bull Riders did the same thing and it worked very well" (FOXSPORTS.com, 8/29).