Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

No Basketball Jones Here

Good stuff for the past five days in Jacksonville for the NCAA first and second round games. Hard to imagine a better setting for four days of basketball and some R and R for fans. If you’re on the NCAA site selection committee, there are not too many better places for a visit in early March.

Mike Sullivan from the city and Joel Lamp from JU did very good work in setting up and organizing the Arena, the games, and all of the logistics. Except for one electrical snafu where part of press row lost power on Thursday, things seemed flawless surrounding the entire event. So good in fact, that they’re going to bid for the first and second round in 2009 or 2010. The bid goes in front of the committee in April with the announcement coming in July.

The NCAA has very specific rules about what happens at each venue. When I walked into the Veterans Memorial Arena it was a somewhat surreal experience. I kept thinking I was somewhere else but I was in my hometown at the NCAA’s! Sounds hokey I know, but it’s pretty amazing to think that Jacksonville was able to host the first and second round of the tournament without some kind of over bearing effort that taxed everybody and everything in town. It was just another thing that happened.

Unthinkable as little as five years ago.

Florida’s appearance here after winning the SEC tournament certainly added to the excitement, but the tournament was sold out even before the Gators were selected to play here. There was enough excitement and enough buzz around the event to sell it out just as an event. Fans came from all over the country, following their teams and in some cases just looking for a new place to see the NCAA’s.

A friend of mine was visiting from Long Island and came down on Southwest. If you’ve flown Southwest, you know they’re a little goofy and one of the flight attendants asked how many people on the flight were headed to “the basketball.” About 25 people raised their hands and none were headed to see a particular team. Just coming to town to see “the basketball.”

The crowds impressed me. Not necessarily the size, because you see empty seats all over the country, especially at first round games. But by the conversations and the enthusiasm I saw at every turn around the arena. People were into it. They didn’t know UW-Milwaukee from the University of Mars, but they were interested in what the Panthers could do. Of course I also saw every Gator fan, regular or otherwise inside the Arena at the two games. Some I see at basketball games in Gainesville. Others couldn’t name two players on the team outside of Joakim Noah. But that’s OK. I never mind band-wagoner’s. The more the merrier.

Florida fans’ obsession with football actually is an obsession with winning. And Billy Donovan has brought winning to the court in Gainesville. The Gators are headed to Minneapolis for the Sweet 16 and perhaps beyond. They’re good enough to keep winning, but they’re young and things can go awry with a young team quickly. Either way, it was fun when the Gators were here.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

They Made A Deal

As much as the NFL owners are portrayed as a fraternity of like-minded, chummy associates, when it comes to money, their relationship is about business. That was very apparent in the final day of the meeting/negotiating session in Dallas as the owners were trying to hash out revenue sharing among themselves and a deal with the players union.

At one point over the two-day session, Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts said, “We need the ghost of Wellington Mara to appear.” Mara, the long time owner of the New York Giants who died last year, is generally credited with giving the NFL life when he agreed to revenue sharing with the other owners instead of piling up the big bucks as an owner in the largest market in America.

Because of the worth of the teams, more than half of the owners have bought their clubs in the last 15 years. That means they don’t know anything about the labor problems of the league in the ‘80’s or the competition they faced from the AFL in the ‘60’s, followed by the USFL two decades later. The Raiders Al Davis was convinced that a rival league would have spawned had the NFL not made a deal with the players. “It would have been out there,” Davis said after the proposal was approved 30-2. “A ten team league would have been easy to put together to rival ours. It would have been anarchy. I know, I’ve lived it.”

Apparently a blending of a couple ideas was approved by the ownership with the top 15 high revenue teams contributing money to a pool that would be distributed over the other 17 teams in the league. “There are a lot of people giving a lot of money away,” is how Pittsburgh’s Dan Rooney characterized it. It was a true compromise with plenty of give and take.

Guys like Jerry Jones of Dallas and Daniel Snyder of Washington got on board, accepting the idea that some money made in the future because of the size of their market could be shared for the good of the league. “We got moving,” Jones said, “when some of the smaller revenue teams realized that some of the concerns they had just weren’t going to be addressed.”


Wouldn’t you like to have been a fly on the wall in that meeting when Jones, Snyder and some of the other big market guys just stood up and told those other owners that what they wanted just wasn’t going to happen? When was the last time anybody told an NFL owner no about anything? It’s the bazillionaires telling the skillionaires that they can’t have what they want.

It is a deal that keeps the league going in the direction it’s going: up. Even though they’re in business together, what’s a few million among friends?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

It’s The Goose, Stupid!

It seems almost unheard of that the NFL could some how screw things up, but from the rhetoric surrounding the labor talks, we know that anything is possible. The owner and the players are apparently far apart on the issues and that in itself, even if they ever make a deal, seems ludicrous. I’m well aware of what kind of public face negotiations take on, but how can either side look at what they’ve got and say somehow it’s bad? There are millions if not billions of dollars to go around.

The owners have a lucrative television deal and many partnerships with cities with sweetheart deals allowing them long-term, favorable leases on stadiums.

The players have free agency; the owners have a salary cap.

The owners have year-to-year contracts; the players have up-front bonus money.

Everybody’s making money, with the owners raking it in (not to mention the increase in the value of the teams) and the players peddling their skill to the highest bidder.

If there’s one thing that could be fixed in the league, it’s the nature of the have’s and have-nots on the rosters. Because of the salary cap, veteran players are squeezed out if they’re not top-flight starters in favor of cheaper rookies and younger players. But that’s beside the point. Figuring out how the revenue can be distributed among the players and the owners can’t be that hard.

The 32 owners are a notorious bunch of businessmen, all getting to be where they are by being shrewd and tough. Most of them have other businesses with football as an ancillary part of their conglomerate. The players need a union to work for them, to protect them as a whole, but there’s got to be a point where the players say to the union leadership, “Get this done!”

That might come sooner rather than later.

If there’s no agreement this weekend, there will be a massive dumping of high dollar players, and there will be very few teams with the available money to sign them. Some guys, in the prime of their careers, will find themselves on the street. That’s the worse case scenario for the players and for the league.

I know a lot of teams use the salary cap excuse to get rid of players who still have value but are too expensive, but this is a different situation. Without an agreement, the league will look very different for one year. Teams will sign star players to a one-year deal hoping to get to the Super Bowl. After that, the big market teams will dominate and the league will never be the same.

And nobody wants that.