NFL Lockout, L.A. Stadium, Cal/Stanford Recruits, Super Bowl coverage
NFL LOCKOUT: It takes no special knowledge to predict a lockout by NFL owners when the March 4 deadline for agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement passes. It’s much more difficult to predict when a new agreement will be in place.
As I see it, there are two principal problems that have created this impasse:
1) Owners thinking, correctly, that they have leverage to negotiate a new contract.
2) The absolute inability by NFL Players Association director DeMaurice Smith to negotiate.
From the start, Smith’s idea of negotiating has been to issue press releases denouncing the owners. Those, of course, do nothing to sway the owners and they don’t persuade the general public, either. I think most fans have no special rooting interest in this squabble. They just want to see the games continue.
I would be surprised if Smith holds his position for long after the owners call the lockout. He may lose it before then.
Because the players don’t want any change in the deal, some people think that’s because it’s a good deal for the players but not for the owners. In fact, it’s been a good deal for both sides. The NFL is at the absolute peak of its popularity, their TV ratings soaring the the amount of goods sold through NFL Properties doing the same.
But, because the PA membership is split, with some players liking Smith and more wanting Anybody Else, they figured the time is ripe to force a better deal. Until a new agreement is reached, current players will not get salaries or bonuses due them and free agents will not be able to negotiate contracts. Drafted players will not be able to negotiate, either, and when a new agreement is reached, it almost certainly will contain a rookie salary cap, because that’s one thing on which owners and players agree. Agents will not be able to negotiate multi-million dollar contracts for rookies who haven’t played a down – and I say, it’s past time for that.
Otherwise, owners want an 18-game regular season, which would bring more TV money, and they want players to agree to a reduced portion of revenues. The increased owners’ share would be used to help build new stadiums for those teams who do not have them. It’s become increasingly difficult to tap public funds for stadiums, and impossible in California.
There is a split in the owners’ ranks between the Haves and the Have Nots, relatively speaking. Because teams do not have to share revenue from luxury suites and club seating, the teams with new stadiums are the Haves, those without are the Have Nots.
But, they all agree on what they perceive as the need for more revenue, and they have the leverage. They will get money from the networks even if there are no games next year, though they’d eventually have to repay the networks, and they have private fortunes, which is why they can afford to buy teams. Player salaries are higher than ever, but you don’t see any players as primary team owners.
The players tried to plead their case to the sporting public with a TV commercial but CBS wouldn’t air it. Surprise. But, I doubt it would have done any good, anyway. As I said above, the public isn’t rooting for either side and, even if football fans were whole heartedly behind players, that wouldn’t give them any leverage.
The players might have better luck with the lawsuit they’ve filed to prevent owners from getting that TV money if there are no games, claiming that’s a violation of the expiring deal.
There’s also been talk that the union would decertify and sue the owners in court. That’s a strategy that worked in the late ‘80s, but that was a much different situation. Players did not have free agency and the games continued as the litigation worked its way through the courts. I don’t think players would be satisfied to go without pay checks while they wait for this conflict to be settled in court.
It’s a bitter dispute and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it extending to training camp, though I would be surprised to see it extend into the season.
At the end, I think the owners will get most of what they want, including that 18-game season. The hospitals will be very busy next fall.
L.A. STADIUM: The proposed new stadium in the Los Angeles basin got a big boost with the announcement of a $700 million naming deal. The deal won’t be finalized until there’s a team designated to move there, and there won’t be a shovel in the ground, either.
Who will be the team? I don’t think it will be either of the local teams. Al Davis wore out his welcome with the power brokers when he bolted back to Oakland, and he’s probably in the only city in the country which can tolerate him. The 49ers want to stay in northern California, especially if the new collective bargaining agreement helps them build a stadium in Santa Clara.
The San Diego Chargers would also like a new stadium, which they won’t get, so they might be a candidate. The Chargers played their first year in Los Angeles before moving to San Diego.
The league, I’m sure, would prefer that the Jacksonville Jaguars relocate. Jacksonville was a bad choice from the beginning, and that operation is on life support. Of course, I’m sure there are many L.A. football fans who would prefer the Jaguar stay put so they can continue to watch all teams on TV.
COLLEGE RECRUITING: Cal and Stanford both did well with their recruiting classes, Cal finishing 18th in Rivals.com, 14th in Scout.com. Stanford was 21st in the first, 22rd the second.
That’s assuming all those who have signed letters of intent actually stay in school. Sometimes, when they realize they’ll actually be required to go to class, they decide they can do better elsewhere.
That elsewhere is the SEC, which dominated both rating systems, with six schools in the top 10 in Rivals.com, seven in the top 11 in Scout.com. For players who see colleges only as a springboard to go to the NFL, the SEC is perfect because it doesn’t annoy prospects with demanding admissions standards or requirements to go to class.
In the Pac-12 (sigh), USC and Oregon did best. USC was third in Rivals.com, fourth in Scout.com. Oregon was 10 and 11th.
USC has always recruited well because it has two big advantages: 1) Its long football tradition guarantees players that they will have a good stage for their play; and 2) Because of its proximity to the movie studios, USC has the best-looking coeds in the country. I may have those two advantages reversed.
Lane Kiffin is now the USC coach, and he was hired because earlier, as an assistant at the school, he was an excellent recruiter.
When Kiffin was hired to be the Raiders head coach, I wrote that he reminded Al Davis of himself as a young man. That was not necessarily a compliment. Davis had been an excellent recruiter at USC, but there was speculation that his overzealous methods had gotten USC on probation. No matter. Davis moved on to the San Diego Chargers and, after two dreadful seasons in which the Raiders lost 19 straight games, Raiders general managing partner Wayne Valley hired him as coach/general manager. When Valley asked about his business plan, Davis said, “Let me get back to you on that.” Twenty-four hours later, he had a complete plan. Valley was always convinced Davis had hopped on a plane to San Diego and sweet-talked a Chargers secretary into letting him see their business plan.
Kiffin came to the Raiders only to get higher visibility so he could get a good college job. There was speculation that Kiffin was angling for the job at Arkansas while he was with the Raiders. He soon got fired, then got the job at Tennessee before jumping to USC.
There had been talk of recruiting “irregularities” at Tennessee when Kiffin was there and I figured it would be only a couple of years before he’d get USC on probation. But the NCAA did it before he had a chance because of the Reggie Bush case.
Oregon has benefited from the largesse of alumnus Phil Knight, who donated $40 million for a high performance center. Good for Oregon fans, bad for college football because Knight’s generosity has boosted the cost of football programs. It’s like the arms race: Because Oregon has that kind of facility, other schools have to have it, too.
Cal is one of them. The fact that the new center will be there for athletes this year was a big help in recruiting – but it has also been a big factor in raising the cost of the program so other sports had to be dropped. Once, a winning football team paid for other sports. Now, it can barely pay for itself.
Stanford has resisted that kind of pressure to emphasize football in the past, but athletic director Bob Bowlsby was apparently willing to pay $3 million a year to keep Jim Harbaugh, which wasn’t enough.
Harbaugh’s switch to the 49ers hurt Stanford recruiting, not just because he left but because he took his top assistants with him; one recruit who changed his mind specifically said it was because he wanted to play for Vic Fangio, the Cardinal’s defensive coordinator last season who is now with the 49ers.
David Shaw is a solid coach, well steeped in the Stanford culture, which is always important for a Stanford head coach, but he doesn’t have the charisma of Harbaugh. He’ll be successful this season because he has a good nucleus – and quarterback Andrew Luck. Whether he’ll be able to keep it going much longer is still a question.
Despite last season’s problems, Tedford has a solid resume at Cal and that, plus the training center in place and the modernized stadium due to be ready by next fall, enabled him to have a solid recruiting year.
The Bears’ rating rose when defensive tackle Viliabi Moala from Grant High in Sacamento switched back to Cal. He had originally said he’d come to Berkeley, then changed to Oregon but yesterday told Tedford he was coming to Cal. He’s a five-star recruit, 6-2, between 320 and 340 pounds, and likely will be a starter as a freshman. If he doesn’t change his mind again.
The Bears should have the talent to rebound sharply this fall, if they can solve their quarterback problem. They’ll have four dueling in the spring, and Tedford told me he wants to settle on a starter at that time so he can concentrate on one quarterback in the fall.
As a sidenote, if you want to know what college football has become, you should take a look at Cal’s schedule for this fall. Only seven months from the season, all the games starting times are the dreaded TBA and for two games, the opponent hasn’t even been decided. What a mess.
SUPER BOWL: I’ll be watching the Super Bowl on television on Sunday, which is fine with me. Even when I could go to any one I chose, I never covered more than three in a decade.
There are different types of sportswriters. One type are those who feel they’re important if they can say they covered a big event. For many years, there was a group of writers who had covered each Super Bowl. If there any left, they’re a fast dwindling group.
My concern has always been with what I write. I’ve always tried to give my readers different slants and insights – gained from talking to those coaches and, occasionally, athletes who know much more about their sports than I do. Because I have that kind of inside knowledge, I can go against the grain with confidence.
That kind of writing is impossible at the big events just because of the size of the media contingent. It’s especially difficult at the Super Bowl. The NFL does a great job of providing the coaches and athletes but they’re available at group sessions.
Once in awhile, if the 49ers were in the game, I could get some inside information, but otherwise, every time I wrote a column, I had the feeling that there were be a thousand similar columns in papers across the country. That’s not my style, so I’ve only been to 10 of the games..
I was assigned to cover the second and fourth Super Bowls; I couldn’t write the first time because The Chronicle was on strike.
For the next three decades, I made the choice: In the ‘70s, I chose the games after the 1972, ’75 and ’76 seasons. The first was the final win in the Miami Dolphins undefeated season, a bone-numbing dull 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins. The third was a 16-6 win by the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Minnesota Vikings, which I remember because it was so cold at Tulane Stadium (before the Superdome was built) that I couldn’t type. I had to wait until I got back to my hotel room.
The second game was, of course, the Raiders’ first Super Bowl win. My wife and son, Scott, then only six, accompanied me to the game. Scott got the most enjoyment out of it. When I got back to the hotel after the game, Scott greeted me with a handful of sweets he had picked up in the media room. Meanwhile, at the Long Beach hotel where the Raiders were celebrating, Al LoCasale guarded the door to keep me from entering. He succeeded, because I never got within 20 miles of the hotel.
I missed the 49ers’ first Super Bowl because the managing editor wanted Lowell Cohn, who had just come to the paper about a year and a half before, to have the experience. Meanwhile, I had been contacted by a San Francisco publisher who wanted me to write a book,, which became “America Has a Better Team,” on the 49ers’ season. So, I took a week off and wrote for seven straight days on the book. Then, I watched the game on Sunday, wrote columns for Monday and Tuesday, and finished the book the next day.
The 49ers next Super Bowl was at Stanford, so I was there, as were my wife and son, in the stands. I also covered a Super Bowl at the Rose Bowl in January, 1987, when the New York Giants beat one of those Denver Broncos teams that had John Elway and nothing else.
In January, 1989, the 49ers were in the Super Bowl for the third time in Miami. I was sweating bullets for that one because Bill Walsh and I had talked of collaborating on a book, which I knew would be a dead issue if the 49ers lost. Fortunately, they pulled it out and we did that book a year later, “Building a Champion.”
I went to two more Super Bowls with the 49ers – and with my wife. The first one was a lot of fun because it was in New Orleans and the media hotel was the Marriott, across the street from the Superdome. Nancy and I went to the parties, ate dinner at a Bourbon Street restaurant, took one of the cars provided by the NFL to drive across Lake Pontchartrain. Takes forever, and there’s nothing worth seeing on the other side. On game day, we just walked across the street to the game. Because it was so lopsided, I started writing in the third quarter and was done by the time the game ended.
The fifth 49er Super Bowl was in Miami again. The Chronicle sports editor delayed so long in assigning me to the game, apparently to show me who was boss, that I couldn’t get a return flight until Tuesday. So, Nancy and I spent another day sightseeing, going up to Palm Beach and enjoyed it all the more because it was on The Chronicle’s dime.
That was the last time I ever went to a Super Bowl. Without the Niners in the game, I wasn’t interested – and I haven’t missed it a bit.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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