Upside-down thinking of NFL: Reward the losers

The National Football League is showing clear signs of being too regulated and, consequently, too contrived.

Routinely, smart coaches will say of a superb player: "My role is to get out of his way and let him play."

This obviously is what needs to be done with the NFL. The league is stuck in mediocrity, which is why it seems less compelling. It can be no other way, given the myopic macro-manipulation. A few examples:

* The worst teams every year get the first picks in the draft of college players and are rewarded with the easiest schedules the next year. This is upside-down thinking. Why shouldn't the best teams be rewarded for their excellence rather than being penalized?

* Everybody shares equally in television revenue. How about approaching this logically and have, say, the top 15 teams each year split the revenue. The bottom 16 will have to make do. Perhaps they could have car washes and cookie sales to raise funds until they can perform better.

The obvious argument against this avalanche of logic is that the many rules are required in order to ensure decent competition. Without it, contend the football bureaucrats, some teams would be very good and some would be very bad.

Bingo. Sounds ideal. It's called free and open competition.

But football in many ways is a microcosm of America. It is classic dumbing down. Be successful, and the payoff is you get put in shackles. For example, in many horse races, the good horses are forced to carry more weight on their backs in order to give the lesser horses a chance. The focus too often seems to be on the underachievers. What, goes conventional thinking, can we do to help pull them up to the level of the overachievers? Answer: Pull down the good guys.

Instead, how about the poor teams working harder and smarter in order to perform better and move themselves up? Striving is a cornerstone of the human existence. There is no reason to fear it.

When pioneers went west, there were many who saw the imposing Rocky Mountains, concluded they were impossible obstacles to surmount, and abandoned their journey. Others saw them as simply another challenge to be overcome. The latter group was rewarded with gold in California. Today, there would be sentiment that the venturous who strike it rich should give half of their find to those who lack the gumption to go forth themselves.

So it is with the NFL. Lose, and a bountiful harvest is yours, my son.

What we end up with is parity. Flaming parity. Boring parity. Nobody is truly awful - well, OK, San Diego did lose 11 straight before finally winning earlier this week - and for sure nobody is truly good.

Examples: Buffalo and Indianapolis are strong playoff contenders. Each has a record of 7-5. Some are singing the praises of the Philadelphia Eagles, marveling at how good they have become; their record is 9-4. This is not cause for standing applause. But it is evidence that you don't need to be very good to generate raves.

The New Orleans Saints are a textbook example of everything average. However, they are one of the three best teams in the National Football Conference (along with Minnesota and Philadelphia) with a 9-4 record. They lost Ricky Williams, their premier running back, and starting quarterback Jeff Blake to injuries. This forced them to play last week against the St. Louis Rams with a rookie quarterback, Aaron Brooks, and three running backs - two rookies and a veteran known primarily for fumbling.

On one hand, good for the Saints, long known as the Ain'ts. On the other hand, how can a team that has lost its stars and many more, rise up and thump the Rams, defending Super Bowl champs? Answer: parity. Decreed parity.

In a perfect world, wouldn't it be good, instead, to let owners spend whatever they want and hire whatever players they want? If an owner wanted to pay a player $100 million when he was worth $2 million, fine. This is America. We have a constitutional right to be stupid.

And if the Giants won the Super Bowl five years in a row, it would be compelling to see if they could do it six years. Certainly it would be motivational to other teams, which would understand that the view never changes if you're not the lead dog.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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