By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

Paul Jackson of Sydney, Australia noted, "Last week's TMQ had exactly 8,888 words. Was that a subliminal shot at NFL parity?"

Defending Gene Upshaw, I noted that his cooperative bargaining approach has resulted in a 132 percent real-dollar increase in average NFL player pay since 1994, while the MLB union's confrontational approach resulted in a 71 percent increase for major league baseball players in the same period. Jeff Buchholz of Ithaca, N.Y. asked, "Are you comparing the fictional contract totals given to NFL players to the nearly guaranteed salaries of the MLB players?" No, these figures are for the amounts actually received by players. Eric Rice of Chicago wrote, "As a former Teamster, I would never consider paying dues to an organization that ratified a labor agreement where I could be discharged at will, with no chance of recourse or even a severance package. Any union that accepts a collective bargaining agreement that doesn't include member protection -- in this case the NFLPA's agreement to continue to allow NFL teams to waive a player for any or even no reason at all, without an avenue for recourse or even a grievance process -- is an impotent union." There is one NFL grievance process. Players who have been waived owing to injury can file for arbitration; often when teams waive injured players, they offer a settlement payment to avoid such a grievance. There is also one severance clause: a vested four-year veteran on the roster on opening day receives his full year's pay even if waived. Of course, many NFL players never reach the fourth year.

In the main it's true that NFL players have few financial guarantees (some contracts are partly guaranteed) and no protection against dismissal. But it is Tuesday Morning Quarterback's belief that the very lack of guarantees is what ensures NFL games are high quality, and thus keeps healthy the golden goose. Because any NFL player can be waived at any time, every play counts and every game is hotly contested. This makes NFL football fabulous, ensures that its popularity stays high and that total payments to players continue rising. I think the NFLPA is visionary in understanding this. The union has for two decades pursued a utilitarian labor strategy of maximum pay to the highest number of workers, rather than demand fully guaranteed contracts -- which would be a bonanza for celebrity players but reduce the quality of play, and thereby slow the rate at which NFL revenues rise.

Felipe Calderon
Gregory Bull/AP Photo
We know plenty about the Mexican presidential election ... that's right.

TMQ argued that NBA prospects should be required to spend at least some time in college to develop their games and receive at least some education. "Latrell Sprewell was a college player," countered Mike Curtis of Superior, Colo. Wrote Matthew Ivaliotes of Chicago, "As the first member of my direct line to graduate college, I am irked by the notion that college has special lessons to teach about being a fulfilled person. I never met a university professor with the humble intellect of my late grandfather, who didn't make it through third grade. Treating college like it's a silver bullet is wrongheaded and elitist. I learned some things in college, but I learned how to be a good person and a curious person and a lover of culture long before. Universities routinely hand degrees to ignorant, boorish louts who scarcely studied a page." Nashid Habeeb of Kent, Ohio wrote, "You contend that owing to lack of college, 'Most celebrity athletes couldn't tell you what Ernest Hemingway wrote, or what just happened in the Mexican presidential election, if their lives depended on it.' Gregg, most college graduates couldn't tell you what Hemingway wrote or what just happened in the Mexican presidential election. I agree with your premise that the NCAA, NBA and NFL should emphasize that athletes take advantage of receiving an education. But you and I both know that as long as the money keeps pouring in for the NCAA and colleges, they will continue to accept 'student'-athletes whose sole reason for coming to college is to play a sport." Finally Gina Melendez of Coronado, Calif. protests, "No one can tell you what just happened in the Mexican presidential election, that's the whole problem."

Tuesday Morning Quarterback complained about the phenomenal number of things Jack Bauer of "24" is said to have done in just five days. Rick Sliter of San Diego notes one reason Bauer can pack so much into each 24 hours is that he travels long distances during commercials, consuming almost no time on the ticking clock. "Save the world? Nothing is more impressive to me than watching Kiefer Sutherland navigate Los Angeles traffic. In one episode he made it from downtown Los Angeles to the Valley in 10 minutes on the clock; physically impossible. During Season 5, Jack drove from the CTU headquarters, which is somewhere in Century City, to the Van Nuys airport in four minutes. That's the time it would take to get out of the CTU parking structure. Mapquest estimates it is 15.5 miles from Century City to the Van Nuys airport, yet Jack did it during a commercial break."

I maintained that of the last 20 Super Bowl winners, only two, the Giants in 1991 and Ravens in 2001, had a "run-focused" game plan. Many readers, including Heather Carpenter of Aurora, Colo., protested that the Broncos ran more than they passed in both their Super Bowl wins, while many other readers, including Steve Duncan of Pittsburgh, noted the Steelers' coaches called 33 rushes and 30 passes in their most recent Super Bowl. Well -- let me quickly hide behind wording. I'd say all three of these Super Bowl winners had game plans that used the run to set up the pass, then put up much of their rushing numbers because they had second-half leads and were running to keep the clock moving. In the last Super Bowl, for instance, Pittsburgh coaches called 15 passes and 12 runs in the first half. But of course I'll concede that last February and in both Denver Super Bowl wins, defenses were worried about the eventual victor's runs.

Complaining about sports telecasts that start late on the East Coast -- TMQ is Kornheiser-esque regarding bedtimes -- this column said "the bulk" of the United States population lives east of the Mississippi. Coretta Mayhew of Lexington, Ky. was among many to note that the 2000 Census placed the nation's center of population in Phelps County, Mo., a little west of Mark Twain's river. Steven Martinez of San Bernardino, Calif. added, "This is the same East Coast bias that Californians have heard for years. It's bad enough that most of our land is owned by the government and that we have to deal with the majority of the illegal immigration problem, as well as produce most of the country's agricultural needs. All we ask in return is that you keep "Monday Night Football" at 6 p.m. PST. Is that so much to ask for the world's sixth-largest economy?"

LeBron James
Paul Sancya/AP Photo
LeBron is nervous refs are gonna take away his hop-step.

Newton Jennings of Knoxville, Tenn. writes, "You stated that 'pro basketball is in an up cycle partly because the new collective bargaining agreement forbids high school players from jumping directly to the NBA.' The new rule took effect in 2006. The players in the 2006 draft have yet to suit up in an NBA game. How can this rule be a reason for basketball's up cycle?" Well, um, quite obviously the answer is -- um -- and now let's turn to a letter from Matthew Powondra of Ann Arbor, Mich. "The legal version of the 'hop through' basketball move is called the 'jump-stop.' For a right-handed player such as LeBron James, the first step is the little hop to the left foot. This step is usually very small, but begins the momentum to the basket. The next step is to the right foot which continues the momentum. Traveling and carrying are problems in the NBA, but most of the 'jump-stops' are legitimate. With a player as gifted as LeBron, it looks like he has moved too much, but usually he hasn't." Hassan Shah of Kitchener, Ontario continues, "The NBA hop rule allows taking off with one foot, landing on both feet at the same time, and then proceeding to shoot or pass. In the NBA it becomes traveling if your pivot foot comes off the floor then hits the floor again. If executed correctly the hop-through is not a travel, but of course, it's not consistently done properly." Rick Porter of Santa Monica, Calif. has it in full: "The technical explanation is here -- scroll down to Section XIV, Traveling. Basically if you're on the move while dribbling, you can leave your feet and come down with both feet simultaneously without being called for traveling, provided you finish your dribble. (The up-and-down rule only applies if you've already given up the dribble or you're stationary to begin with.) It's then legal to jump or take one step -- the other foot being your pivot foot -- before letting go of the ball. I agree that this rule is abused in the NBA, but the hop-through has its roots in a legal move." Overall David Ellis of Charlottesville, Va. argues, "I just fundamentally disagree with you on the NBA. You cite the Spurs and Pistons as great examples of team ball; I think they are dreadfully dull and cannot bear watching them. I like to see the drives to the bucket and athleticism. The current NBA style is entertaining, and isn't the point of the exercise to entertain?"

Of West Virginia's soft schedule, Grant Matheny of Point Pleasant, W.Va. writes, "The Big East was dealt a major blow when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College left to join the ACC. Major college programs create their schedules anywhere from six to 10 years in advance, and WVU has struggled to fill the scheduling void left by the defection on short notice of those traditional powers. Starting in 2008, WVU has home-and-home series in succeeding years with Auburn, Michigan State and Florida State."

Finally I cautioned that several NFL clubs with strong 2005 records compiled most of their W's against losing teams. Andy Creery of Richmond, Va. counters, "You use wins against teams with winning records as an indicator of strength. This makes sense at the surface, but if playoff teams -- only one-third of the league -- only beat other winning teams, wouldn't the defeated cease to be winning teams? It would be rare that many teams in a given year have more than a few wins against others with winning records." He haiku-izes:

If the winning teams
only beat other winners --
Who are the losers?

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse," and other books. He is also a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. Sound off to Page 2 here.




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