It is the early evening of Thanksgiving Day and I want fervently to recline in a blissful, gluttonous stupor and watch the Jets-Bengal’s Game. Shortly before the game is to start, I discover much to my chagrin that the powers that be at the NFL have decided I am to be denied the privilege of viewing this game. While I would humbly defer to the marketing geniuses employed at the NFL, it seems rather short sighted to be in the business of providing entertainment while carefully crafting a distribution network that denies access to potential customers…. Not able to watch the game, I now have about three and half hours on my hands, an overactive imagination and the NFL has pissed me off. So I shall return the favor. Tonight’s topic: How to fix an NFL Game.
Let us assume for arguments sake that you are the NFL and the product is sports entertainment. The NFL has the distinction of hosting the single largest sporting event on the planet the “Super Bowl”. The single biggest sporting event on the planet is all left up to chance? Doesn’t it seem a bit unlikely that the “businessmen/women” who own the 32 NFL teams would leave something as important as the Super Bowl to chance?
It seems much more likely that at some point, one of the wizards in the NFL marketing department probably the guy who figured out the distribution scheme, would figure out that the Super Bowl could be much more profitable if the outcome of some games were “predetermined”, like professional wrestling and reality TV: The NFL could actually enhance its profit margin by controlling who made it to the playoffs… like “Dancing with the Stars” only with a half time show featuring geriatric rockers. So how do you get the teams you want into the playoffs? You fix the games.
To begin with, you need to create a rulebook where just about everything is clearly defined but requires a “judgment call” on the part of the officials. It is not a complicated game and the rules are actually quite simple… it’s the interpretation of the rules that are “Complicated” which introduces a not undesirable element of error. The officials after all, are only human, although so far, no one has devised or administered a test for this.
If you tried to get the players or coaches to fix the games, someone would no doubt blow the whistle, the whole thing would fold like a house of cards and NFL teams would be touring the country with WWE wrestlers, or worse, trying to make it on American Idols. So the officials would be the most likely group to fix a game as all they need to do is make a few “bad” calls at strategic points in the game.
Problem is, the players and coaches who are actually participating in the game will quickly discern that the officials are making some really bad calls, and just as quickly realize the bad calls are probably being made on purpose. This will not bode well for the league when everyone starts bitching about the officiating. So the NFL will need to pass a “RULE” that anyone who complains about the officials will be fined. No matter how much these calls figure into the outcome of a game, under no circumstances should the NFL risk discussing these things.
Up in the announcer’s booth, even Phil Simms may sometimes question a call. If the announcers, many ex-players or coaches and quite conversant on the game start questioning the calls, things could get dicey. So the NFL media relations team under the direction of none other than Roger Goodell will need to exercise control over the choice of announcers that cover NFL games. Roger’s message to would-be announcers: you criticize the officials and you’ll be covering high school games in North Dakota or worse, teamed up with Michael Wilbon on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption”.
To give the appearance of fairness, the NFL adopted the “coach’s challenge” which has the potential to severely limit the NFL’s control over the outcome of a game. To counter this loss of control, the NFL limits the “judgment” calls subject to review and the rules are structured such that even when a coach successfully challenges a blown call, he can only do this a few times. This is after all, mostly for appearances.
To make this whole thing look legitimate, the NFL will need to make up a committee for evaluating officiating and this is right up Commissioner Roger Goodell’s alley as Roger is the King of meaningless committees. Roger will have to work this into his busy schedule with his Media relations job, player reprimands and the important task of procuring refreshments for the owners meetings. This is also a sham but to avoid scrutiny, the league should have a “policy” that evaluations of officials are “personnel matters” and thus confidential. Under no circumstances will the league ever explain a call after the fact nor will any call ever be deemed serious enough to alter the outcome or result in replay of the game. Announcements from the league concerning bad calls if issued at all should include cryptic wording that such-and-such was disciplined for something.
But what happens when a call is so bad that there is no hiding from it and it can’t be reviewed? The league will send flowers and a secret message to the affected team with an apology from Commissioner Roger Goodell. While Roger’s letters are often touching and from the heart, they are meaningless and under threat of fine, must not be divulged to the unclean masses that pay $200 for a cheap seat at an NFL Game and $10 for a hotdog. It is rather sad when a hard-fought game hinges on the marginal call of a geriatric insurance executive with a pathological need for attention, but that’s life.
So… if you want to throw a game, you do it through the officials using marginal calls that a group of handpicked announcers do not question or dwell on; fine any player or coach who even mentions the officiating and under no circumstances does the league ever explain or acknowledge a bad call. After all, bad calls are a part of the game. Thankfully, the NFL does none of these things…