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Savran: NFL should admit it's all about cash

Saturday, September 22, 2001

Former Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers had it right when he said, "When they tell you it's not about the money ... it's about the money!"

Why, just this week, the National Football League tried to tell you that rescheduling the lost weekend of games was about protecting the integrity of the schedule. That every team should play the same number of games to maintain competitive integrity. And that each team should have a full complement of home games, perhaps to ensure the integrity of tailgating for the drunkards in the parking lots.

The NFL never said anything about the money, which is tantamount to saying, "It's about the money."

On an average regular season weekend, it's estimated the NFL grosses in the neighborhood of $100 million. That doesn't even include the 1/16th slice of their television package.

One hundred million dollars answers a lot of unasked questions. And that's fine. I can understand that. I can appreciate that. I can count. Only don't tell me you're making up the canceled games for altruistic reasons.

If it's about the money, then don't be afraid to say, "Hey! It's about the money!"

Let's talk about the integrity of the schedule.

In the strike year of 1987, 15 games were played. But three of those 15 were played by construction workers, school teachers, insurance salesmen and a handful of nonstriking regulars who comprised the replacement players.

When the strike ended, there was strong sentiment to expunge those replacement games from the record and count only the 12 regular-season games played by the union players. But the league did indeed count them in the regular-season records.

There didn't seem to be any grave concerns about the "integrity" of the schedule then.

What has the NFL's decision now wrought?

First, forget about all this talk of playing weeknight playoff games, moving the Super Bowl to another site or other postseason contingencies.

By using the wild-card weekend to play the 16th games, there is no contingency. Paul Tagliabue was just leaving himself an escape route.

If -- and most likely when -- the playoff teams are reduced by a third from twelve to eight, their integrity-laden final weekend will be more devoid of importance than usual.

Generally, under the best of circumstances, most of those final games are meaningless. The games that do have meaning involve at least one of the participants trying to win their division and/or home-field advantage and/or a bye.

More often, they involve teams trying to make it as a wild-card entry.

With the elimination of the two wild-card teams per conference, the motivations are sliced in half. There will be no open week in the playoffs, you've eliminated four playoff berths, which leads to even more meaningless games than normal.

And, given that some of these games are going to be played at cold-weather sites, Arizona at Washington, Jacksonville at Chicago, and yes, even Cleveland at Pittsburgh, there might be a no-show count more embarrassing to the league than a one-game-shy-of-a-load schedule.

And the tentacles of this decision will extend much further into the regular season.

There comes a point, around the 12th or 13th game, when a team and its fans realize there's no way they can win their division. So they begin to set their sights on wild-card spots ... any one of the three spots available. But now that the league's decision has served as a spot remover, games played in December might be rendered meaningless well before the normal time.

After just one game, no team is so far behind that playing a 15-game schedule wouldn't allow them an opportunity to come back and make the postseason with all playoff spots available.

Would there have been injustices? Sure, but you do the best you can do. (Given the circumstances under which the games were canceled in the first place, using the term injustice is an injustice.)

You can say what you will about no team seeded lower than fourth ever making the Super Bowl and all the other attendant minutiae. But the journey holds the intrigue, not just the destination.

The fans like the playoffs. They watch them from the stands and from their living rooms.

Aesthetically, maintaining the integrity of the playoffs was more important than maintaining the integrity of the regular-season schedule.

But then, this wasn't about aesthetics. Or integrity.

Like the man said, it was about the money.

Stan Savran is the co-host of SportsBeat at 6:30 p.m. weekdays on Fox Sports Pittsburgh.

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