BY REBECCA AGULE
It’s the current fashion to extol the parity that Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s rules supposedly laid upon the NFL. Every couch quarterback rants on about how salary caps and free agency have brought the league into an everyman’s era, leveling the playing field for all comers. People constantly crow that on any given Sunday any team can win any match up; that at the start of the season there are 32 contenders, any two of whom could be meeting up on Super Bowl Sunday.
Want to know a little secret? All this parity talk is myth. It’s unicorns and chopped down cherry trees and Greek Gods all rolled into one. If you aren’t convinced, look at this year’s division leaders and basement dwellers. Lay that on top of the standings from the post-realignment seasons and you will see actual consistency. The NFL hasn’t become the topsy-turvy world parity would claim to promote. The rises and falls should be attributed much more to coaching changes, draft picks, perhaps even better business plans.
Instead of real parity, which would be a world in which great football lives on, but simply in different incarnations, all Tagliabue’s rules have done is create a larger mass of mediocrity.
When was it decided that greatness needed to be stamped out? This philosophy must be held by the same people who wanted an “everyman-wannabe-cowboy” in the White House. Well, I want a President whose intelligence I fear and I will keep my football straight up, thankyouverymuch.
The notion that any city can win in any year is full of all sorts of warm fuzzies, and I am sure it’s a wonderful, though false, comfort for fans in Arizona and Cleveland. But is an open armed NFL really what we want, especially if it comes at the price of quality? In reality, parity would just be a fancy way to disguise mediocrity. With the new salary cap restrictions, teams are more likely to mortgage it all for a few years of hopefulness, only to be hog tied out of future success, at which point they begin the hovering game. Whereas in the pre-salary cap world, a team could amass depth across the board, today everyone stands one injury away from a wasted season. The adjustment hasn’t been pretty; just ask Joe Gibbs.
Dynasties allow for an outpouring of the dominance, power, and passion that came to be associated with the NFL. Even if you hated the Cowboys of the 1990s, their sustained excellence gave you something to hate, it gave you a cause against which to rally. But it’s much harder to direct such vehemence against a team you are likely to pity in a few short months. And now the New England Patriots have been crowned a dynasty. Not because of a long run of success, but because in the modern incarnation of the NFL, two Super Bowl rings in three years is as close to dominating as one can get. Even in Boston, one must admit that Tom Brady isn’t John Elway. This speaks to nothing if not a swing too far in the wrong direction.
My fear is that, given football’s ties to tradition and “the greats,” in a few years we might find ourselves waxing nostalgic for teams with nothing memorable or outstanding about them, other than the ring that claims they were memorable and outstanding.
With the notion that any team can find greatness in the upcoming season, coaches are constantly auditioning for their own jobs. This pressure forces performance, but it also wears on the essential relationships that must develop between a leader and his player personnel. The other side of that coin shows that a player is essentially forced to play for his own purposes, because no longer is anyone out to “win one for the Gipper.” Coming to the realization that their own life expectancies with any franchise can easily be cut short, players learn to get while the getting is good. A team cannot ever ascend to pre-eminence if those on the field and those on the sidelines are actually playing each down for themselves.
The NFL shouldn’t be a welfare agency; it should be a simple meritocracy, with the best consistently on top. Instead, parity would bring a watered down battle of utterly un-epic proportions.
And for this they want to charge upwards of $60 a pop? During the regular season?
But with players insisting upon free agency and owners trying to balance those demands with the salary cap, things don’t look to change any time soon.
Of course parity also means bandwagon fans will be easier to both spot and ridicule. While they used to be able to simply hide in the flocks of Cowboy supporters, now they must be constantly jumping on and off the coattails of the most ‘in vogue” team of the season.
Rebecca Agule is a 1L.