An open letter to the NFL regarding competitive balance

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Dear NFL,

You have a problem.

No, I’m not referring to the domestic violence cases that engulfed the now complete 2014 season. I’m also not talking about the infamous case of the improperly inflated footballs known as “Deflategate,” perpetrated by the team that just won your biggest game of the year, thus becoming the face of your league and of your product.

You have a problem with the product itself.

As a lifelong football fan, and as a guy who played the game for 10 years, I can tell you my passion for the sport has never been higher. But my love and support for your league is waning by the year.

Former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle had a dream for parity, that every team would finish 8-8 and competitive balance would prevail. While it seems impossible for such a feat to happen, it’s a magnificent dream to have. Who wouldn’t want to watch a league — or even live in a world — where everyone is on a level playing field, and the winner is the one that executes or performs the best on any given Sunday?

The phrase “any given Sunday” gets thrown around as sort of a rallying cry for the teams mired in mediocrity, or far worse. It is supposed to give hope to the players and fans of these teams, and let them know that if they try hard and if the oddly-shaped football bounces in strange ways, they can beat even the best teams in the league.

It’s a crock, and I’m tired of listening to it.

The fact is, the playing field in the National Football League is about as level as the Rocky Mountains. Rozelle had a good vision, but his determinant was all wrong. It’s not the final regular season standings that matter; it’s the discrepancy between total points scored by every team that matters. It’s the degree of difficulty for Team 32 to beat Team 1 that tells the tale of the tape.

And no matter how many steps you, the NFL, take to ensure that parity reigns in your league, the competitive balance will always be uneven. As our mind’s eye is clouded by the ever-growing phenomenon of fantasy football, the reality of football is a cold, harsh slap in the face to fans of the majority of teams in your league.

You’ll argue that your product has never been better. You’ll point to the fact that Super Bowl XLIX’s ratings were the highest ever. You’ll pat yourselves on the back and say that your rules — the ones catered toward offenses — have led to high scores and exciting action on the field.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

The truth is that these rules that benefit the offensive side of the football have caused a bigger chasm between the league’s elite and the league’s “middle class” of teams. (Forget about the chances of success for teams stuck in the “poverty” of the league.)

The cruel reality of your product is that if a team does not have an elite quarterback, or a good quarterback paired with a great defense, then that team has zero chance of winning a Super Bowl.

Look at the last decade of winners for proof.

  1. New England Patriots, Tom Brady, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
  2. Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson, a good quarterback with a great defense.
  3. Baltimore Ravens, Joe Flacco, a good quarterback with a great defense.
  4. New York Giants, Eli Manning, a great quarterback with a great defense.
  5. Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks of all time.
  6. New Orleans Saints, Drew Brees, one of the few elite quarterbacks in the league.
  7. Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time champion with a great defense.
  8. New York Giants, Eli Manning, a great quarterback with a great defense.
  9. Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning, the greatest quarterback of all time.
  10. Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time champion with a great defense.

Are you starting to get the picture, NFL? Need I even mention some of the quarterbacks in the decade before that? Brady (three times), Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf, John Elway (twice), Brett Favre, Steve Young, Troy Aikman (three times). What the hell is the matter with this picture!?

A simple, logical solution, then, is for every team to go out and fill the quarterback position with a great player, right?

Wrong. There are simply not enough great quarterbacks to go around. Good quarterbacks are extremely difficult to acquire, and elite quarterbacks are damn-near impossible. And yet, these are the ones winning titles.

In fact, there are several teams in your league that start players at the quarterback position that have no business stepping on the field as a starting quarterback.

Look to this year’s conference championship games for more proof of the “upper class” elite. Tom Brady and the Patriots. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Andrew Luck and the Colts. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. Brady and Rodgers are two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Luck joins them as one of only a handful of quarterbacks in the league you can call elite. And Wilson is a good, almost great, quarterback who is aided by arguably one of the best defenses of all time.

What’s wrong with this picture?

How about 2013’s conference championship quarterbacks? Brady, Wilson, Peyton Manning, and a 49ers team with a then-good quarterback (Colin Kaepernick) aided by a great defense.

The list goes on and on and you start to see repetitive quarterbacks and repetitive teams. I see no parity when it comes to competing for a title. And shame on you, NFL, for encouraging that.

You have a problem, National Football League, and it goes beyond the off-field troubles of your employees. Your on-field product may be exciting, but it offers little hope to those teams that don’t “win the lottery” and land a superstar quarterback — of which there are so few — or land one of the dozen or so good quarterbacks and pair them with one of the best defenses in the league.

So keep on making rules that benefit your precious quarterbacks and the offenses that put so many points on the scoreboard. But the vast majority of NFL fans who root for teams mired in middle class mediocrity will have to keep buying lottery tickets when they tune in any given Sunday, hoping their team has gotten lucky to even have a chance at a title.

Yours truly,

Just another “middle class” fan with little hope

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