I was sitting in a bar watching the NFL playoff highlights last week when I overheard a guy tell his wife, "The NFL has parity, so everyone has a chance to make the Super Bowl. That's not the way it is in baseball."Not again, I groaned. The old "The NFL has parity and baseball doesn't" myth. I wished there were a New Orleans Saints fan sitting at the bar so the guy could explain to him just well how this NFL parity thing works. And after that, maybe he could explain why nearly half the teams have never won the Super Bowl despite all that parity. The guy got me started, though. People unquestionably accept so many claims about the NFL, but how many are really true? Before the relentless Super Bowl hype let's take a look at some of the myths we in the media perpetuate (and many fans have taken as gospel truth) ... 1. The NFL has parity, unlike baseball
Does football have more parity than baseball, as our friend at the bar contended? No. If you judge parity based on how many different teams reach and win the championship, baseball and football are roughly the same, with baseball perhaps somewhat better in this regard. (The league with the real parity issue is the NBA, but that's another story.) Look at any era, and there have been as many -- and usually more -- different World Series winners than Super Bowl winners.
|Super Bowl winners||World Series winners|
The World Series and the Super Bowl also have a similar number of different participants in every era:
|Super Bowl teams||World Series teams|
So why do people insist that the NFL has more parity and that every team has a chance to win each season? Perhaps it's because more NFL teams reach the playoffs each year -- but that's simply due to the league allowing more teams into its postseason. Twelve teams (38 percent of the league) get into the NFL playoffs, while just eight teams (or 27 percent) make baseball's postseason. That's not parity, that's just lower standards. 2. A billion people watch the Super Bowl
You often hear this, just as you do with the Academy Awards. But let's think about this for a minute. According to Nielsen estimates, a little less than 90 million people watched the Super Bowl last year in the United States. The NFL says the figure is closer to 130 million, but that estimate is based on people who tuned in at some point in the game while the lower figure is based on average viewers for any point in the game. Whatever. Even using the higher estimate, that still leaves us 870 million people short. With a world population of roughly 6.2 billion people outside the U.S., that means 14 percent of the rest of the planet would have to watch the championship game of a sport they don't even play. Please. Do you really think 14 percent of India and China will be tuned in to watch Super Bowl Sunday? Especially now that the Carolina cheerleaders won't be there? Further, you need to get that 14 percent rating in countries where (a) they don't play the game, (b) the game is no televised live at a convenient hour, (c) not everyone has a TV, and (d) there might be more pressing concerns than whether Pittsburgh covers the spread. In other words, nowhere near a billion people watch the Super Bowl. The NFL's Brian McCarthy says the NFL doesn't claim the Super Bowl has 1 billion viewers, only that there are between 750 million and 1 billion "potential" viewers. The problem, though, is that reporters hear the word "billion" and get so excited they forget the word "potential" when writing up their reports. Then some player says it in an interview, and the number gets repeated over and over until we have another myth. C'mon, people. Potential viewers is a long way from actual viewers. After all, Warren Sapp has the "potential" to lose 200 pounds but at the end of the day, he is still fat. 3. The NFL has the strictest, most effective steroid policy
Congress and the media beat up on baseball but where was the outrage when the NFL's oh-so strict testing didn't catch the Carolina Panthers players from Super Bowl XXXVIII who reportedly had steroid prescriptions? Why did it take so long to get the goods on Bill Romanowski? If the NFL's policy is so strict, why would a punter feel the need to obtain steroids?
Maybe it's because up until this season, NFL players could have up to a 6:1 testosterone/epitestosterone ratio (1:1 is normal) before being flagged (the acceptable ratio was lowered this year to 4:1, same as the Olympics, while the maximum number of offseason tests was raised from two to six). Or maybe it's because the NFL doesn't test for Human Growth Hormone (mostly, because there isn't a test for it yet).4. The NFL hasn't had a work stoppage since 1987, so clearly it has the most stable labor situation.
True, the NFL hasn't had a strike since 1987, when it infamously crushed the union and insulted fans by using scab players for games.
But insiders say the NFL could be heading for labor disaster after the 2007 season, when the current contracts with the players union expires. If there is no agreement -- the two sides met in early January with no breakthroughs in their bargaining session -- that season will be played without a salary cap. With league revenues increasing, union chief Gene Upshaw is intent on expanding the revenue pool from which players are paid under the salary-cap system.
Will they get it settled? We'll see, but bear in mind that the NFL has had as many season-shortening strikes since 1980 as baseball.
5. Football's economic system should be the model for other sports
Sorry. But even with reported revenue near $6 billion, along with revenue-sharing, a hard salary cap and a weak players union, the league still regularly requires that local communities subsidize the teams and the owners by paying billions for lavish stadiums. Teams also require that their best fans pay thousands of dollars simply for the right to buy tickets to sit in these same stadiums that taxpayers finance. Then they make all season-ticket holders pay full price to exhibition games that are so meaningless that most fans hope the stars don't play for fear of injury. And then, if insufficient crowds show up, the league blacks out the game, depriving the taxpayers who financed the stadium of the pleasure of simply watching their local team play on TV. Sure, other leagues are as culpable of stadium swindles as the NFL. But at least no one perpetuates a myth that baseball, hockey and basketball are models of fiscal responsibility. Yet in a current feature on Paul Tagliabue, Sports Illustrated makes this insane contention: "Among his first acts as commissioner was to propose that the NFL enter into the stadium construction business by establishing a fund to build new stadiums rather than rely on public money, the primary bait that cities were using to lure NFL franchises. ... [Tagliabue] led the NFL into the stadium business, making it, in effect, one of the largest developers in the country as it helped finance new, high-tech, higher-revenue gridiron shrines such as Seattle's Qwest Field and Washington's FedEx Field. ... If it weren't for Tagliabue, we might be watching the Los Angeles Packers take on the Sacramento Chiefs on Sunday." Unfortunately, the fact is Washington state taxpayers paid $300 million of the $430 million needed to build the "shrine" that is Qwest Field for one of the world's richest men. And that's just one example of the more than $4 billion that taxpayers have forked over to build stadiums for the NFL since 1995. Furthermore, four teams abandoned their towns on Tagliabue's watch (just imagine the abuse Bud Selig would have taken had the Dodgers and the Angels left the Los Angeles market). And given that the Packers are owned by the Green Bay community, it's extraordinarily unlikely that they would ever move to Los Angeles regardless of who was commissioner. I could go on with the NFL myths, but you'll have to excuse me. I need to go place flowers over Jimmy Hoffa's body in the Meadowlands. Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is on sale at bookstores nationwide. It also can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.