Mark Cuban's assertion that the NFL can be undermined by overexposure isn't remotely far-fetched. Overexposure can ruin anything.
For example, there's a reason smart women and men choose lovemaking in the dark and a fair amount of foreplay. We understand the dangers of overexposure and "anticipointment," the anticipation of disappointment.
Intimacy, believe it or not, has been around longer and is more popular than football. And, just like football, sex can be ruined. Ask your average married couple. Overexposure and anticipointment are the main reasons golf, movies, cards, gambling and reality TV soon replace the world's No. 1 leisure activity as the lifeblood of a "healthy" relationship.
So it's utterly ridiculous to dismiss Cuban's "pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered" critique of the NFL's recent TV schedule expansion. Now, I don't happen to agree with Cuban's detailed Facebook defense of his original assertion. The Mavericks owner listed five reasons professional football's popularity might crumble in the next decade. I'm not going to repeat them here. It's a waste of time.
Cuban is smart. His willingness to engage the media and fans in a critical discussion should be applauded. He would make a great columnist. Let me serve as his editor, refine his argument and attach it to a bigger picture.
All professional sports suffer from the same problem -- our innate, lazy desire to exploit rather than innovate. This is what leads to the disease of overexposure, which is now pervasive throughout professional sports. Our most popular sports leagues came down with overexposure in the late 1970s when a very smart man from Connecticut invented an all-sports TV network.
Fans started watching games with the lights on. For a while, we didn't care. We were overjoyed with what we saw. It was like the first seven years of a marriage. Perfection. We were so proud of the phenomenal kids we birthed -- Lil Magic, Larry, Michael and Joe Montana, Lawrence Taylor, Walter Payton and Cal Ripken, George Brett, Dwight Gooden. Oh, God, let's not forget Iron Mike Tyson, Wayne Gretzky, Carl Lewis!
Major League Baseball, with its 162-game schedule, was the first sport to contract full-blown overexposure. We realized the game is rather boring and moves at an AOL dial-up pace. We treated the disease with steroids and syrupy, see-no-evil prose about home runs. But we treated the symptoms, not the disease.
Basketball was overexposure's next victim. Given the NBA's reliance on black players and America's love affair with negative stereotypes regarding black men, basketball was predisposed to catastrophic suffering from overexposure.
Soon, we realized the irrelevance of the NBA regular season. We treated the disease by selling the myth that Michael Jordan was 10 times the player that Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were combined.
Hockey never had a chance. An Indiana jury knocked out Tyson and heavyweight boxing. Ben Johnson put a fork and a needle in track and field. Tiger Woods drove golf off a cliff five years ago.
Football is the last man standing. Its footing is tenuous. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are the new Michael Jordans. We're in the process of selling them as 10 times better than Montana, Marino, Elway and Unitas. The selling of mythical greatness is the marker of desperation; it's the life-support system when overexposure starts to overtake the body.
The problem with all sports is we see too much of them. The NFL is making a mistake spreading televised games all across the calendar. I absolutely adore football. I rarely watch the Thursday night games. They're generally bad games, between bad teams who haven't had time to properly prepare. I anticipate being disappointed, so I don't watch. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is another NFL weekend when I anticipate being disappointed. By the time you play three games on Thursday and throw in one more game on Monday, there aren't enough decent games left for Sunday. Most fans complained about the NFL's Monday night schedule.
Here's the real danger in football overexposure: a new focus on the officiating.
We make love in the dark to hide our flaws. The unintended consequence of so much high-profile football is that fans are now becoming in tune with how much control the referees exercise over the outcome of games. Three prime-time, single-focus NFL games per week give fans, particularly those on social media, an opportunity to examine the NFL's flaws and discuss them. Controversial talking points that might get lost during a busy NFL Sunday afternoon don't get lost when there is only one game to discuss.
The NFL, with its rules massaging, has built a game that is reliant on quarterbacks and referees. Fans love Manning and Brady. We don't love Hochuli and Triplette. The fact I can write Hochuli and Triplette without explanation is problematic for the league. It portends catastrophe. We're enthralled with a game that is being decided by 50-year-old men who sometimes indiscriminately toss yellow flags or ignore violations right in front of them. I don't know about you, but I'm starting to anticipate this recurring disappointment. Anticipointment is why I don't click on those sensational-but-ultimately-misleading Internet headlines anymore. Anticipointment is why a lot of basketball fans ignore the NBA until the playoffs or beyond.
Mark Cuban, among other things, speculated NFL doom would be tied to off-field player misbehavior, fantasy football and kids choosing safer sports. It's all gobbledygook. Gladiator fighting and boxing were both wildly popular with the public even though most kids avoided ever taking up these highly dangerous "sports."
Greed is undermining all American televised sports. Greed is at the root of overexposure. As an editor, I would've instructed Cuban to analogize football and all professional sports to the 2007 housing market. Exploitation is the driving force behind every move in sports. Innovation and fairness have no seat at the table. That usually foreshadows trouble in America.
Ownership and leadership in all sports, including NCAA football and basketball, should quit seeking to exploit their popularity and start aggressively pursuing ways to improve their sports. One step back to take two steps forward is still the best course of action to sustain success.
As an NBA owner, rather than prognosticating NFL misfortune, Cuban would be best served pushing his league to adopt a 62-game schedule and a one-month, paid summer league for the top 200 college and high school stars. Innovation is what is needed in basketball. The current system has outlived its usefulness. Let colleges have their players for four years as long as the NBA can employ those players for one month during the summer. I'd rather watch a 15-game summer schedule pitting the best amateurs than 20 regular-season NBA games in November and December.
Look at the path chosen by scripted TV drama the past 15 years. HBO, AMC, FX and Showtime all have realized less is more. For years, the major networks fed us 25-episode seasons of garbage. The smart cable networks started giving us 12 and 13. The goal was to turn each episode into an event. It's worked. I anticipate "Game of Thrones" on a Sunday night the same way I do a big football game.
Cable TV, because of the immense competition, is trying to perfect its product, not exploit it. It's a concept that exemplifies the spirit of our founders, men who wrote a constitutional document intended to help Americans perfect our democracy, not exploit it. But most major corporations grow fearful of innovation and change. In their desperation to maintain power, they turn defensive and stale. They rely on their ability to exploit advantages won by their corporation's predecessors. This is what has happened to the sports world, where the NFL, MLB, NBA and NCAA own virtual monopolies. Pete Rozelle was the last innovator in sports. His Super Bowl was the last significant new idea.