When the Packers hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy in Dallas last month, a bittersweet air surrounded the celebrations. A strange anxiousness filled the hearts and minds of football fans around the country. Because of the impending expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Super Bowl may have been the last NFL game for a long time.
Anxiety has slowly turned into fear over the past few weeks as the NFL owners and Players’ Union have continually failed to see eye-to-eye on a new CBA, causing the players to decertify the union, and the owners to initiate a lockout. Among the several issues separating the two sides is the players’ refusal to expand the NFL schedule to 18 games, citing multiple health reports that indicate the current season is already too arduous and taxing on the players. But the main issue is that the players and owners can’t figure out a way to split the league’s $9 billion in revenue. As a result, the unthinkable may actually happen.
The thought of a football-less fall is too much for some to bear, but somehow, I think we’ll get through this. Nevertheless, I cannot pretend it will be easy. The sheer number of people who watch the tedious late rounds of the NFL draft in June just to catch a small taste of football’s upcoming season is evidence of the withdrawal many fans suffer from each offseason. By the time the preseason arrives, fans tune in by the millions to see backups run around for a few quarters. It doesn’t even matter that the games don’t count—it’s football. And let’s be honest—there are few better ways to cope with Saturday night’s hangover than to wake up to a marathon of NFL coverage.
But there is hope yet. After all, we still have college football, right? The Patriot League may not be the SEC, but perhaps the lockout will help fill the seats at Harbin Field. If you show enough school-spirit from painting your face blue and gray for the Verizon Center showdowns each winter, why not find a different college team with an unusual style? Maybe the option offense or a dynamic running quarterback will help compensate for the lack of a team connection … maybe.
Or perhaps the lockout will cause some to abstain from football altogether out of spite or frustration. Students can turn to the country’s roots and actually watch the baseball playoffs. Yet baseball can only take us into the end of October, which normally gets us to the beginning of the NBA season and Midnight Madness, thus preventing a lull in the sports calendar. However, the NBA is threatened by its own potential lockout, with its own CBA set to expire after this season. Theoretically, we are looking at a freezing winter in Washington with not only no NFL, but no NBA.
Here is where things get really frightening and force us to think beyond conventional fixes for our sports addiction. A crisis of multiple lockouts may be soccer’s big chance to gain a following in America. Unable to televise NFL and NBA games, major networks will have to show something to feed a sports-hungry nation. We can only hope they know that airing more golf and tennis tournaments simply will not suffice. Sure, it lacks the hard hits of football, but the English Premier League, which starts in August and finishes up around late May, offers an atmosphere and intensity similar to the NFL, while displaying some of the very best athletes from around the world.
Ultimately, something will have to fill the void in the sports calendar, especially if lightning does strike twice and the NBA has a lockout as well. In the coming months, rather than drive yourself crazy reading the pointless updates on labor negotiations, why not take up more interest in a different league? Football will come back eventually. Let’s just hope at this time next year we can say it never left.