Finally, the season is over. The Pro Bowl – one of the weakest in recent memory – has been played, and so I, along with 40 million other guys, have a chance to rest my weary eyes and upset stomach. The problem is, the season is not over. There is much to discuss, including the free agency period starting March 1, the National Football League draft on April 29, and the start of training camps in late July, as well as the collective bargaining agreement talks that have cast a pall on the state of the NFL recently. There is no off-season for a serious fan.

One could argue that the NFL has been the best run league recently. From the multi-billion dollar TV contract with CBS to the jerseys flying off the shelves, the league has reinvented itself for the new century.

Things have been going well so far for “Tagliabue & Co.” However, the CBA is set to expire after next season, which makes it imperative that the league formulate a new agreement within the week. If an agreement fails to be made, the NFL would play an uncapped 2007 season, meaning that owners would be able to buy players to try to win the Super Bowl – something Redskins owner Dan Snyder has been accused of for the last several years. Early indications have shown that an agreement is far off because the owners and the players’ union disagree on revenue sharing, an integral issue that has boosted the NFL to elite status. For their own sake, here’s to hoping that they figure it out before they follow the NHL.

While the labor dispute is being ironed out, scouts, general managers, personnel men and prospective players around the league have been prepping for the draft, so have I – marathon eating and drinking copious amounts of liquids have been a part of my preparation. Perhaps one of the most hyped events in sports history, where millions are won or lost, where the fortunes of 21 year-olds are dependent on the reaction time of a 60 year-old scout, when the mental health of a whole nation of 18-49 year-old males hangs in balance. This is a time when grown men get to debate the hip swivel of a youngster and whether it will impact a team the following season.

NFL Networks have recently announced that they will televise the NFL combine event. This is basically a show about dudes talking to other dudes aimed at an audience of dudes.

The NFL became popular partly because it’s a sport for the “Average Joe,” meaning a guy or girl can engage in some social drinking or gambling. Now, I’m not condoning sports gambling or drinking, but lets face it, it’s much more exciting to watch a game if the person has something riding on the result. The league’s insistence that gambling and alcohol have no part in its popularity has struck a chord with advertisers. When Anheuser-Busch couldn’t get the players’ union’s approval to put real teams in its ads, people grumbled. This stubbornness could lose fans, something that the league, with its various promotions has tried to keep.

It has been the fans who have driven the NFL to its height. Basketball has fallen off the map with the influx of high school flame-outs, baseball and players’ use of steroids have tainted the game and the hockey lockout crippled North American hockey. Only football has been able to keep itself clear of any major potential distractions although halftime shows have been quite the hot topic lately. Any major strike or player walkout now and it will lose whatever goodwill it has accumulated during the last decade. As hockey and baseball have learned, no sport is immune to viewer apathy.

So, lets all enjoy the analysis and the bickering. The NFL has given us some of the most precious sports moments in this country. Lets appreciate its qualities and not pay too much attention to its shortcomings – no one is perfect. Only seven more months ’til opening day and I am already excited.

Maystrovsky can be reached at dmaystrovsky@campustimes.org.



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