The big sports news of the day comes from Europe where a dozen of the big-time soccer teams in the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A have announced that they will break from the current soccer establishment there and form a “Super League”. At the moment, there are 6 English teams, 3 La Liga clubs and 3 Serie A teams in the “Super League”. The plan is to add three more “permanent members” and then have 5 “other members” forming a 20-team league that would play mid-week games so that the teams can continue to participate in their national leagues. Interestingly, two of the four members of the “governing board” for the Super League are American owners of European soccer clubs – – John Henry and Joel Glazer.
There is less-than-universal support for such a Super League. German clubs, and some of the better teams in France and Portugal have said they will not join the Super League. As you can imagine, UEFA and FIFA are not happy about this. Here is what UEFA had to say about the breakaway league:
“Every club and player participating in the Super League could be banned from all UEFA and FIFA competitions, European or International level.
“As previously announced by FIFA and the six Federations, the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.
“We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough.”
FIFA obviously does not like this idea because it would allow a large part of the best soccer to be played without FIFA “oversight” and “control”. My cynical view here is that if FIFA is given an opportunity to share in any revenue(s) generated by the Super League, they might ease their opposition just a tad. This is a most complex issue; it is likely to go on for a while before it is resolved one way or the other. If you want to be able to understand the origins of the issues when you hear about some change in the status of soccer in Europe over the next year or so, please read this introductory piece at CBSSports.com.
Rebellion is in the air in the sports world – – or maybe its just the pollen in the air… About 20 of the 32 NFL teams will hold OTAs without many of their players present in person. Players – – at the urging of the NFLPA and team representatives – – have decided that they will stay away from these activities to keep the pandemic under control. If you believe that is the prime motivation here, you probably also believe that Lucy will one day hold that football for Charlie Brown to kick.
The players look back at last year when OTAs were held virtually because last year there was some immediacy to pandemic control when there were lots more questions than answers abut COVID-19. It turns out that last year’s NFL season came off with only minor hitches and statistically, there were fewer injuries than in “normal seasons” before last year. So, the players have chosen to flex their labor muscles here and to focus attention on that part of the CBA that labels OTAs as “voluntary” acts by the players. In essence, players on more than half the teams have said they are not going to volunteer to be present and will participate virtually.
The NFL offseason program for veteran players has 3 phases – – as spelled out in the CBA:
- April 19 – May 14: Virtual meetings; no on-field drills with coaches. Team weight room facilities are there for those players who choose to avail themselves of those facilities.
- May 17-21: Full-speed on-field drills and practice with coaches present but without contact.
- May 24-June 18: Team OTAs plus mandatory mini-camp.
Rookie mini-camps will be held a week or two after the NFL Draft; there does not appear to be a significant change in place there. Given that more than a few rookies will have opted out of college football last year, rookie mini-camps are likely to be even more important for draftees than usual.
My reaction to this seeming act of defiance by players borders on dismissive. First of all, even the union recognizes that it is crass at the core. The NFLPA “understands” that some teams will have players participating in the “voluntary” activities because those teams have significant numbers of players who receive “workout bonuses” for attending such activities. Translation:
- Safety and control of the pandemic take a back seat to performance bonuses that might be at the “six-figure level”.
In addition, these declarations of independence by the players simply means that they will adhere to the terms of the CBA which have labeled these offseason activities as “voluntary” for years. By standing on their hind legs and declaring that they will not be attending, all the players are asserting is that they are willing to defy their coaches’ preferences and urgings so long as the CBA provides them cover.
Moreover, these are the same players who ratified a new CBA – – by a remarkably close vote to be sure – – just a year ago. In that CBA, the players folded their cards on two issues that they had declared to be “lines in the sand” prior to negotiations. Those were:
- Thursday Night Football
- A 17-game regular season schedule.
Those were health and safety issues; those were abominations in the sight of the Lord. So, what happened? Not only did the players give in on both issues for an extra percentage point of the revenues being counted toward setting the salary cap, but also the players signed onto the new deal for 10 years. One full decade…
Look, I happen to think that the players were right to sign on; they will take down lots more money in salary caps and salary floors with the new deal than they did in the previous deal – – and certainly more than they would have gotten without a 2020 season due to a work stoppage. However, I find the current posturing and the tone of “rebelliousness” just a bit over the top given last year’s behavior that was more akin to “rolling over and playing dead”.
Finally, since today’s rant has been about seeming acts of rebellion, let me close with some thoughts on rebellion by people much smarter than I:
“I find rebellion packaged by a major corporation a little hard to take seriously.” – – David Byrne
“Rebellion is always going to fascinate, as it’s always packaged in a very safe way.” – – Irvine Welsh
“I am from a family of artists. Here I am, making a living in the arts. It has not been a rebellion. It’s as though I had taken over the family Esso station.” – – Kurt Vonnegut
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………