Lessons learned from NFL lockout may help current NBA, MLB predicaments

I can’t remember a time when so many problems existed across the world of sports. Every sport has issues, some that need to be addressed more than others, but each sport could use a hard look through a magnifying glass.

What a shame. As sports’ popularity is at its peak, so many problems have to coincide with success.

This past June, Game Six of the NBA Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat earned the highest television rating for a Game Six since 2000, and was a 35 percent increase from the 2006 Finals that was played between the same teams. Based off ratings alone, one would assume the NBA is prospering.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Although the NBA has seen its ratings soar, teams still lost $300 million; that is the problem. The lockout that has lasted for more than a month and a half is not even close to ending. NBPA’s Billy Hunter has already predicted the next NBA season will be canceled. Players around the league are exploring international options in case of a lockout.

Former Illini great and current New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams has already signed with Turkish league team Bestikas in anticipation of a lockout. Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer and Kevin Durant are among the stars searching for European homes as well. The NBA is one of many sports that may be as popular as ever, but are being tarnished by tons of excess baggage.

The NFL is happier than ever after ending its lengthy lockout, exemplified by the heartwarming hug between Indianapolis Colts’ center Jeff Saturday and New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft.

Even without a lockout, the NFL has many obstacles ahead. Lockout rust has already gotten the best of many players across the NFL, including former Illini and current Detroit Lions running back Mikel Leshoure, who has been ruled out for the season after tearing his Achilles tendon during practice. Holdouts have become customary to many of the league’s brightest players as well.

Tennessee Titans star running back Chris Johnson is the latest NFL player to hold out. After wide receiver Michael Crabtree missed five games in 2009, failing to agree to a contract with the San Francisco 49ers, holdouts have to be taken seriously. The Chicago Bears are hearing threats from running back Matt Forte about possibly missing games until he receives a contract extension. The NFL has become more about money and less about on-the-field excellence. Unfortunately, the MLB is no different.

Albert Pujols, without a doubt the MLB’s best hitter, has put a dark cloud over the St. Louis Cardinals and the MLB this season. Although Pujols’s situation is welcoming to Cubs fans, his free agent drama has distracted fans from this season and has forced the Cardinals’ hand. Pujols is reportedly demanding a contract in the range of 10 years and $300 million.

If Pujols’ number doesn’t drop, the Cardinals know they must win this year because next year they will be doomed without The Machine. Why else would the Cardinals deal prized outfielder Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays for pitcher Edwin Jackson? The answer is to win now and worry about the future later.

The Pujols dilemma isn’t the only problem in baseball this year. The biggest problem is the glaring need to expand instant replay. The Pittsburgh Pirates, seemingly America’s team this year, were in the midst of their most successful season since 2005 (the last time the Pirates were above .500 after 60 games.) The Pirates entered their July 26 contest against the Atlanta Braves with a record of 53-47. After 19 innings of tied baseball, Braves pitcher Scott Proctor grounded into a fielder’s choice that scored Julio Lugo for the game-winner. Home plate umpire Jerry Meals clearly blew the call as the throw to home plate beat Lugo by a mile, something instant replay would’ve easily spotted.

I understand the MLB has a 162-game season, but every game still matters. After Meals’ blown call, the Pirates lost 11 of their next 12 games, essentially eliminating them from NL Central contention. A similar mistake happened last year when then Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga had his perfect game stolen by a missed call at first base by umpire Jim Joyce. Instant replay on close calls at every base would be a big boost for the MLB and its fans. Old-time baseball fans would hate to see new age technology implemented into the game, but it is inevitable and necessary.

Pro sports are not alone, as college sports also have a laundry list of needed changes.

NCAA allegations have become a norm of college sports. Ohio State and Miami are the latest causalities of receiving improper benefits. OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor chose to leave Ohio State after he was suspended for five games for violating the NCAA’s memorabilia rules. Long-time Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel had to step down after being caught for failing to report his players who violated these rules. Even more recently convicted Ponzi scheme artist and former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro claims he provided improper benefits to 72 Hurricane athletes — including former Miami cornerback and current Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester. The simple solution is allowing players to be paid. Players do not necessarily have to be paid a yearly contract but instead be allowed to sign endorsement deals and sponsorships. College football players have to wait three years before entering the NFL draft. For players coming from poor families, the long wait could create financial problems. The NCAA profits from these players without having to pay for them. Pryor looks like the bad guy after having to leave Ohio State for receiving improper benefits when the finger should be pointed at the NCAA.

Although the current sports outlook is cloudy at the moment, the NFL proved that sometimes a terrible situation can be resolved quickly. Basketball fans can only hope the NBA closely watched how the NFL dealt with its lockout and is prepared to follow in their footsteps.

_Michael Wonsover is a sophomore in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]_