Thanks, Mark Cuban, NFL Needs Reality Check

That’s it, Mark Cuban. Now you’ve really done it.

Just when you thought that Cuban had piled on his own league enough, the author-shark investor-Dallas Mavericks team owner picked a fight with the biggest kid on the block the other day. He predicted Armageddon for the NFL in the not-too-distance future, which is like saying the New York Yankees will finish below .500 one of these years.

“I think the NFL is 10 years away from an implosion,” Cuban told reporters in a pregame chat, which was more relevant than the Mavericks itself. “I’m just telling you, pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And they’re getting hoggy.”

Not that Cuban has ever overextended himself, you understand.

“Just watch,” Cuban went on to say. “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I’m just telling you, when you’ve got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That’s rule No. 1 of business.”

See what you’re missing in retirement, David Stern?

In my lifetime, I can’t recall a professional sports league so far ahead of the field that it would take a search party to find the laggers behind it. My current list of the 10 most popular ones goes something like this: NFL, NFL, NFL, NFL, NFL, NFL, NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL in that order. There’s the NFL, then there’s everyone else. But you already knew the average NFL franchise was worth $1.04 billion, twice as much as that in Major League Baseball, right?

Yet before Cuban becomes the first team owner to be fined by separate leagues, commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL should heed his words.

As long as human beings are involved, everyone is vulnerable. Believe it or not, even Major League Baseball could call itself the National Pastime a while back. That was one historic scandal, one short-sighted vision and too many 3 1/2-hour games ago. At some point, the NFL will go Jerry Glanville on us — Not For Long. Will it be in the next five years? Ten? Don’t bet on it.

See, there are legit reasons why the NFL has gotten to where it is today. For one, its regular season schedule fits the the average American lifestyle like no other sport. Sixteen games, 17 weeks. Perfect. But mostly, it has the most proactive leadership of any professional sports league in recent memory.

Take the safety issue. If anything can bring pro football to its knees, that’s it. As Cuban later wrote in a Facebook post, “I wouldn’t want my son playing football, would you? I’m sure helmet technology will improve over the next 10 years, but why risk it? There are plenty of sports to play. Plenty of ways to get exercise and if my son decided to do anything outside of sports and never pick up any ball of any kind, I’m fine with that. I can think of 1k things I would prefer him to get excited about doing.

“As far as watching, I [am] good with that.

“I don’t think I’m alone. If we start to see a decline of popularity at the high school and then college level because kids choose other sports, it will hurt the interest in watching the NFL.”

The health issue will continue to have some effect on the game, I imagine, but Goodell and the team owners aren’t about to sleep on it. Pushed by so many concussed ex-players, some of whom could barely remember their names, they tackled the problem aggressively and did it quickly. It was taken down too hard and too soon, some players and fans would tell you, but the problem was addressed just the same. Like it or not, the league won’t stop there.

Even in comparatively trivial matters such as the extra point, the NFL honchos have shown an inclination to think outside the box. This doesn’t sound like a fat pig that’s content to become processed meat to me. More like a mad scientist bent on perfection.

Now compare that to Major League Baseball, which has adopted instant replay finally. If if has taken all this time for the seamheads to enter the 21st century on something this basic, then how long will it take them to protect defenseless pitchers who have been beaned at an alarming rate in recent seasons?

There’s another reason why Pigskin Nation can’t get enough pro football these days: It’s a must-see reality show that’s made for television. 

The NFL has the bottom line to prove it. Three years ago, the league extended its television contracts with Fox, CBS and NBA for approximately $3 billion per year through the 2022 season. Include deals with the NFL Network, DirectTV and Westwood One radio among others, and every franchise in the league is guaranteed more than $200 million each year even before a game has been played. Cuban and the NBA can only dream to be this successful.

Yet while I detect more than a hint of jealousy in his words, Cuban raises a valid concern when he says an over saturation of the NFL on television will destroy it eventually. “They’re trying to take over every night of TV,” he said. “Initially, it’ll be, ‘Yeah, they’re the biggest-rating thing that there is.’ OK, Thursday, that’s great, regardless of whether it impacts (the NBA) during that period when we cross over. Then if it gets Saturday, now you’re impacting colleges. Now it’s on four days a week.

“It’s all football. At some point, the people get sick of it.”

There are televised NFL games on Thursday night, Sunday afternoon, Sunday night and Monday night. On Thanksgiving Day, they’re on morning, noon and night. Turn on the NFL Network, and it’s all pro football, all the time. Is that the definition of gettin’ hoggy with it? Will Goodell and the TV suits know when and where to draw the line? Or as Cuban suggests, will they allow greed to kill the golden goose as we’ve seen happen in sports so many times before? The answer to those questions will determine whether NFL dominance is measured in years or decades.

Until then, the NFL and its nation of fans shouldn’t criticize Mark Cuban for his cautionary tale. It should thank the man.