Thursday, September 18, 2003

REMEMBER: When Gregg Easterbrook talks about the NFL, you can listen to him--he actually watches the NFL. When he talks about the NBA, a sport he doesn't watch:

A decade ago, the NBA was being touted as the new juggernaut of sports; all its numbers (ratings, revenue, attendance, marketing sales) had risen for years. Since then, NBA popularity has been in free-fall decline -- regular-season ratings down 42 percent in the last decade, this year's Finals the lowest-rated in two decades. What happened, exactly, when the decline began? The NBA opened its doors to a wave of teenagers. can safely ignore him, because he lives in a parallel universe where expansion and Michael Jordan's retirements never happened. And where the lowest-rated NBA finals in two decades have nothing to do with the presence of Tim Duncan. And I don't even think NBA play quality has gone down significantly.

And here's King Kaufman disagreeing with him on the Clarett thing:

But I think he's off-base here. Signing teenagers isn't what leads to a decline in quality of play. Making bad personnel decisions does. If 19-year-old players aren't as effective as veterans in their 20s and 30s, then it's a bad personnel decision to draft and sign them. So don't sign them. You don't need a rule.

In baseball the Oakland A's have shown that, for example, signing mediocre relievers to eight-figure contracts because they pile up a lot of saves is a bad decision. Others are starting to learn that too, but nobody's advocating for a rule against relief pitchers getting big contracts. Every once in a while a Mariano Rivera comes along who's worth all that money, and he should be able to get it. The NFL's minimum age rule, the one Easterbrook says the league must preserve, essentially protects NFL owners from their own poor decision-making.

It's often argued -- not by the NFL, which absurdly talks about encouraging kids to go to college -- that the reason for the draft rule is to protect the current system, where the NCAA acts as a free minor league for the pro ranks. Players arrive trained, and in some cases as fully marketable celebrities, at no cost to the NFL. That's true, but it would still be true without the rule if NFL teams made good personnel decisions.

So to sum up: Easterbrook on the NBA: Bad. Easterbrook on the NFL: Cutesy, but good.

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