Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The NFL's Free Ride

The Keith Fitzhugh story got me thinking. In case you haven't heard, Fitzhugh is the 24-year-old who told the New York Jets "thanks, but no thanks" when they offered him a practice squad slot after two defensive backs were injured this week.

What kind of fool says "no" to the NFL? Well, Fitzhugh has a real job and real-life responsibilities. His father's disabled and the family needs a steady paycheck, which Fitzhugh is earning working on the Norfolk and Southern Railroad.

Still, couldn't he bank some big money just spending a few weeks in the NFL? After all, you read about those massive contracts in pro sports. The truth is this: the NFL pays its practice-squad players $5,200 a week. There are no fringe benefits and the work is week-to-week. Even if a player spends the whole season on the practice squad, he's made $88,400 and may well be back on the street when it's over.

Remember, the NFL is a $7 billion a year business. Unlike the other major North American sports leagues, it spends nothing on minor leagues to develop players. In fact, the NFL relies on the NCAA to provide its raw material, without compensation.

In fact, it's worse than that. Who pays for the scholarships which attract star athletes to college programs which groom them for the NFL? Why, it's (to a degree) you and me. Our tax dollars, the tuition checks we write for our kids, and our contributions to dear old Alma Mater end up supporting college athletics.

The wealthy-beyond-belief NFL should step up and fund a true developmental league so players like Keith Fitzhugh can make a living playing football.

Oddly, the NFL might wind up having to do this for a different reason: it's having a harder and harder time finding pro-ready quarterbacks. As the college game moves toward spread offenses and Cam Newton-style QB's, the NFL is finding fewer quarterbacks trained for the pro-style game. John Madden told me during our on-air segment the other day that he thinks the answer is a minor league.

If you do see an NFL D-league, you can bet it won't be so the Keith Fitzhughs of the world are treated more decently. But that might be the net effect, and it would be a good thing.

2 comments: said...

Wasn't NFL Europe supposed to serve this function?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't NFL Europe intended to serve this function?