Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

MLB Losing Ground to NFL on Salary Cap, Playoff Structure

Baseball is losing its luster. The NFL has now become the sport that most Americans prefer to watch, a fact that was on full display this past Sunday as 111 million people put their lives on hold to watch the Steelers and Packers clash in the Super Bowl.

So what happened to America’s pastime?

Just last year, the Texas Rangers went bankrupt and majority owner Tom Hicks was forced to sell his stake in the team. Baseball was hit hard by the recession in 2009, with attendance down in virtually every city and free agents forced to take much lower salaries than what they would have received in the pre-recession market.

The NFL, on the other hand, has seen salaries and signing bonuses increase of late. Unproven top draft picks are guaranteed millions of dollars without ever stepping onto the field.

In baseball, future Hall of Famers Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez struggled to find work this offseason, while NFL stars Brett Favre and LaDainian Tomlinson had no problem finding suitors. The NFL makes money, and teams hardly worry about taking risks on veterans — they worry primarily about putting the best team they can on the field.

It would be naive to dismiss the fact that the NFL attracts fans simply because of Americans’ obsession with football. But the crux of the matter is that the NFL has recognized and acted on ways to change its product favorably for fans while MLB’s reluctance to change has significantly hurt its popularity.

One major issue for baseball over the last two decades has been the rampant use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs by its players. Even though conservative MLB commissioner Bud Selig finally installed stricter testing and penalties for dopers, the damage to the sport was done. Many of the game’s stars’ reputations were tarnished, and even the those presumed clean by most are followed to this day by a cloud of suspicion. Nobody wants to watch a product that is created artificially or that doesn’t involve a level playing field.

Similarly, baseball’s reluctance to adopt a replay system is holding the sport back. It’s frustrating for fans to witness the effect of blown calls without any hope of their being corrected. Teams could very well lose because of one umpire’s poor decision, or in the case of Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga, a player may be wrongfully denied a perfect game because of an umpiring error.

The NFL uses replay, and MLB is starting to warm up to the idea with regard to home run calls, but it’s time for baseball to review plays on the base paths. While I don’t think every play should be reviewed, MLB should give managers the ability to challenge a few calls a game — just like the NFL does for its head coaches — because fans want justice.

With that said, the bottom line for most fans is their team’s tally in the wins column. People want to support a team that has a chance to win a championship.

Baseball fails where the NFL succeeds in this respect, but it can do two things to provide more parity for its fans: increase the amount of playoff teams and develop a salary cap.

If  MLB were to add two more playoff teams to each league (four total), not only would it increase league revenue for extra games, but it would also promote greater interest among fans of teams that would ordinarily miss the playoffs or be out of the race near the beginning of the season. More teams would be involved in the playoff hunt, and more people would care about baseball across the country later in the year. Why do the Yankees and Red Sox attract more fans to their ballparks than other clubs? Because those teams win. People want to root for a winner. More playoff spots, more interest. More teams in the playoffs, more interest in the playoffs.

A more drastic scenario would involve enforcing a league salary cap. The NFL has succeeded for so many years because teams at the bottom of the pack have the funds — relative to their competitors — to make their team competitive in the offseason, while the top teams struggle to retain their talent due to free agency. In baseball, the same teams are typically the best and worst; teams with money win more than teams without money.

If everybody had the same amount of resources, it would be impossible for teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies to continue signing baseball’s best players. Teams like the Pirates, Rays and Marlins would be able to crash the playoff party, and as a result, fans of those teams would develop a more consistent interest in the sport.

It’s simple, really. Incorporating a salary cap and increasing the amount of playoff teams would cause more people to care more about their teams later in the season. Everybody would be competitive, and anyone could win. That’s what makes the NFL amazing and leaves MLB trailing behind.

It’s time for change, Mr. Selig.

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