Chris Potter: March Madness not limited to the basketball court

Chris Potter

March Madness isn’t confined to college basketball.

The NFL?owners and league commissioner Roger Goodell have been locked in a game of one-upmanship with the players association and executive director DeMaurice Smith for several months now (I’ll see your $1 salary and drop it to 68 cents!), but the insanity has been taken up a notch with the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.

The NFLPA rejected the league’s final offer Friday, a proposal that Saints quarterback Drew Brees said “was all a show.”

Fair enough. Such rhetoric is typical of labor negotiations, especially when billions of dollars is at stake. Besides, did anyone really expect a deal by Friday’s extended deadline? The extension felt less like a real attempt at compromise and more like two playground rivals moving the timing of their inevitable confrontation from lunch period to after recess.

Both sides bare some responsibility for the current stalemate, but the NFLPA ceded a chunk of the moral high ground by turning the NFL?draft into a petty game of self-righteousness.

After reports began to surface that the NFLPA was urging the top prospects to boycott attending the draft, the NFLPA?itself weighed in Tuesday. NFLPA executive George Atallah cryptically tweeted “The NFL draft is special. Players and their families will be in NYC. It just maybe different. We will provide details when we can.”

The speculation is that the NFLPA will hold its own event in New York City on draft night, perhaps a football field or so away from the actual draft being held in primetime at Radio City Music Hall. Players will walk across a stage and shake Smith’s hand, rather than the hand of a commissioner who has the temerity to ask for a rookie wage scale that will prevent the likes of JaMarcus Russell from pocketing over $32 million for winning seven of 25 starts.

The NFL draft has become one of the biggest events on the NFL calendar, a day of optimism when even the most downtrodden franchise has a chance to turn it all around. For fans of teams at the top of the draft, the fresh faces walking across the stage represent hope after a miserable season.

It’s a day for players who have dedicated huge chunks of their lives to the game of football to hold up their new jersey, beaming ear to ear with the knowledge that all the hard work has paid off, they made it, they’ve arrived.

What, exactly, does the NFLPA have to gain by cheapening that day for the fans, players and their families? Proof that they can take their ball and stay home?

Their stance is especially puzzling given that the NFL?draft is the last venue the NFLPA?should be turning into a symbolic show of defiance.

This is an institution that turns unproven rookies into some of the highest paid players in the league. In what other industry can you vault into the upper stratosphere of salaries on your first job out of college? If there is one point of contention that the owners clearly own, it’s the necessity and logic of a rookie wage scale.

Of course, logic is in scant supply during March Madness.

Chris Potter is a sports and outdoors writer at The Hornell (N.Y.) Evening Tribune.