Gutman: The salary cap, and why it’s beautiful

That football team from New York looks dominant. I don’t know who can stop them from winning the East.

No, I don’t think the New York (Football) Giants will win the NFC East: There are too many good teams.

No, I don’t think the New York (Football) Jets will win the AFC East: Brett Favre has the Madden curse.

So what am I talking about? New York state’s other team, the Buffalo Bills. That’s right, the Buffalo Bills will beat out Favre’s Jets and the unstoppable Patriots this year.

Pinch me. Actually, that won’t wake me up from the deep deep sleep I must be in. This is too surreal. Kick me in the face. Hard.

This NFL season has been so filled with the drama over which coaches will be fired, whether Aaron Rodgers is Brett Favre or merely the 14th reincarnation of the Enlightened One, whether Tony Romeo can conquer his playoff demons and TO’s ego and other story lines that people aren’t paying attention to one minor statistic.

The losses column.

Where the Buffalo Bills have fewer than the Cowboys. Where the Patriots have a number other than zero. Where Adrian Peterson’s Vikings, expected to contend for the Super Bowl for the first time since they were led by Leif Erikson, have more than the Miami Dolphins, who usually seem as tenacious as their mascot caught in a tuna net.

The only way to stop the NFC East seems to be to make two of its teams play each other. Anyone in a division called “West” is part of a minor league football circuit that occasionally gets dominated by legitimate NFL teams.

Nobody saw this coming. No division always has four dominant teams or four terrible ones. Talented teams like the Colts and Patriots don’t stumble this badly early in the year. And the Buffalo Bills don’t win.

What happened to the football landscape as we knew it?

It’s the salary-cap era. Sports with hard salary caps that promote parity force dominant teams to allow some of their best players to leave through free agency and sign elsewhere. Salary caps allow smaller markets to spend enough to compete with big markets, if not quite as much. In any given three-year span, a terrible team can shed big-money, low-production contracts, utilize their high draft picks and make a couple crucial free-agent signings and then shoot up the standings from doormat to dominance. That’s what Bill Parcells was hired to do in Miami and what Arthur Blank hopes will happen in Atlanta. The Patriots about 10 years ago went from worst to first, and the Bills are doing it now.

Similarly, teams like today’s Patriots and Colts struggle to put together dominant season after dominant season. Successful teams, like the Giants last year, inevitably lose players to free agency (look at the now depleted Giants’ defense) because other teams want the players who step up under the bright lights of the playoffs.

No team’s perch is safe, not even New England’s atop the AFC East. And no team must remain pathetic — except the Lions. The salary cap allows for parity in the NFL that makes its games more exciting week in and week out than any other sport’s. And it’s also more exciting from year to year, since no fan base can know its team has no chance of making the playoffs, unlike Pittsburgh Pirates fans every baseball season.

Pittsburgh … Pirates … baseball … salary cap. I think I might be onto something. Baseball teams that historically perform worse than Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl lack the opportunities for upward mobility afforded to many comparable football teams because they get outspent so significantly. For small-market baseball teams to compete, they have to rely on brilliant management that puts together a talented roster of players that nobody else wanted. In baseball, money buys wins. And apathy from fan bases from Kansas City to San Francisco to Pittsburgh.

So spare those fans their misery. Don’t leave them in a perpetual state of “Maybe next year … NOT!” Either give their gladiators the means to fight back or let the lion eat them. Either relocate or sell these losing teams to situations in which they will have the money to compete — something that will never happen because some of these teams have been owned by the same types of owners for generations — or institute a salary cap.

Forget the argument that profit has no place in baseball and that all the revenue should be reinvested in talent and salaries. Profit isn’t necessarily bad.

As long as a salary cap means teams like the Bills can someday top the Patriots and the standings, it will be good for baseball.

Collin Gutman is a junior in Pierson College.

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