Creating a league of their own

June 02, 1998|By Tom Teepen

It is not clear that any survey of the population would reveal a deep yearning for another professional football league, but it looks as though we may be getting one anyway.

Aced out of their traditional role in televising NFL games in the last, breathtakingly costly round of bidding for those rights, NBC and Turner broadcasting have announced plans to create a league of their own so as not to deny their viewers the ration of football they have been conditioned to expect.

The two mean to bring some 10 to 12 franchises on line, perhaps as early as the fall of 1999. Previous similar undertakings flopped. Remember the World Football League? Neither does anyone else. The U.S. Football League was taken off the gridiron in 1996 after failing to sizzle in three years. The attempt to interest U.S. viewers in the affairs of the Canadian Football League foundered on the American conviction that Canadians could not possibly have anything useful to do with football.

NBC and Mr. Turner see better prospects for their venture because by owning the teams outright they will be able to keep salaries down, and if that would seem to promise games that are mainly comedies of error -- blooped punts, fumbled passes, half-fast backs -- the same proprietorship also would let the owners script the games for thrills. It works for the World Wrestling Federation.

The plan usefully tests basic questions of physics and sociology that scientists have wondered about for years: How much sports can you load on a population before the population breaks and runs screaming into the woods? Can any game offend a viewership that will sit still for arena football?

As it is, there are several national cable sports channels and scads of regional ones. Other cable channels take up sports part time, and the broadcast networks -- well, see above: "bidding, breathtakingly costly."

The NFL has swollen to 31 teams, making what used to be the simple arithmetic task of keeping track of the standings an exercise that now requires a background in calculus. Basketball, which at one time was sensibly confined to plugging the few weeks after it got too cold for football and before it was warm enough for baseball, now sprawls all over the calendar.

Only the most dedicated television viewer, and one with the most practiced clicker hand, can successfully fishtail among the channels in search of content that does not require score keeping.

For every Hallmark Hall of Fame drama there are a thousand clashes between colleges you never heard of over things like lacrosse.

Still, sports is only sports, so where's the harm? Just hope that any success in creating their own sports exclusives doesn't give NBC and Mr. Turner other ideas.

It will be time to worry when we hear that NBC News and CNN are building villages near active volcanoes or arming small, nastily disposed nations with battlefield nukes.

Tom Teepen is a syndicated columnist. His e-mail address is teepencolumoxnews.com.

Pub Date: 6/02/98

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