If the NFL were run like boxing, the Jets would never play the Ravens, the Saints, the Colts or the Patriots, but they'd play the Browns, the Rams, the Bucs, the Bills, the Panthers and the Lions several times each year. The Colts would back out of a playoff game with no explanation and while you could watch a pair of 0-5 teams play for free on TV, you'd have to pay for the privilege to see two 5-0 teams meet.
If the NFL were run like boxing, Ben Roethlisberger and not Charlie Batch would be quarterbacking the Steelers, the Cowboys would get first crack at every free agent and the vast majority of the prime television dates and the rules of the game would vary by state. A receiver would need two feet inbounds for a pass to be ruled a legitimate catch in California and Texas, but one foot inbounds might be OK in Florida and New York.
If the NFL were run like boxing, sanctioning bodies from another country would determine who would play in the playoffs and would require payment in order to recognize the winners. Owners would refuse to allow their teams to play teams owned by those they do not like.
That boxing has any fans at all given the multitude of problems it fails to confront speaks to the compelling nature of the sport when it is done right. The enormous success enjoyed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship – Less than 10 years ago, it was on the verge of collapse and today it's valued at more than $1 billion – is proof positive that boxing could succeed if managed and organized correctly. UFC ownership made a careful study of boxing and fixed the many things that drive the fans crazy. Boxing, though, has done no such thing.
The result is that more often than not, the best fight the best in the UFC and the fans are given the bouts they want to see. That's in stark contrast to boxing, where fans desperate to see Manny Pacquiao take on Floyd Mayweather Jr. aren't sure they'll ever wind up in the ring together and have to hope that Timothy Bradley and promoter Gary Shaw work out their differences so Bradley will wind up meeting Devon Alexander early next year.
Give promoter Joe DeGuardia credit for recognizing the appalling lack of organization in the sport and attempting to do something about it. Earlier this year, the one-time Bronx., N.Y., prosecutor founded the Boxing Promoters Association with the hope that it could one day regulate and at least provide some semblance of sane governance in the U.S. to a sport less organized than the wild, wild West.
"Basically, what I want to do with it is to make it an organization that ultimately works for the good of boxing and that will make the industry stronger and that will benefit not only the promoters, but fighters, officials, sanctioning bodies and commissions," he said. "Everyone who is involved with boxing would benefit. We need to create a structure and have a go-to authority in place with the kind of power to do what is right for the sport."
Though DeGuardia has already signed up more than 30 promoters, he's yet to convince Golden Boy Promotions and Goossen Tutor Promotions to join and has gotten tepid, at best, support from Top Rank.
Promoter Dan Goossen has long called for regulation such as the BPA might provide and testified in front of a Senate subcommittee chaired by John McCain (R-Ariz.) about the need for an independent commissioner's office in boxing. But Goossen, whose views largely parallel DeGuardia's with respect to some of the changes needed to improve boxing, hasn't joined the group because there are no bylaws already in place. DeGuardia's group is trying to create them, but Goossen believed at least a framework of such bylaws needed to be in place before he would commit his company to the BPA.
"I'm all for a promoter's association, but saying I'm all for a promoter's association without a set of bylaws that would govern it would be like saying I'm all for sending kids to school but then sending them to school with no teachers," Goossen said. "Sending them to school if there is no one there to teach them doesn't do the kids any good. I'm all for a promoter's association and I would be behind it 100 percent, but it needs to have a purpose and a cause and we need to have a set of bylaws written and signed by all the promoters, just like it was the Bill of Rights."
Boxing sorely needs a commissioner-type figure to run the sport with a unified set of rules, impose discipline, arbitrate disputes and organize championship matches. There has long been a push from some in the sport for a federal commission, but that isn't going to happen any time soon. Given that and the dire competition boxing faces in the marketplace, it can't afford to wait to address some of its most pressing problems.
If the BPA were able to appoint a commissioner or a board of commissioners with the authority to regulate the sport, it would immeasurably boost boxing's credibility with an increasingly skeptical media and a rapidly diminishing fan base.
Consider the different ways the NFL and boxing acted in two extremely similar circumstances. The NFL suspended Roethlisberger for four games for conduct detrimental to the league despite the fact that he had not been charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime. Mayweather posted a vile, hate-filled rant on uStream.com and then several days later was charged with multiple felonies.
There was no disciplinary action taken against Mayweather by anyone in boxing for his conduct and if he were to say today that he wants to fight early next year, virtually every promoter would be jockeying to be hired to promote him.
But Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said the structure of boxing doesn't lend itself to such organization.
"The NFL is a team sport and you can do those kinds of things in a team sport, with a league," said Arum, a Harvard-trained attorney. "There are arrangements and collective bargaining agreements with the (players') union in the NFL, but we don't have that and so you can't do it in boxing. In boxing, it would be up to a state to discipline (Mayweather). When he made those outrageous statements, Keith Kizer (executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission) said he wasn't going to discipline him because he said it's free speech. Obviously, (NFL commissioner Roger) Goodell wouldn't have said that, but he can do it because the league created the commissioner's office and they gave him the authority and there is a collective bargaining agreement with the players that allows him to act. We have none of that."
No system is perfect and there are going to be limitations with anything that the BPA might create. But having some regulation is clearly better than what exists now. There are different rules governing the sport from state-to-state. There are different medical requirements for the fighters. There are different licensing requirements for promoters, managers and fighters depending upon where you happen to be doing business.
An organization with the support of most or all of the boxing promoters would have teeth, however, and could lobby the various states to unify their rules. It could also appoint a commissioner or a tribunal whom the members would grant power to rule over many of these issues.
It would certainly be far from perfect, but the Boxing Promoters Association is a great idea that should be embraced by all who make their living from and who love the sport. Think of what the NFL would be like if it were run with boxing's organizational pattern and you'd understand that there is little alternative but to embrace the BPA as soon as possible.