February 25, 2010
This Mike Florio column at The Sporting News got me thinking about what it would be like if our big, bad beloved game of American football were to bust into the Winter Olympics.
At first, I thought, "I don't really want to see that." The idea even seemed a little perverse. What's to be gained from beating the Jamaican national team 172-0? No good can come from that.
The more thought I gave to it, though, the more that I thought about the upside, the potential benefits and the likelihood that it one day will happen. At the very least, I thought it was worth putting together a list of pros and cons, as I see them. Let's go through it.
• It benefits the NFL if, down the line, other countries start producing NFL players. You can never have too much talent, right? It would take years and years and years to develop any kind of regular stream of talent to the NFL from outside of North America, but why not try? Why not try for a football version of Dirk Nowitzki? Maybe the payoff is a long way off, but it never happens if you don't take the first step.
• There's more football being played internationally than you might think. There's already a World Cup of American Football and an IFAF (International Federation of American Football) out there. The World Cup happens every four years, with Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Sweden and the United States fielding teams. The U.S. only competed in the last one in 2007, which it won by defeating Japan in the title game, 23-20 in overtime.
There are also international 19-and-under competitions, one of which we won last year with beatings of France (78-0), Mexico (55-0) and Canada (41-3). In another 19-and-under game, Team USA just beat a World All-Star team, 17-0.
So there's not a lot of football out there, but there is some. We're not starting totally from scratch.
• A televised football game not beholden to commercials would be amazing. Honestly, I can't even picture it. Since high school, I don't think I've ever seen a game that didn't have regular, lengthy, painful television timeouts. I've enjoyed the Olympic hockey experience, sans timeouts (nice gag job Wednesday, Russia), and a football equivalent might blow my mind.
• It might make a cool draft evaluation tool. If we're ever going to do it, I say we set it up sort of like the Senior Bowl. There are doubts about how we could get players to play hard and risk injury, but you know what? The Senior Bowl manages it. Invite a bunch of draft prospects and scouts. If the players are being evaluated all week long, based on practices and the game itself, I promise you, they'll go all out. If a gold medal isn't enough motivation, draft stock would be.
• If it ever got to the point where we had to use them, it would be great for NFL players. The American hockey team has been widely praised for its scrappy and gritty performance during these games, and rightly so. With that praise, though, it seems like there's an undercurrent of, "NFL players would never play this hard for their country because they only care about money!" I don't think that's fair, and I don't agree, and I think if they ever had the opportunity, they'd be just as patriotic and scrappy as their NHL counterparts.
• Yes, we will destroy everyone for the next 50 years or so, and that will be no fun. But is that really a good reason not to play a sport? Because one team is really good at it? Everything that's competitive now once was not competitive. If it's ever going to get competitive, it's got to start somewhere. The other countries are just going to have to take their lumps.
• Maybe the Olympics are for sports we don't see on a regular basis. I love the curling. I love the Alpine skiing. I love the bobsled. There are spectacular athletes out there who work their whole lives in relative obscurity, and they get their chance at glory once every four years. Maybe we shouldn't do anything that might overshadow that.
Player, spectator and feasibility issues aside, though, I think the most important thing to look at here is just how desperately the NFL wants to extend its global reach. That's what these games in England are all about. Yes, Europe has rejected American football before, but that doesn't mean we're not going to keep trying to stuff it down its throat.
The NFL wants football fans (and their money) from all over the world. Roger Goodell would dance like Chad Ochocinco(notes) if the Olympics helped him achieve that. Other countries start putting national teams together, and then, maybe a few more kids in China, New Zealand and Russia take up the game. Maybe they get good, one or two get to the NFL, and there's a snowball effect, and all the sudden, Yemen insists that it has the NFL Sunday Ticket package. Win-win.
The IFAF is already on record as saying that it's going to submit an application to the International Olympic Committee sometime in 2011. I don't know if that will work, but eventually -- and we might be talking 20 years or more here -- I think you'll see the NFL get behind the idea, even if it isn't participating directly, and make a real push for football in the Winter Olympics.
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