PHILADELPHIA – The NFL simultaneously reminded its owners that it's bad to cheat. The owners then spent much of the day talking about the NFL Network, the league's television product which would be strongly aided by the New England Patriots going undefeated. The same Patriots who were found guilty of "Spygate" earlier this season and have since taken revenge on the NFL with one blowout win after another.
If all of this sounds like some odd collection of facts from the old PBS mini-series "Connections" with James Burke, stay with the program for a moment. It will all make sense in the end.
On Tuesday, the NFL Network and its battle with cable distributors dominated the owners meetings, which will finish up Wednesday. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the chairman of NFL Network, then gave a detailed briefing to the media about how the cable companies were denying the NFL Network to the football-loving public and the league's plans to lessen the restrictions.
The overriding theme of Jones' comments is that the league is "committed" to making the network viable. He also said that the network is currently making money, although he admitted it was still in the growth process.
"Anytime you're building a new product, you understand it's going to take some time before you have a full return," Jones said.
In essence, the NFL is asking fans in areas that don't receive the NFL Network as part of a basic package of programming to switch to some other service, such as DirecTV or digital phone services. For now, the NFL has been losing the legal battle with cable operators such as Comcast, Cablevision and Time Warner to make the NFL Network part of the basic package.
Those three cable operators have approximately 40 million homes. As of now, there is little, if any, talk with any of the three companies to strike a compromise.
"The bottom line is consumers are the ones who should win here," Goodell said. "The consumers should get the product. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to make sure our consumers understand we have a great product; we have some great games that are going to be on, and some of them won't be able to see it because the cable operators are not distributing it."
What does that all mean for Joe Fan? In short, if the NFL Network survives and eventually thrives, the league will eventually divert more game coverage to its network in hopes of making more money.
If the network doesn't survive, it means those game will eventually make their way back to traditional networks such as CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC and ESPN.
NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky said there is no threat to the network. Palansky said there was "zero chance" the NFL would eventually pull the package of Thursday and Saturday night games off the network. He also "guaranteed" that the network would carry games after the current television deal runs out in 2011.
Of course, survival depends on demand. The most obvious way to build demand is to have compelling games.
Enter New England, which improved to 7-0 Sunday and seems like a strong candidate to go undefeated based on how it has played to this point. The Patriots have won each game by at least 17 points.
On Dec. 29, the Patriots will close the season at the New York Giants. The game will be at 8:15 p.m. ET on the NFL Network and will be the only game played that day. The rest of the NFL will finish the regular season the next day.
Given that the Patriots will likely have locked up the AFC East by that point and potentially the AFC's No. 1 seed, the only significant drama to the game could be whether they are undefeated. Thus, the hope of the NFL is that enough people will be interested in that game, unable to get it on cable and thus will clamor for the cable operators to add the NFL Network.
It's all an odd dependency on a Patriots team that created a tremendous public outcry earlier this season when the league fined coach Bill Belichick, the team and took away at least one NFL draft pick from the team next year for taping defensive signals by the New York Jets earlier this season.
Goodell addressed the subject of cheating Tuesday.
"We talked about the integrity of the game and how fans have to understand we are playing by the rules and that fans have that confidence," Goodell said.
Goodell said the league has encouraged teams to report instances of cheating since then. There have been multiple reports of problems with the coach-to-quarterback radio system, but Goodell said none of the reports has come up with anything against the rules.