Why the cap fits

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:12 PM ET

JACKSONVILLE, Florida -- It was music to the ears of the man who is sitting on the very verge of becoming the first commissioner in the history of pro sport to shut down his league for an entire season. "We could commend it to anyone interested in having a good league.'' Out of the mouth of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue came those words in answer to a question on the NHL lockout.

While Gary Bettman sat in another set of meaningless meetings with NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow in New York yesterday, Tagliabue gave him a Super assist from here.

"The NHL is in a lockout, on the verge of possibly going out of business for the year. Could you talk, as a commissioner, to react to what might be happening in the NHL and also talk about the importance of a salary cap?''

Tagliabue chose his first few words carefully.

"I have no reaction that I will talk about to what's going on in the NHL other than to wish them well and hope they could get it resolved because I think it would be good for their sport and all sports.''

Then he got into it.

"In terms of the salary cap, I think it works. It's sometimes complicated. There are varying degrees of flexibility and softness and hardness in the salary cap.

"Our salary cap has proved to work very well to keep teams together. There are some things that we and the players' association would both like to improve, but I think the proof is in the outcome.

COMPETITIVE LEAGUE

"As the record shows, we've got a tremendously competitive league with everybody having a shot at winning. And yet, a few years ago, everyone said that the one weakness of our system was that you wouldn't have dynasties.

"But I think we see at least one and maybe two teams in this game that will be rightful claimants to the concept of being a dynasty.''

The NFL is the gold standard for professional sports leagues.

"Everybody realizes this has been a very solid system,'' said Tagliabue.

But his was a league which used replacement players in 1987 and saw a decertification of the players' association before putting a negotiated salary cap in place in the CBA which followed. Tagliabue said a lot of people have been surprised that it worked.

NOT SURPRISED

"I really can't say I'm surprised.

"A lot of it was speculative but when we did this system in the early '90s, we thought there was enough flexibility in it so you could keep teams together and have repeat success,'' Tagliabue continued.

"New England's done it. Philadelphia's done it. The Rams did it. The Broncos did it. Other teams have done it. Green Bay has had a phenomenal era and a phenomenal quarterback through the salary cap years. And I think that's one of the lessons.

"We thought the system would allow for great competition and repeat winners and that's what's turning out to be the case.''

One thing to keep in mind here. The dollars in NFL doesn't compute when it comes to the other leagues. The TV money is so huge it allows the NFL the luxury of being able to share revenues so small that markets like Green Bay and, now, Jacksonville Jaguars, can compete on level playing fields. The NHL doesn't even have a rights-fee U.S. network deal anymore.

"When I say the system has been working, it's important to note just one thing,'' said Tagliabue. "This year, the 2005 season will be the first time any sports league has ever had average team player payrolls of in excess of 100 million dollars per team.

"That's a system that's working and we want to keep it in place.''

Tagliabue makes another significant point. "It takes more than a salary cap to make a sport great,'' he said.

Hopefully, Gary Bettman heard those words, too.


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