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Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The Perfect League?: The Sports Economist posts his idea for an ideal professional league. The list is an intriguing one and makes a number of good points. I have a few responses and ideas of my own. Prof. Sauer writes:

    [1] The league must be organized such that any team could win a championship, not every year, but at some point over the long run. This perception must exist, and be well founded.
    [4] Sloth and indifference must be penalized.
    [5] Insuring that the first principle is met requires significant revenue sharing in a league with teams of widely differing profit potential (see the NFL). But extensive revenue sharing promotes sloth and indifference to winning (see the NFL, again), so it must be tempered.

I agree that there must be revenue sharing, especially in the leagues other than the NFL that have such a discrepancy in local television revenues, but it must be revenue sharing with a clear purpose. Like Prof. Sauer says, the goal should be increasing competition so that all teams have a legitimate shot at winning. In order to do this, there must be regulations that ensure the money is used on the team, and not to line the owner's pockets. This is why leagues should not only have salary caps, but also salary floors. Revenue sharing would ensure that all teams will be able to meet the salary floor, while the cap would control outrageous spending and the ability of certain teams to collect All-World teams.

Prof. Sauer's suggestion for how to prevent laziness is a "trap-door," in which the worst teams from each league would be moved to a lower division, and the best teams from the lower division move up, as is done in some international soccer leagues. I think this would be problematic, from both a practical and a fan perspective. First, teams and players will never agree to a system in which one bad league could move them to a "second-tier" league. There are just too many egos for that. However, I concede that this is an ideal, so I also pose a problem for the overall sport. Having such a trap-door would not allow teams to quickly rebound and would eliminate the "worst-to-first" Cinderella stories such as the 1991 Braves and Twins and the 2002 Angels. Dropping the worst teams to a lower division would arguably hurt them more, as their free agents may bolt, other free agents will not sign with them and fans could desert a "minor league" team.

Finally, Prof. Sauer says:

    [3] Ambition and success should not be heavily taxed.

I agree that ambition and success should not be heavily taxed, but only the proper kinds of ambition and success. Ambition and success does not have to mean "spend the most." It can, and should, mean, "be the wisest in spending the money you have." I applaud owners that will do everything within the rules to win, but the system should place more controls on ambition in order to re-define success.

I, too, would be interested in hearing any comments from readers on this idea. It certainly is fun to dream.


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