Nobody really cared about the CBA when it was best known as a minor professional basketball league. Now that CBA -- the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement -- is the most important abbreviation in professional sports, most fans are still snoring.
The players have only themselves to blame.
As owners and union leaders conclude their week-long mediation in Washington, D.C. in hopes of avoiding a league-imposed lockout when the CBA expires March 3, fans are tuning out. Season ticket holders aren't losing sleep over the owners' push for an 18-game schedule and a rookie salary cap or the union-proposed "50-50" revenue split and 58-man rosters.
They just want football to be there when September rolls around.
Despite booming TV ratings and league-wide profits, there seems to be a new twist to fans' cynicism. Even though playing careers are as short as ever, with alarming and even lethal health consequences awaiting many in retirement, the players union has failed to win popular support. Sure, players still sweat through grueling two-a-day workouts and endure more brutal game day hits than ever. But the prevailing public sentiment remains: many players are overpaid and under perform.
Parity is partly to blame. There weren't as many bad throws and missed tackles by the game's elite when half the teams in the league were flat-out awful. Now that most clubs have a reasonable chance of winning each Sunday, so, too, is the likelihood that your favorite $20 million a year quarterback will lose more often.
Toss in the seemingly never-ending barrage of off-field problems afflicting so many players and you see why the seeds of discontent are sprouting like weeds among fans who spend nearly a day's wages to buy a ticket.
Here's some advice for the union: Discourage team involvement in shows like HBO's "Hard Knocks," which made the Jets look more like the NFL's version of "Jersey Shore." Remind players to check the scoreboard before busting out their latest sack dance or touchdown celebration. Choreographed self- aggrandizement trumping team success is never a good look.
Most important, educate players on the perils of sexting (Brett Favre), insubordination (Albert Haynesworth), "Purple Drank" (Jamarcus Russell), dogfighting (Michael Vick), fathering children out of wedlock; eight is not great (Antonio Cromartie); accidentally shooting oneself while carrying a gun into a nightclub (Plaxico Burriss); and felony DUI manslaughter (Donte Stallworth).
To its credit, the NFLPA just announced a new plan to address issues of domestic violence called, "Training for Life." Unfortunately, all too often those programs go unheeded. Meanwhile, the league's high-powered public relations machine keeps pumping out the notion that trimming salaries and adding two regular season games will make the NFL better than ever.
The union will relent because players don't have their house in order and they've lost fan sympathy.