Fanatic Focus

Del Olaleye: Apathy can be a killer for a franchise

Jay Cutler can be tough to cheer for. Miami Dolphins/Facebook

A sports franchise can just suck the life out of you. You’ve been through so much pain and angst that you just refuse to care anymore. It isn’t as simple as just the losing wearing you down. Embracing losing can be fun when you know your team has a plan. The Astros had a plan. They told their fans to prepare to be very bad because the plan was to be good for the long haul. There was new ownership and management. Those two things allow you to sell hope because you don’t have past failures on your resume.

So Astros fans sat through multiple 100-loss seasons. They waited as their favorite team became involved in a cable dispute that made games unwatchable. I’m not even talking about the product on the field. People couldn’t see the team play. A majority of the people in Houston could not watch the Astros play baseball unless they decided to switch their TV provider. As you might imagine, that didn’t go over well. Apathy can be the worst enemy of a franchise and that deathly emotion was starting to creep in around Houston. Sure the Astros had a plan, but when no one can see your plan in action those well-laid plans just become a ton of L’s in the loss column.

Fortunately for the Astros, 2015-2017 happened. There was the ultimate payoff of a World Series title. It all worked out. It doesn’t always. When it doesn’t work out being a boring franchise that loses can set your organization up for the worst of all outcomes. People stop caring. You don’t want to be the franchise that no one cares about. When your name is mentioned on the job, in the street, or at the sports bar, you don’t want people to respond with a shrug of the shoulders.

It is better to be really bad, maybe all-time bad than it is to be “meh.” When you’re “meh” you can be dismissed. No one wants to be dismissed. Browns fans held a parade after an 0-16 season because they still cared. Eagles fans are celebrating a Super Bowl title this offseason but in previous years they celebrated their perennial losing with something called Wing Bowl. The Eagles were never in the Super Bowl but the fans still wanted to party so Wing Bowl was created. That previous link is a safe for work version of Wing Bowl. That isn’t what Wing Bowl really is. This is really Wing Bowl.

I love my teams. It hurts when they lose. I’m not close to being apathetic. Those losses sting so much that you just might find me sitting in the dark on my hallway steps after a particularly brutal defeat. That time on the steps is to compose me. Gut-wrenching losses turn me into a pillow tossing, cursing, screaming crazy person. That is a part of the reason I don’t watch games around people. No one needs to see that side of me.

All that being said, I’m completely comfortable watching Dolphins games in public. That is if I actually care to ask for their games to be put on. Perpetually being in the 6-10, 7-9, 8-8 range will do that to you. Draft picks not working out, free agency busts and coaching changes all have contributed to something I’d never thought I’d approach. Apathy. The final straw for the Dolphins was the emergency signing of Jay Cutler. These were the ingredients to that rancid casserole:

  1. Ryan Tannehill re-injured his knee in the preseason.

  2. Dolphins coach Adam Gase was once Jay Cutler’s offensive coordinator.

  3. “Shockingly”, the newly retired Cutler thought 10 million dollars guaranteed was enough of an enticement to get off the couch.

Final outcome? The season went how you would expect. Cutler mixed bad footwork, awful decisions, and mind-numbing interceptions along with that Cutler face and cooked up a 6-10 season. I couldn’t have cared less. What's that you say? The Dolphins are bad again. That’s been the case my entire adult life. I’ll live. They’ve driven some people to root for a different team. I’m not in that dark place but simply not watching the games has become an option. Drafting Lamar Jackson would change things real quick. Nothing like a young, exciting QB to delude a fan into thinking everything will be alright.

Apathy from fans is death for franchises. For the fans, it is similar to the feeling you get when you get a hug instead of a kiss at the end of a date.

Sure the hug sucks, but at least you’re not getting pepper sprayed in the face anymore.

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Bringing NIL deals to high schools will have some challenges. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

Name, image, and likeness, or NIL as it has been known, has been a hotly debated topic. When some states allowed college athletes to start getting paid through NIL deals, others had to follow suit. NIL deals basically allow athletes to get paid from endorsements and the like. They can make appearances, sign autographs, and get endorsements. No longer can schools make a king's ransom off the backs of these athletes without the athletes themselves benefitting from their popularity.

Sponsorships are also allowed, which started some of this years ago when Jeremy Bloom was a pro skier who also played college football at Colorado. Bloom wasn't allowed to have sponsorships, which was a HUGE part of his skiing career, if he wanted to continue to play college football. After fighting a losing battle when the NCAA declared him permanently ineligible, Bloom went on to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympics. He went on to have a couple short stints in the NFL, but his football career never materialized.

When a few states took the NIL law and opened it to high school student athletes, they REALLY opened a can of worms! Other states are now in full scramble mode trying to figure out how can they make this work, do they want to make this work, and wondering if this will open Pandora's Box. Newsflash: Pandora's Box has been open longer than your local grocery store chain. Schools have been paying for play ever since time began. SMU got the dreaded "Death Penalty" in the 80s behind it. Teams have seemingly had wink-wink agreements not to out one another. But high schools? This is a bit much.

AAU, club, and travel sports have had a shady undertone that's been more intense over the last 20 years or so. This is especially true in AAU basketball, where shoe companies and the like have long been "sponsors" of teams. Follow your favorite NBA player's career from high school to the league, then see what shoe company he signs with. I guarantee there's a pipeline in most cases straight from the sponsors of his AAU/high school team to his shoe deal.

Bringing NIL deals to high schools will have some challenges. For example: I heard this past weekend that a prominent high school player has an NIL deal in place with Bentley. What if said school sees a kid at another school, possibly in another state that may not have NIL deals for high schoolers. What's stopping said school from relocating this kid and family by offering them new jobs as well as an NIL deal? Private schools and charter schools aren't regulated like public schools. What's going to stop them from using funds to create a factory of college athletes by offering what other schools can't as far as NIL is concerned?

Here in Texas, football is king. Specifically, high school football. You can go to any town on a Friday night, and the local high school stadium is packed to the brim. If any of you think those towns won't band together to offer kids the best NIL deals they can in order to gain any advantage, you're crazy. States will need to hurry and approve this to stay competitive, but they'll also need to regulate it as best and as fast as they can to prevent a wild west scenario. I can see this getting out of hand quickly, but then some will step in to regulate it as soon as the scales no longer tilt in favor of the rich and powerful.

Texas is an oil rich state. New tech companies are moving here in droves because of the state tax laws. That's why the housing market is looking the way it is now. With the way high school football is like a religion here, imagine if NIL deals are allowed? What's stopping a powerhouse program from becoming invincible and cranking out 10-20 or more top tier D1 athletes from a single graduating class on a single team? We already see it with these human athlete factories masquerading as high schools.

I'm all for student athletes taking advantage of NIL. However, it has to be regulated. Why not have agents get trained and certified like pros do. Then also have them register in each state and pass a state certification, similar to the way lawyers or real estate agents have to. Now everyone is state and/or federally certified to help kids get what they can above board in NIL deals. This could've helped prevent Nick Saban's ignorant comments from last week by bringing much needed law and order to the wild west of NIL deals. Until it happens, we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I'll sit and watch the utter CHAOS (in my Khal voice)!

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