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The Buck Stops Here: Thursday product hazardous to NFL's health

Thanksgiving Day football games have long had their place in sports. For starters, they gave people another reason to sit around and do nothing for an entire day. They also  provided fans living outside of Detroit with the only reason to watch the Lions, who have played every year on Turkey Day since 1945.

The holiday was a perfect match for the NFL, given Americans’ affection for gluttony on Thanksgiving and a league’s commitment to excess. Our mothers and grandmothers warned that too much pie was unhealthy, but our forefathers never said anything about too much football.

In its infinite wisdom and penchant for overload, the NFL presented us with weekly Thursday football games. The product is almost always worse than games played on Sundays and Monday nights, but enough people watched and enough advertisers climbed aboard and added enough money to league coffers.

And so it continued.

Roger Goodell and his NFL cronies were busy counting the cash, so it never dawned on them that oversaturating the market, with a flawed product no less, was hazardous to the league’s overall health. The more people watched on Thursdays, the more they were exposed to uninspired football, the more the league became dull.

Television ratings increased in recent weeks from earlier in the year, but they still haven’t fully recovered after falling some 20 percent from the previous season. Execs blamed everything from Colin Kaepernick to the election to fantasy football owners gaining instant information without actually watching.

All were valid arguments to be sure. I’m also sure a general lack of entertainment was another reason, if not the biggest, for smaller audiences. There were too many flags, too many replays, too many injuries and not enough excitement. People have too many alternatives to waste their time, and their dime, with football.

NFL games on Thanksgiving have been a tradition for decades. (Getty Images)

NFL games on Thanksgiving have been a tradition for decades. (Getty Images)

For years, the NFL practically printed money. Revenues surpassed $13 billion last year, so it’s hardly in trouble. Money alone doesn’t always reveal interest levels, which were trending in the wrong direction. Sometimes, more revenue means higher prices and getting less bang for your buck.

The league needs to understand it doesn’t have the same hold on millennials that it had on their fathers. Participating numbers for years have been in steady decline at the youth and high school levels. Fear of injuries has played a role, but you wonder if football has become less cool than it was years ago.

What to do?

Save the Thursday games for Thanksgiving, thus reducing exposure to a defective product. All teams participating should have a bye leading into the Thanksgiving Day game, too. They could use a break before playing before a national television audience while giving a national television audience a break from watching them.

Heat overcooking Shaq's impact

Shaquille O’Neal was one of the top big men in NBA history, but it’s odd that the Heat felt compelled to retire his jersey. He played only 205 games over three-plus seasons in Miami, less than 17 percent of his total games in the NBA.

O’Neal isn’t among the Heat’s all-time scoring or rebounding leaders. He averaged 19.6 points with the Heat, or four points per game shy of his career scoring average. OK, he helped them to a title in 2006. He was their second-best player behind Dwyane Wade.

Shaq was 32 years old when he showed up in Miami. He had 12 seasons and more than 800 games behind him. He averaged only 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds and was showing signs of decay in 2007-08, when the Heat traded him to the Suns midway through the season.

Apparently, it was enough for them to send his No. 32 jersey to the rafters. Then again, Miami is the same organization that retired Michael Jordan’s number even though he never played a game for the Heat.

Academic violations reveal deeper issue

On the same day Notre Dame was told victories over two football seasons would be vacated for academic misconduct, another former tutor admitted committing similar academic fraud while helping athletes at Missouri.

In some cases, athletes were looking to take the easy way out while administrators encourage illegal practices or look the other way. In others, they were willing to do anything to stay eligibility and keep scholarships.

Often overlooked, however, is the time athletes dedicate to sports. At the Division I level, it has practically become a full-time job. It’s like playing on a professional level, plus taking classes.

The NCAA contributes to the very violations it's enforcing by not further scaling back athletic demands and placing more emphasis on academics. It doesn't absolve schools tutors or athletes. Tutors were assigned to help athletes with their work, not do their work.

But if respected institutions like Notre Dame and Missouri are supposedly taking shortcuts, you can imagine what’s happening on other campuses. Too many colleges view athletes more as assets than students.

Mr. Manners

You know priorities are out of whack in this country when a video showing Dak Prescott cleaning up after himself during a game gets more than 40,000 hits.

You would have thought the Cowboys quarterback ended global warming after he picked up a paper cup after missing the garbage along the sideline. He was roundly praised as a humble, respectful athlete who must have been raised by terrific parents.

Yep, it was either that or Prescott was just like most human beings. It’s a sad state of affairs when good manners by an athlete passes for breaking news.

Maybe someday elite football players will show the athleticism and coordination required to actually squeeze water into their mouths without assistance.

Baseball needs to keep labor peace

With the collective-bargaining agreement set to expire Dec. 1, here’s hoping talk about MLB owners locking out players is nothing more than posturing. One hang-up appears to be the owners’ desire for an international draft, which players argue would suppress salaries.

Baseball has come a long way since the 1994, when labor strife wiped out the World Series and led to years of mistrust between players and owners. It also played a role in the escalation of performance-enhancing drug use.

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa rejuvenated baseball’s angry fan base during their dramatic home-run race in 1998. Barry Bonds hit 34 homers in 1999 and more than doubled his total with 73 two years later. Baseball executives, with fans re-engaged and filling up stadiums, largely ignored talk about possible steroid use.

Baseball is coming off its most entertaining season in years. The Cubs won their first World Series since 1908 over an Indians team that hasn’t won since 1948. Owners and players are making big money. No matter the differences, it’s not worth ending 22 years of labor peace.

Quotable

Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, who made an NFL-record 44 straight field-goal attempts before missing Sunday against the Titans, on a kick he converted later in the game: “I guess we’re one in a row now.”

Stats Inc.

48, 43 – Points and minutes played in a two-game stretch for Sixers center Joel Embid, who became the first rookie in 36 years to score at least 20 points in consecutive games while playing fewer than 24 minutes in each. Billy Ray Bates accomplished the feat for Portland in 1980.

62 – Seconds passed before Jake Guentzel scored a goal in his NHL debut, the fastest in history for a Penguin playing his first game. He scored again later in the first period.

17 – Consecutive field goals missed by Nuggets 19-year-old rookie Jamal Murray to start his NBA career. Over his next 10 games, he made 22 three-pointers on 46 attempts to lead all rookies in long-distance field goals.

Extra Points

Gary Bettman has a good sense of humor (really!), but it’s often hidden behind the scenes. The NHL commissioner offered a glimpse into his wit Tuesday after he was booed during naming ceremonies for the expansion Vegas Golden Knights: “Keep the booing,” Bettman told the crowd. “It proves you’re now an NHL city.”

The ink was barely dry on a note about Chad Kelly’s future after ACL surgery before he landed in another precarious situation, this time via a photo showing him sitting at a table with what appeared to be marijuana. Yes, I know he's in college. No, he didn’t commit a crime. It also didn't look good with NFL scouts already armed with reasons to cross him off their lists.

Just a little shout-out to Alfred linebacker A.J. LiCata, a finalist for the Gagliardi Award given to excellence in academics, community and Division III football. He’s one of my many adopted sons and an extension of our competitive backyard. I can envision someday writing a Where Are They Now? column.

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