The NFL owners voting to have an outdoor Super Bowl in the Meadowlands in 2014 is a drastic change to professional sports, which deserves a closer look at exactly what it means for the future of neutral site games.
Other then the Super Bowl, the other major sporting events to play on a neutral court/field are predominantly college sports. Like football, NCAA Basketball also has the same court dimensions regardless of where the event is hosted. The only advantage in NCAA Basketball neutral city events is proximity to the participating schools fan bases. Often the NCAA rewards higher seeded teams with games closer to home for the earlier rounds of the tournament, but with the host city of the Final Four being announced years in advance, they leave the possibility open that a team will have an advantage because of their proximity to the host city.
In the NFL, the obvious change in the Super Bowl, is that up until now, a potent west coast style offense had a significant advantage over a power running game/hard nosed defense combo of a team that plays in a cold weather city. A perfect example of this was in Super Bowl XLI when the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears by a score of 29-17 in Miami. The Colts were led by Payton Manning and their great receivers, while the Bears were guided by their incredible defense and Thomas Jones running the football. Had that game been played in Green Bay for instance, the result would most likely have been different.
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In the preliminary playoff rounds, teams have a home field advantage based on their seeding, however, the reasoning for this unwarranted advantage in the Super Bowl is strictly due to revenue. The Super Bowl is a corporate event; major companies fly out their clients and executives to the host city to enjoy the Super Bowl festivities. It is very understandable that corporate America would rather have the host city be a place like Miami, where there are greater amenities then a place like Green Bay.
The NFL never denied the fact that cold weather is ingrained in the game of football. Fans love going to games in the ridiculously low temperatures and snow. Fans love seeing Tom Coughlin’s face look like Mr. Deeds dead uncle from the movie, and seeing the macho players on the field without long sleeves under their jerseys. Making a Super Bowl in a cold weather city is great news to everyone other then Peyton Manning, yet it goes without mentioning that the stadium and host city for the 2014 festivities is the New Meadowlands in the backyard of New York City, which is still not exactly Green Bay.
If the 2014 Super Bowl is successful in New York, we will definitely be seeing more Super Bowls in cold weather cities. This change will surely expose the advantage that west coast style teams had enjoyed. How will the NFL respond to that? We should see cold weather teams win when the game is in a cold weather city, and visa versa. What will happen when the outcome of the Super Bowl is determined solely based on which city the NFL picks as a host? Will this decision effectively eventually force the NFL to do away with host cities and award a home game to the better deserving team? If that happens, how would corporate America respond to that? Would the NFL be willing to respect the integrity of the game and risk losing some of the appeal of the event to the corporate sponsors?
The NFL is believed to set the bar for how things are done in other sports. If the events unfold like I believe they will, could you see the NCAA following suit and having back up plans in place in case a team within a certain amount of miles from the host city goes to the Final Four?
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We are living in what we believe to be the tail end of the steroid era in professional sports, which is a time when athletes were willing to do just about anything to gain a competitive advantage. Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire not being first ballot Hall of Famers demonstrates how we feel about the issue, and I for one would be very happy if we abolished these other advantages that exist in the sports world as well.