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Friday, May 24, 2024

NHL, college sports set to benefit if NFL, NBA lose 2011 season to lockout

Now that a couple weeks have passed since Super Bowl XLIV and the Saints' victory is beginning to wear off around most of the country, much of the discussion around the NFL has revolved around a likely uncapped season in 2010, resulting in a lockout during the 2011 season.

At the same time around the NBA, people are beginning to discuss the chances of a lockout, also beginning in the 2011 season once the collective bargaining agreement expires after next season.

These developments could lead to an unprecedented phase in sports—two of the four major leagues engaged in work stoppages simultaneously. The details of why both these lockouts may happen is complicated and a little dull. But I am curious about how the landscape of sports would be impacted without the NBA or the NFL in the fall and winter of 2011-'12. Here's how I think sports would be affected, and how the sports world would shape up.

NFL doesn't miss a beat

Right now football is, by a decent margin, the country's most popular sport. The Vikings-Saints contest drew the highest ratings for an NFC Championship game in 15 years, while the Saints-Colts Super Bowl rated out as the most-watched program in television history.

NFL fans will be devastated with a work stoppage, but there's no way anyone loses interest when the NFL returns the following fall. Despite the looming 2011 lockout, the league shouldn't be overly worried about its future.

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NBA will suffer

The NBA isn't as immune as the NFL is. In a recent ESPN.com podcast, commissioner David Stern declared the league currently in a golden age. Fans found the success of the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons earlier in the decade boring, lacking flashy superstars. Classic franchises like the Lakers and the Celtics are succeeding again, and fans love to watch Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

But a lockout would kill the momentum. Casual fans may gear their loyalty toward the college game, or perhaps even the NHL. Basketball just doesn't have the status football does in this country right now.

Spotlight on the NHL

Hockey has always been a second citizen to football, baseball and basketball in this country. Sports coverage these days doesn't even treat hockey as one of the four major sports in the U.S.

Casual hockey fans never really pay attention to the NHL when its season starts each year because it overlaps with the middle of the NFL season. By the time the NFL's season wraps up, the NHL's year is halfway over. Then the league still has to compete with the NBA, which basically runs parallel to the NHL's schedule.

Throw away those two leagues, and all the sudden the NHL is standing alone as the only major professional sport from November to June. ESPN and other major networks are going to have to find some sort of content to fill space, so naturally the NHL's coverage will skyrocket. Maybe all the NHL needs is some time in the limelight for fans to realize what a beautiful and exciting sport hockey is, and vault NHL back into competition with the NBA.

College sports benefit

Obviously the college ranks cannot be hurt by the work stoppages, but football and basketball junkies who prefer the pro style will not turn to the college games for their fix. College football, for one season at least, won't have to jam all its games on Saturday and can now spread them out over a full weekend. Maybe we'll even see one year of NCAA ""Monday Night Football.""

MLB unaffected

Obviously Major League Baseball won't feel too many ramifications with its season largely running during the summer. The only time MLB conflicts is during its postseason in the fall, but MLB already tiptoed around the NFL schedule, thus its ratings were never really affected.

How will the rest of the sports world be affected by a work stoppage? E-mail Scott at kellogg2@wisc.edu.

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