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Politics and Budgets in NFL playing time?

Listening to the pregame radio broadcast of the Ravens-Steelers game tonight I heard radio announcers make an assertion I found hard to believe. I wonder if anyone has seen evidence on this issue.

Had one watched the Ravens' first three games they would have seen Willis McGahee score 7 touchdowns. The assertion was that the Ravens have not played him as much since then because if he continued to score touchdowns and led the league, then 1) when they release him at the end of the season they (the Ravens) will have egg on their face and 2) the team would owe McGahee lots of bonus money.

(As I write this, the Ravens bring in McGahee who scores from the three yard line.)

One announcer then said he has seen it many times where teams cut the playing time of players who were close to earning incentive bonuses. Shades of Charlie Comiskey and the Black Sox!

If revenues are largely fixed, as they might be in the NFL where most games are sell-outs and tv revenues are largely shared equally, then the team may be able to raise profits in a given season by holding players out. But long run profits may be harmed it fans figure out that teams are sacrificing wins in a season to raise profits marginally. Consequently, it strikes me as unlikely profit-maximizing teams would do this.

The second point was that players are "in the doghouse" and that explains why they don't play. If coaches are trying to win games, it is unlikely they would keep the better players on the bench because they are in the doghouse, especially if those players were significantly more productive than the players in the game. So I don't buy this point.

What does the TSE readership think?

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