American Football: NFL arrives toting seductive ideas

Wembley showpiece prompts fear that Premier League's American owners may import no-relegation rule

The National Football League returns to London this evening as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Chicago Bears at Wembley Stadium in the fifth "International Series" regular-season game. The now-annual showpiece is seen by some as proof that the Premier League's "39th game" proposal could work, and several other ideas pioneered by the NFL, which is regarded as the model of a successful, thriving competition, are reported to be under consideration. The experiences of the two teams who meet tonight show why one idea's time has come and another's – it is to be hoped – never will.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bouncing back in style

America loves winners and hates losers, but at least NFL teams who lose consistently are not punished by relegation. The owners of the 32 NFL franchises never have to confront the prospect of reduced gates and television incomes – which is why some Premier League owners would like to abandon relegation in order to safeguard their considerable investments.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last appeared at Wembley, in 2009, they were one of the worst teams in the NFL and were lucky to escape with a 35-7 drubbing by the New England Patriots. But despite finishing at the foot of the NFC South that season, they knew they could rebuild without having to descend into a lower league, with no guarantee of a return.

Today they are a vibrant side on the way up, led by the quarterback Josh Freeman, one of the most exciting young players in the game. Could, say, Wigan Athletic do something similar if the Premier League were a closed shop? The trouble with using the NFL as a template is the difficulty of comparing like with unlike. Americans know that consumers will not pay to see foregone conclusions, and so have evolved an almost communist system that is designed to ensure competitive balance.

Instead of having to sell Freeman to survive, by finishing last Tampa Bay guaranteed themselves an early pick in the annual draft of college graduates in 2010, enabling them to strengthen in weak positions. And their fixture list became easier, as they played more teams who finished in similarly low places in other divisions.

Nor did they have to worry about matching the wages offered by more successful teams. The television revenues that fund player wages are split evenly between the 32 franchises, and a salary cap ensured that the Buccaneers could not be outspent by teams from bigger markets.

The New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl in that 2009-10 season, a year after finishing bottom of Tampa Bay's division. But whereas an NFL team can go from worst to first, in the free-market capitalism of the Premier League the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Wigan would be free from one worry in a Premier League with no relegation but, unlike the Buccaneers, they would not be helped to challenge Manchester United and the rest by the League's structures. No wonder Dave Whelan, the Wigan owner, threatened to pull his club out of a Premier League that banned relegation. Take away the fight to stay up and half the teams in the top tier would have nothing left to play for.

Chicago Bears: Leading by example

There are no black managers in the Premier League and only two in the Football League, Chris Hughton of Birmingham City and Chris Powell of Charlton. A decade ago, the NFL also faced the under-representation of ethnic minorities. Their answer was the Rooney Rule, proposed in 2002 by Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and now under consideration here.

Rooney wanted every shortlist for a head-coach position to include a minority candidate – the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2009 under the leadership of a black head coach, Mike Tomlin. But although his employers had first lobbied for the change, Tomlin was not the first beneficiary. On the day Tomlin was appointed in 2007, Lovie Smith led the Chicago Bears into the Super Bowl.

Smith was appointed in 2004, soon after the Rooney Rule was adopted. His team lost the 2007 Super Bowl to the Indianapolis Colts and he had a rough couple of seasons thereafter, but he was a candidate for coach of the season last year as the Bears came within one game of returning to the end-of-season showpiece and he was recently given a five-year contract extension. Raheem Morris of the Buccaneers, who will patrol the opposite touchline tonight, followed five years later. Both have justified their place.

"If you need the Rooney Rule, it should be in play," Smith says. "You have to look at the culture at that time in that sport. Everyone wants an opportunity to prove what you can do, that you can handle the job. If you can't do that just on your own then you need rules in place. I used that vehicle to get the job, although we'd all like to think that eventually if you do a good job you should get an opportunity based on what you're doing as a coach."

He rejects suggestions that the rule represents tokenism. "Getting you in front of [an employer] is a big step, but from there the Rooney Rule isn't getting you a job."

It could be argued that the rule is no longer needed. "I think in our sport you can make a case for that," Smith said. "If you asked me how many African-American head coaches there are in NFL football right now I couldn't tell you. It isn't a big deal any more.

"Once you get into the sport you are judged by what's happening on the football field and what you're doing. When we screw up I think the fans scream at me based on me being a head coach instead of my colour."

Sky Sports will show 57 NFL games this season, including Tampa Bay v Chicago at Wembley tonight, 6pm. Tickets from: ticketmaster.co.uk/nfl

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain