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A Lesson In Coaching: Which Football Tactics Work

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. And it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And that triumphant music is especially appropriate today because hockey has been saved. The NHL and the Players Association announced this morning that they've reached a tentative agreement to end their lockout - and just in the nick of time. It had already wiped out more than half of the season. With more on the deal, NPR's Mike Pesca joins us, as he does every Sunday. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hey.

MARTIN: So, this agreement came after this big old marathon session - 16 hours of negotiating. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the head of the Players Association, Donald Fehr, spoke to the press. Frankly, they looked like they'd been negotiating for 16 hours. What did they say?

PESCA: Well, if you know both those guys, they have the pallor of the boardroom or the ice rink. So, you know, they're not exactly models, as far as that. So, they didn't give a lot of detail then personally in that press conference but we did get some telling details about what the agreement would include. And basically there are going to be some revenue sharing, which was a big bone of contention - 50-50 revenue sharing. There is going to be a salary cap of about $64 million next season. And Donald Fehr said this:

DONALD FEHR: Hopefully, within just a very few days, the fans can get back to watching people who are skating, not the two of us.

PESCA: Right. Yeah, don't watch the two of us. You know, the season - we're not sure exactly how many games will be played - 48 or 50 - but they'll have lost over 500 games. And that hurts the sport.

MARTIN: So, the question a lot of hockey fans are no doubt asking: why did this take so long?

PESCA: Yes. And we saw this with the NFL labor negotiations. We saw that with the NBA. We even saw this with the fiscal cliff. And I think what people maybe don't understand is the lay public wants one set of things, which is both those guys to come together. But the negotiating parties have different interests, and they think - the negotiating parties - well, if we hold out to the last minute, we'll get a better deal, we'll make up more money in the long term. And some of the dynamic going on with hockey was this: the players, as part of their negotiation, got $300 million in make-whole money. So, whatever money they lost during the lockout they know they were going to make up a lot of it. And a lot of the teams claim - and there's a lot of evidence that this is true -that they flat-out lose money. The Rangers make money; the Toronto Maple Leafs make money. But, you know, something like 25 of the teams say that the more hockey we play the more money we lose. So, if you think about it, both sides were sort of disincentivized to come together to a deal. Plus, I think both sides really genuinely don't like each other. So, it was a little different when we saw the football negotiations settle. Owners were hugging players, saying what great people you were. So, none of that with hockey.

MARTIN: So, you know, but the fans, people have been miffed about this. Do you think that there's going to be some kind of backlash?

PESCA: Miffed is the lowest state of ire of the hockey fan, right? Here's the thing: hockey fans are really dedicated. In fact, to some extent, I think the sport is sort of controlled by the most dedicated fans in all of sports, which is good and bad. I mean, they love their sport but sometimes they don't allow it to evolve into modernity, with such issues like fighting. Yeah. So, the fans who love hockey are definitely happy and are going to come back. What hockey needed to do, however, was build on forward momentum. The L.A. Kings just won the Stanley Cup. That's a huge market. And instead of having a hockey season, you know, just a few months after the last one ended, we waited so long I think they let some of that momentum slip away. That could be a problem.

MARTIN: OK. You have a curveball for us this week?

PESCA: I do. This was Oregon versus Kansas State. There was an unusual call in that game. How do I know it was an unusual call? Well, listen to what the referee said:

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: On the play, on the previous play, we have an unusual ruling...

PESCA: You don't hear the referee admit to that. Right, right. What happened was there was an extra points try, you know, a simple kick. Oregon kicked it. Kansas State blocked it, but the ball went into the end zone. Kansas State jumped on it and then Oregon tackled the Kansas State player in the end zone. This resulted in a one-point safety, which in the books looks exactly like the extra point was scored. But a one-point safety is so very rare in college that researchers found that it has happened only four times in the history of college football at all levels, which include NAIA and Division III schools. And at big-time college football, it has only happened one other time. And the crazy thing is the announcer doing that game, Oregon versus Kansas State, was the same announcer...

MARTIN: What?

PESCA: ...who was doing - yes, Brad Nessler. And the super crazy thing - now, this is my opinion - is that that Brad Nessler fact, that he was involved in both one-point safeties, isn't even the most shocking...

MARTIN: No way.

PESCA: ...Brad Nessler fact of the game. Listen to what Brad Nessler admitted during the broadcast.

BRAD NESSLER: Plays the piano, the violin and the mandolin. I'll be honest with you, I didn't even know what a mandolin was.

PESCA: In talking about the Kansas State quarterback, Brad Nessler admitted he doesn't know what a mandolin is. He will not be invited to join the Decembrists in their next recording session.

MARTIN: Cue the music. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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