The sports section of the November 18th edition of the Globe and Mail (Canada’s national newspaper) carried an article about Doug Flutie, the star quarterback of the Toronto Argonauts.
The Argos are Toronto’s team in the Canadian Football League; they had just won the Grey Cup, the CFL’s national championship, a few days earlier. Flutie is an excellent player and is one of the reasons the Argos won the Grey Cup. However, as the Globe and Mail reported, there is now a move afoot to have Flutie banished from the CFL. The reason? He’s too good.

Fred Wagman, the president of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (the team Toronto beat), thinks that it would be good for the league if Flutie were excluded from the CFL:

“To stabilize the league, we need equal footing. And to bring that about, we have to end the marquee-player concept. I don’t think there would be a CFL governor who would disagree with that. In no way am I knocking Doug personally. He’s a great athlete. But he’s clearly at a different level than others in the CFL, not only in terms of salary but also on the field. If you bring about equal footing, you would stop the 40-3 blowouts that were occurring this season. Games would be close again. No one team would dominate. And players would know they have an equal chance of winning every game.”

The theory behind this awful statement is the modern notion of egalitarianism. Egalitarianism says that it is unfair if someone regularly gets a bigger share of the pie than everyone else, no matter what the reason or the pie. So, if Flutie’s skill gives the Argos more than their ‘fair share’ of winning matches, it’s ‘unfair’ and should be stopped. To an egalitarian it seems perfectly reasonable to shackle the able (or to get rid of them entirely) in order to produce a fair, ‘equal,’ outcome. This is the idea that makes it possible for Wagman to think that Flutie should not be allowed to play in Canada’s professional football league because he’s a great player.

The evil of punishing someone because he’s too good doesn’t trouble the egalitarian. Apparently, neither do the negative business consequences. The CFL has been in bad financial shape for several years. Many of the teams are in trouble because attendance at their games is dwindling. However, in Toronto, people have started going out to games again because of Doug Flutie. Greed would dictate that teams get star players to attract interest in the game. But egalitarianism would say that this is unfair. Judging by Wagman’s comments, egalitarianism could well win out. This is a good example of how even ordinary businessmen are ruled primarily by their philosophical principles, not by material greed.

The issue is somewhat clouded by the fact that an exception to the CFL’s salary rules was made for Flutie. The CFL forbids any team from spending over $2.5 million a year in total on player salaries, and has placed a cap of $150,000 on the base salary that a player can receive (itself an egalitarian policy). However, this rule came into effect after Flutie signed his current contract, so an exception was made for him: his salary is $1 million, and this does not count against Toronto’s total salary allowance.

Clearly this exception is unfair to the other teams. But the source of this unfairness is the existence of the salary cap, not Flutie’s salary. In any event, the salary cap will probably be what the CFL uses to get rid of Flutie. His contract expired at the end of this season; it is likely that the exemption will not be renewed. For Flutie, this means that he would have to accept an 85% pay cut to continue playing in the CFL. No one expects him to do so, especially as America’s National Football League has shown an interest in him. And once he has gone, the CFL will have been made safe for mediocrity, and the CFL governors will continue to wonder why fans don’t come to the games.

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Greg Shoom

Greg Shoom is a software developer in Toronto, Canada. He is not associated professionally with Microsoft, except as a satisfied customer.

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