Ah the second round of the playoffs. While the fans of the remaining 8 teams cheer with all their heart and soul, we have to shield our eyes from all of the televisions in sports bars and find ourselves cursing the Stupid Oilers and their Stupid Everything until the Cup is finally awarded and we can get back to building unreasonable optimism for next year.
We do however continue to enjoy sports scandals.
Hilarious scandal has long been a passion of ours and no Oilers team can diminsh our love for athletes behaving badly or in this case an entire franchise acting the fool. If you want to read more about the race to replace Uncle Rod Phillips as the Voice of the Oilers or want to read yet another speculative piece about a certain upcoming Entry Draft, this article ain’t for you.
If you want to read about a franchise driving itself into the ground even more spectacularly than the Edmonton Oilers 2007-present, read on.
Conflict of interest in sports can be found everywhere you look. As long as there have been sports teams, there have been shadowy rumours surrounding secret payoffs, fixing matches and a variety of other head shaking events that sometimes threaten the very integrity of the game. Consider if you will the hilarious conflict of interest that is the Rugby League (NRL) in Australia.
The NRL is massive deal in Australia – the equivalent of one of the big 4 leagues here in North America. "It is the most dominant winter sport in Australia and is the most watched sport on Australian television, with an aggregate audience of 128.5 million viewers in 2009." As the NHL is to Canadians, the NRL is a great excuse for Australian fans to knock back a few wobbly pops on a Saturday afternoon.
No problem so far right?
The only problem is that the league is essentially wholly owned by Rupert Murdoch and his Sky News empire. The conspiracy theorists theorize a theory that Murdoch essentially controls the league through a series of arms length deals and is able to stack the deck as he sees fit on a season-by-season basis.
Want this team to be good this year? Consider it done. That team hasn’t had a run in awhile? He can see to that too. Trades and players have come under scrutiny over the past several years and it is generally agreed that something fishy is going on with the league.
Ol’ Rupert – shown above in all his terrifying glory – pretty much does what he wants all the live long day and fans are left puzzling if their sport is as contrived as a Harlem Globetrotters winning streak.
Again – who cares right? Ol’ James Norris used to effectively own 4 of the Original Six teams in the NHL and Bud Selig – comissioner of MLB – also hilariously owns the Milwaukee Brewers and once reorganized the divisions in baseball so his team could travel less.
Yes, conflict of interest has been around as long as old ass millionaires have been willing to pay young ass millionaires far more money than they deserve to chase a ball, stick, puck or cricket dealy around in the name of selling booze.
With the stage set, try this Melbourne Storm scandal on for size.
MELBOURNE STORM SCANDAL
The Melbourne Storm are a top club in Rugby League. They have won the Premiereship 3 times in the past 6 years and are considered to be one of the better run franchises off the pitch as well. Tens of thousands of rabid fans, big time sponsors, Superstar players.
In 2009, all signs pointed to another banner season in 2010 until some nasty rumours started to swirl around the team.
In late 2009, an anonymous whistleblower started making public accusations that the team was running two sets of books, one that they submitted to the league and one they actually used to pay players. The Storm were all "oh know we di-n’t!" and the whistleblower was all "oh yes you d-id!" and as a result the National Rugby League was forced to undertake a big time investigation against one of it’s best teams.
SIDE NOTE BRINGING IT BACK TO HOCKEY
Imagine that the NHL was suddenly told that the Red Wings had been secretly running a 100 million dollar payroll since the lock out and had also won a couple Stanley Cups in the process. Imagine the NHL was forced to undergo an investigation into one of it’s top teams over the past decade and that the very integrity of the game hung in the balance as the entire league looked on nervously.
That is the equivalent here.
BACK TO THE TALE
As the investigation into team financial shadyness began, the Storm were initially telling anyone who would listen that they had been compliant with all of the salary cap restrictions. "Nothing to see here" they would tell visiting auditors in a panic "perhaps a cold VB beer wrapped in thousand dollar bills would quench your thirst?"
As the investigation carried on in the full view of an Australian Media frenzy over the first few months of 2010, the Storm cracked under the pressure and have just come clean and admitted:
"The club had systematically circumvented the salary cap conditions for the last five seasons. This included a breach of $400,000 in the 2009 season and a projected breach of $700,000 in the 2010 season."
This essentially means that the best team in Rugby League has been breaching the roughly $4.1 million dollar total team salary cap by a good 25% each and every year during the past five years. During this time they won the minor premiership three times in a row from 2006 to 2008 and played in the Grand Final each year from 2006 to 2009, winning in 2007 and 2009. They were named the NRL Team of the Decade for the 2000s and basically brought the heat much like a Red Wings or Penguins have in the NHL.
All the while screwing over the salary cap. Eep.
So what does the NRL do?
BEHOLD THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY PENALTY EVER
As a result of their massive financial transgressions the Melbourne Storm have been stripped of their two premiership titles, stripped of their three minor premiership titles, stripped of all of the points they had won so far this season and are now prevented from gaining any more competition points for the rest of the season.
The team is forced to still play out the rest of this season, they can win, but they get no points, and will finish the season in last place with 0 points. Fined $500,000 this season alone, they will also need to pay back $1.1M in prize money from last 5 years.
Sponsors are fleeing the Storm as though they were Tiger Woods and the fans of the team are arming themselves with automatic weapons and looking for someone to blame.
If this wasn’t already amazing enough one must consider the ownership of the league. The Melbourne Storm franchise is wholly owned by News Ltd which is in turn owned by Rupert Murdoch – depicted above as the Emperor from Star Wars.
The NRL’s governing body that imposed this unbelievably harsh penalty and regulates the salary cap is 50% owned by News Ltd as well. For those of you keeping score at home News Ltd. also owns a controlling share in another team in the league the Brisbane Broncos, and from 2001-2007 owned the North Queensland Cowboys.
If that wasn’t enough of a one man band for you, the main source of league revenue are a lucrative combination of a free-to-air commercial channel 9 and pay-tv channel Fox Sports, which is also 50% owned by News Ltd.
For those of you skipping to the end of this lengthy article, Media Tycoon Rupert Murdoch just caught Rupert Murdoch cheating at the rules Rupert Murdoch had created many years back. As a result Rupert Murdoch has pulled sponsorship of a team owned by Rupert Murdoch and is warning Rupert Murdoch that more fines are coming.
What a screwy league.
No wonder Australians travel so much.