Remember Te'o's Girlfriend? Neither Do We
We are approaching approximately one year since learning that Manti Te'o had a fake girlfriend. This is noteworthy for two reasons: One, how incredible it was that this story came to light and two, that it hasn't come up once during this season. A story that captivated people, regardless of their interest in football, has quietly disappeared. Which is almost as remarkable as the story itself. It's true that Te'o hasn't been of much interest on the field this season yet that was also true of Tim Tebow during his tenure with the New York Jets and the New England Patriots, and that did nothing to quell the media interest and debate that abounded constantly like the brainwashing program in 1984.
The key to understanding why this story went quietly, and the wider implications in the NFL, is where Te'o's career turned after this story broke. The best thing that could have happened to Te'o managed to happen. He was drafted by the San Diego chargers, away from the epicenters of cable sports coverage and in a market that lacks an all consuming 24/7 media atmosphere. Without local coverage for national publications to helicopter off of, as they had when Tebow was backing up Mark Sanchez and Tom Brady, there wasn't anything for national outlets to utilize to reintroduce the narrative.
That's significant, when you think about it.
Given that the NFL operates with a hard cap and with a minimum spending requirement, there is no real advantage to big market teams from an organizational standpoint. In baseball, the Yankees can outspend every other team because their local market generates a lucrative television contract. In the NBA, while owners are ruthlessly seeking to avoid paying the new CBA-imposed luxury tax for going over their salary cap, it is possible for the Lakers or Knicks to still generate a handsome profit while going over the cap and paying the tax. That means that the headaches which incur when a team has a massive media beast to feed – New York, for example, has to deal with four daily newspapers, five local TV affiliates, a number of different sports talk radio stations as well as being the home to all of the major networks – is worth it because it gives a team the opportunity to outbid other teams for top players, executives and coaches and thus a competitive advantage.
That simply isn't the case in the NFL. Meaning that the headaches, from a media and exposure standpoint, that a coach or quarterback or GM of a team in the NFC East is subject to is far more scrutiny than a team elsewhere. It's not too much of a leap to say that this is a competitive disadvantage the big market teams have compared to those unburdened by such attention. To be clear, the NFL is the NFL. A lack of winning or a cranky owner can find a player or coach out on the curb regardless of where the team is located. But the day-to-day operations are undoubtedly easier.
Being in these heavyweight media markets doesn't create much of a financial advantage off the field either. It seems like the entire Green Bay Packers team is trying to sell something these days. Which is only logical. Sponsors want winners hawking their products and the NFL being a nationwide game means that famous faces can come from Phoenix or Philadelphia, Nashville or New York, D.C. or Detroit. For an NBA player, being a star in Chicago is much more profitable off the field than being a star in Charlotte. For the NFL, the difference is minimal; performance matters more than home market share.
Which brings us back to Manti Te'o. From a production standpoint, there is nothing notable for a member of the media to cover. But if he'd been drafted by a team somewhere on the East Coast, not only would his offseason been an extended media firestorm, but you can bet that his struggles on the field would've elicited a great deal more attention than the non-story it is now. That's probably worth a lot more to him than the opportunity to take the subway around Manhattan, be booed in Philly, wear a Cowboy hat in Dallas, or hang out with Congress in D.C.
And if you're not sure about that, just ask fellow rookie Geno Smith.