Soon the Bills will have a new owner, and conversation about who should make important football decisions for that new owner will get heavy. If the Bills don't challenge for a playoff spot, Doug Whaley's and Doug Marrone's futures will be big storylines. Actually they're pretty big already.
Fans won't come to a clear consensus on whether Whaley should stay on. He only started last year and there've been good and bad moves. (Go figure. More on that later.) If Whaley is dismissed you'll hear plenty about different men with varying degrees of experience and success, and fans will have their favorites.
There's one related topic, however, that most fans agree about. And guess what, I think the majority opinion on that is wrong, or at least short-sighted.
That is that the new owner should stay out of it.
I think there was a time when scouts and general managers held wide-ranging amounts of knowledge, of inside information, that set them apart in their respective sports. Some teams had more scouts than others, or better scouts, and gained an edge.
I think those days are over.
These days, everybody knows everything.
Common sense tells you so. Information is at everyone's fingertips at all times. Apply that to sports. You can find any stats, including workout results, in seconds. You can watch any game you want, from any season. Football fans can watch the coveted "All-22" film and have a chance to see breakdowns as well as coaches do.
A little better than setting for Howard Cosell's Monday Night highlight package to peek at most teams, don't you agree?
Speaking of coaches, think about how their jobs as teachers have changed because of technology. Coaches can pick out plays from a series of games, or even seasons, to illustrate a point, or a tendency. How much easier do you think Chip Kelly finds isolating this type of thing for his players and showing it to them than, say, Bill Walsh did?
Football teams used to benefit from having their scouts on the road, seeing games that weren't televised. Now, dozens of college football games are televised every week. In the day, your NFL team could see things fans or teams not present couldn't. No more.
When it was established that scouting made the difference for teams, scouts traveled by train. Um, travel is easier now. It might take less time for a hockey scout in Buffalo now to get to and see a Russian league game than it took one 40 years ago to catch a game in Flin Flon, Manitoba. And NFL teams print money so no expenses need be spared there. Plus, leagues are so rich now that the jobs pay better, bringing in keener eyes.
Why shouldn't a team owner think himself clued in on organizational decisions. Moreover, clued in or not, why should he not be involved? Isn't that why you buy a sports team, to run it? That's the fun part. That's why we play fantasy football -- we want that control.
I've made the point in this space often enough that at draft time children could grab a few magazines, open a few websites, and be up to speed. The premise is at least as true now as ever.
Ever listen to a sports radio show? Really, you have? Who are these people purporting knowledgable opinions on players, even prospects? How do they come to these opinions? Are these callers actual football and hockey scouts that don't give their real names? Or are they regular guys that watch sports and have smartphones? And have you ever before read seven straight questions in a sports column?
It's likely in the comments section below (warning: don't read the comments section below) there'll be something about Jerry Jones. How Jones is an example of why owners should stand down because Dallas has one playoff win since 1996. (Never mind those three Super Bowl wins that immediately preceded, right?)
If Jones is an example of something it's about how to get press and make money. Why can't an owner make decisions without permanent residence in the public eye?
I think the time has come to recognize that most avid sports fans know most things. Information abounds, as does access.
As has been shown, teams are not consistently better than other teams at drafting anymore. The biggest differentiating factor in pro sports drafting now is luck. Surely Whaley knows more football than most people; the question is, how much value in that is there anymore? When I got started in sports media I prided myself on an encyclopedic knowledge of Bills history and baseball statistics. It helped me get work. Well, guess what, computers came around and oh well, there went that edge. Congratulations.
Everybody knows everything now. Even really rich people.