WalterFootball.com 10-Year Anniversary Content: <br> Lengthening the NFL Regular Season
By NCAA Dan
This is part of the WalterFootball.com 10-Year Anniversary Content. NCAA Dan was a writer for this Web site from 2001 to 2003. He used to post picks for tons of college football games every week and submit other miscellaneous football articles. NCAA Dan is now recently married and works as a geographer in Maryland.
Lengthening the NFL Regular Season
I want to make a case against one particular hot topic in the NFL these days, and that is whether the league should increase the number of regular season games from 16 to either 17 or 18 games.
Over the course of the past year, Roger Goddell has indicated on numerous occasions that lengthening the NFL regular season is something the league is looking into, and is strongly considering for the future.
There are several reasons that make increasing the number of regular season games an appealing option. First and foremost is that the NFL seems to recognize that way too many people are not interested in preseason games. As fans we might tune in for the first quarter of a preseason game, or pay a slight bit of attention to a nationally televised game in hopes of gaining an edge for the upcoming fantasy football draft. Inevitably though, most casual football fans get a look at their starting 11 on defense and offense, and then tune the rest of the game out in favor of a regular season baseball game or to hit up the neighbor's end of summer BBQ.
Those who are particularly vocal in their opposition to four preseason games are, in many instances, the season-ticket holders. Most NFL franchises force season-ticket holders to purchase tickets to both home preseason games along with the eight regular-season games. The cost of these seats for preseason games equals that of a regular-season contest for the majority of teams. Throw in the usual $40-50 parking fee, especially in this economy, and it is no wonder that the commissioner is exploring options to shorten the preseason. Still, there should be other options available for making changes to the preseason schedule besides simply converting one or two preseason games to regular-season matchups.
As a fan of the game, certainly I would enjoy another regular season game or two. Any opportunity to fill even a portion of that giant sports-watching void between the Superbowl and March Madness would be great for people like me. Bar owners, fantasy football players, The Worldwide Leader, and Vegas are all entities that would endorse a decision to add games to the NFL regular season. A few wives and girlfriends may disapprove, but hey, you cannot please everybody.
One has to consider the other stakeholders in deciding to lengthen the regular season, however, and those are the NFL players. Football has long been seen as a war of attrition; often times the teams left standing in the playoffs are also the healthiest teams come December and January. As the game continues to evolve, 300-pound linemen on both sides of the ball have become the rule - not the exception - ever increasing the odds of landing on the leg of a franchise player and ending their season and possibly career.
Also, continuing to evolve in the NFL are the rules of the game, and those plays which have now become illegal. NFL owners want to protect their investments, and that is certainly understandable. Nobody likes to see marquee players go down. Fresh in the minds of NFL owners, Goddell, and the NFL Competition Committee is Tom Brady's knee injury in the first quarter of the Patriots first game in 2008. As a result, "The Brady Rule" has been introduced as an effort to try and protect quarterbacks, making it illegal to hit a signal-caller in the knees when a defensive player is laying on the ground. The league is also making a point to emphasize even the slightest bit of contact after the ball is thrown by quarterbacks.
These rule changes already have defensive players in a bind. Defensive players are taught their entire football careers to go after the quarterback. First and foremost, defensive players are trying to hit the quarterback, sack him and hopefully cause a fumble. If this is not possible, then the goal is to at least make the quarterback feel pressure from the line and make him feel rushed in the pocket. Defensive players are taught never to give up on plays; it is their job to get to the quarterback in any way they can, whether that be to stick their hands up and tip a pass, or put a hard hit on to a scrambling quarterback.
This year, however, defensive players are playing with the deck stacked against them. There is such a small window of opportunity and area where a quarterback can legally be touched; otherwise defensive players are flagged for potentially drive-changing and game-changing personal-foul calls. Ask any member of the Baltimore Ravens defense what they think of these new rule changes.
I question whether the benefits of additional regular-season games outweigh the downside of more injuries and further-depleted teams come playoff time. Given the current direction of the Competition Committee in terms of rule changes, it seems logical to assume that additional rule changes, further restricting the ability of defensive players to do their job, would accompany these extra games on the regular-season schedule. In my opinion, additional rule changes that would likely accommodate extra regular-season games would serve to further compromise the integrity of how the game is meant to be played. For this and other reasons, I believe the negatives outweigh the positives for lengthening the NFL regular season.
Unquestionably, football is a rough game and anyone who has ever watched the sport is well aware of this fact. Injuries are going to happen. We know that. Injuries are and always will be a part of the game, regardless of how the rules may be altered to try and prevent them from occurring. Common sense dictates that adding more games to the regular-season schedule will cause additional injuries, and potentially shorten the already-brief career of the average NFL player.
We are not just talking about quarterbacks either. Football players at a wide variety of positions are feeling the adverse affects of their playing days in life after football. There are exceptions, but in many instances running backs' productivity drops off precipitously after age 30. Studies are currently being conducted on head injuries of offensive and defensive lineman, as well as linebackers, like Ted Johnson, a former New England Patriot.
NFL football is a game that is meant to be played hard and with all-out intensity. But we ought to recognize it is a game that takes quite a toll on players' bodies, and because of this fact, there is a limit to how much physical punishment any player can withstand over the course of a career.
We should attempt to balance the interests of all stakeholders in the game: fans across the country that love the game and will pay to see it, the owners' desire to run a successful business and franchise, and also the players' desire to earn a living yet preserve some longevity for their careers. I believe a 16-game regular season is the best solution to achieve this delicate balance.
The bottom line with the NFL regular season is that it works. Major League Baseball might be America's pastime, but NFL football is far and away king in the world of sports today. TV ratings, amounts of revenue, and overall interest in the game as a whole are clear indicators of the popularity of the NFL today. There is no disputing that interest in the NFL is as healthy and strong as it has ever been.
From my standpoint, Roger, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.