Why would the NFL mess with success? That question is more than just rhetorical. The league clearly isn't broke, by any definition of the word; therefore, to finish the clichéd query, why fix it? Why tinker with triumph, and why do it now with caps on spending and collective bargaining issues looming so large?
The timing to explore schedule expansion actually has an incidental yet important link to the league's two bigger ticket issues. Compare the league to a busy production facility: when facing certain down time due to term maintenance on essential machinery, it only makes good business sense to tackle as much as is possible while a window of opportunity is open. Or, rather, compare it and the league's labor deal to major brake work on a 1968 Firebird: when the time comes to rebuild those drums and the vehicle is already in the shop, spending a few additional minutes to upgrade the bearings will ultimately fend off a costly headache down the road. In other words - and for any such considerations - there is no better time than the present.
As for the reasoning behind schedule expansion, the goal is not what it seems on the surface. Many are quoting or paraphrasing Roger Goodell to the tune of “it's for the fans” or “the fans deserve better.” Many of the fans have subsequently jumped to the conclusion that the current system will need to undergo some sort of upheaval in order to accommodate 17 or 18 meaningful games. While indeed fun to ponder and discuss, revisions to league scheduling and the playoffs are highly unlikely to ever occur with the conference symmetries and current divisional cycles already developed. Those systems are tried and true and factory sealed.
Use of the word schedule in this context should be perceived as an adjective and not as a noun. Scheduling isn't the subject of primary focus but, rather, it qualifies the true object of attention, which is expansion. Whether detailed as schedule expansion, league expansion or world expansion, the bottom line is ultimately the same: for the NFL to continue to grow, its appeal must continue to expand. When Commissioner Goodell references something “for the fans,” the intention is “to acquire,” not “to appease.”
I am by no means an NFL insider or sports prognosticator. My NCAA bracket selections have never won me any acclaim. Do not make any wagers off of what you are reading. With all of that now stated, here's what I believe will eventually happen...
Since the preseason is too valuable a tool for assessing talent, the NFL will first shift just one game into the regular season. The current 16-game schedule and post-season will be fully maintained as is, with each team's 17th regular season game to be compiled via some yet-to-be-determined formula that would not duplicate any other matchup already in place.
To this point, my view of change probably seems like a switch from vanilla to French vanilla, which is actually more apt a reference than it seems...
The 17th game will then be integrated into the regular season on the Thursday after each bye week interval. There will be no home-field advantage; instead, each of the matchups will take place internationally. For certain, Mexico City, London and Tokyo will be featured, with South America and the rest of Europe - including the French - also in the mix...
The bye week tie-in is key. Organizations will then have ample time cushions to prepare and travel, VIPs and sponsors will then have multiple opportunities to visit various venues, and The NFL Network will be able to monopolize and showcase two world-class events for most every Thursday of the regular season! And as if that weren't already enough, both Dallas and Detroit would be forced to relinquish the advantage of their home field stranglehold on Thanksgiv— are you still reading this?
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