The NFL expanding its regular season to eighteen games seems unjustifiable outside of money.
Essentially, there is no expansion of the schedule at all. The plan is this: take the last two preseason games (there are four total) and make them count.
But tell that to the starters who usually played in only two preseason games anyway. Now they almost have to play in twenty straight weeks, albeit not for many downs in preseason, in hopes of making the playoffs. I say twenty straight weeks because some will feel they have to play in both preseason games in order to get acclimated to game-time situations.
This means more games that count. More competitive downs. More jarring hits. And despite all of that, less time to recover. Career-ending injuries can happen at any moment, in any sport, on any level. Head injuries, though, can be the silent killer.
It seems hypocritical to me that the NFL will ultimately make this change to eighteen games with the shadow of Chris Henry's autopsy. Henry is the former receiver who was thought to have died from injuries after jumping out of a pickup truck, but was later found to have had massive brain trauma before that due to his football playing days. A death that has appeared to cause the NFL to be more proactive (for the time being) in dealing with head injuries.
The duality of football can be brutal. In last year's college regular season, Tim Tebow took a vicious hit in Florida's SEC opener against Kentucky. Urban Meyer made it clear in his post-game press-conference that Tebow's full recovery superseded his team's schedule. The Florida coach seemed like the only one.
It quickly became a discussion across all media outlets on whether Florida should play Tebowin its next game against nationally ranked LSU. I even heard some question whether the doctor who would be responsible to clear Tebow should consider Florida's undefeated record and how not playing Tebow may affect their season.
Tebow did play against LSU. He finished his college career with no other scares. The "what ifs," however, can be unsettling.
Eighteen games may never be the direct link to more injuries. But just as Tebow, there will always be that "what if." I suppose that's the risk football players take, and many now are more aware of the those risks than ever. Maybe that's why the NFL feels it's a good time to go to eighteen games.
One thing is for sure: the job of the medical staffs, trainers and coaches becomes that much more important by adding more games. This can be harmful if players are rushed back from an injury in hopes of his team making that final playoff push. Then again, maybe teams will see a longer schedule and be more willing to sit a player another week or two because of the extra two weeks at the end.
Even though this particular change may be about more money, the NFL and its teams can continue to keep the players' health, and education of it, its top priority.