NFL Labor Talks: 6 Reasons to Keep the 18-Game Regular Season off the Table
When it was first mentioned, my reaction to the NFL management’s proposal to expand the regular season to 18 games was similar to the joke ad for “Doggy Dentures.”
You’re kidding. Right?
As the lockout came and went and was later re-instated, I thought it was basically a gamesmanship tactic on the part of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on behalf of the owners, who can never seem to have enough money. As the breaking points focused more on financial disclosure and where the money goes, I thought this was only a negotiating ploy that wasn’t really seriously pursued.
However, it looks like that hope was wrong, as reports are that it is now a negotiable part of the deal.
But that hasn’t changed my desire it doesn’t happen.
On the surface, the debate from the players has been to highlight safety concerns of a longer season, which gives more opportunity for injuries to occur. To counter that, the league has tightened rules on the violence of the game, a gesture to alleviate those concerns.
However, as a fan, I have my own reasons to keep hope that the players' wish to keep the season at 16 games and no more will triumph.
(Note: I know that when this issue first became public, it drew criticism. While understanding some of my reasons could be similar if not in total stereo with some of those critics, I assure you this is completely sincere, honest and genuinely my own thoughts. If they happen to mimic something already previously stated, then you can simply count my voice in with the rest of the chorus.)
Each year, the Earth goes around the sun one time, which is responsible for the way days get longer and then shorter, the ways that temperatures go up and go down. It helps us establish a rhythm to our lives.
The 12 months have a rhythm to it. Fireworks on Independence Day functions as the midpoint of our year (despite the exact midpoint being two days earlier on July 2). We put Groundhog Day on Feb. 2 as a signal to start looking forward to spring. Christmas pretty much signals the end of the year.
ESPN’s Gregg Easterbrook likes to cite the Unified Theory of Creep, best exemplified by how earlier and earlier Christmas ads and store decorations appear. This also applies in various leagues.
And it sucks.
We’re sports fans. We love sports. It’s tough enough we sometimes have to choose between sports on the coincidental nights that two of our hometown teams play, so don’t increase the chances of it happening more often.
That, and we do have families and lives outside of sports. Sometimes.
The sports calendar has its own annual milestones. The middle of February is the sign spring is on its way and that summer won’t be far behind. When we’re done handing out the Stanley Cup and Larry O’Brien Trophy, we know we can fully focus on the summer baseball season—until August, when NFL training camps have us looking forward to fall.
The NFL doesn’t seem right when games count either before Labor Day or after New Year’s Day. When the new calendar year starts, we devote January to playoffs and then the first week in February is for the Super Bowl. That gives us a week off before pitchers and catchers report.
Now, the calendar says that stretch is 16 weeks this year, although it’s 17 most other years. A 16-game schedule that includes a bye week fits perfectly most years.
I know the NFL has actually had regular season games in August. I actually attended two in person. It didn’t feel right. I just wasn’t in it.
As fall is only so long, so should the regular season.
With 32 teams split between two conferences, each containing four divisions, the scheduling format works fantastically.
A team plays the other three teams in its own division twice. That’s six games. Then the team plays each team of another division in rotation in their own conference. That’s four more. Then, the same is true as the team plays the entire division in the other conference, with the divisions also in rotation. Four more games.
The final two games are played against the teams in its conference who also finished in the same place it finished in within its division the previous year. (In English, that’s why the Steelers, Colts and Patriots played each other so much while the Browns, Raiders and Bills often found each other on their schedules.) It’s a perfect way to weigh a schedule a little bit without giving too much away.
If the NFL regular season goes to 18 games, where is it going to find the two extra games? Double the weighed portion of the schedule? Eliminate it and replace it with a second whole division? Or is it just going to be random like it used to be when divisions had unequal numbers of teams?
It’s easy for the press to discuss this. After all, the media get parking passes, don’t have to pay to get in, and many times a free snack comes their way. Of course, they also don’t tailgate.
Per game, how much does going to a game cost? Tickets prices range depending on what team you’re paying to see and where you sit in the stadium to see them, so every fanbase has its own answer. Both Fox News and MSNBC agree the job market and wages are stagnant in the face of functional inflation (i.e. and Amazon Kindle might be cheaper, but groceries and gas prices are still much higher), the ability to pay for a ninth game is asking a little much.
I know not every season-ticket holder attends every game, and many will sell unwanted tickets for unwatchable games under the table, so an extra game to consider selling is actually a potential zero-sum loss in the long-run.
But doesn’t that force dedicated season-ticket holders who will pony up for a ninth game to test his (or her) own dedication?
Season-Ending Injuries Will Be Worse
Even if hits are clean, injuries will still happen, including ones that won’t heal until long after the season is done.
If an injury is sustained in Week 4 that takes six months of rehab, that player will miss 12 games. With an 18-game regular season, it means fans have to watch his replacement for 14 games.
Two more games with Peyton Manning? Bonus.
Two more games with his backup? Uh, no.
The Value of Each Game Will Diminish
Baseball is a long season, long enough a team could have a .500 month and still coast into first place. Hockey and basketball are just as long, to the point a team could lose five in a row and still not worry about the postseason.
What separates the NFL is that each loss means something. While a single loss does not ruin a championship season (unless you’re the 2007 Patriots!) like it can in college football, any losing streak can have a serious impact on not only if a team makes it to the postseason, but where it stands in it.
I know this argument is a double-edge sword: Not only does it give you more chances to fall in the standings, it also gives you more chances to recover.
But that’s part of the reason why baseball is a pastime, while football is a passion. If we knew there was more of a cushion, we’d have less reason to be as passionate as we are. It’s a step closer to post-game reactions being “Cool!” and “Darn!” instead of being “YEEAHH!” and “NOOO!”
We wait all week to have our big reward or letdown. Keep as big as possible. Or at least let me buy stock in companies that sell nail clippers since we won’t be biting them to the nubs as much.
The NFL Season is Already Year-Round
If you think about it, it’s kind of hard to tell when the season really begins and ends in terms of what happens off the field.
Even as the Super Bowl is approaching, the so-called “coaching carousel” is already having scores of fans focused on the following year. After the Super Bowl hangover and postseason wrap-ups comes the draft, which happens in April. In May and June, these picks are being signed along with free agents. June has OTAs, July training camp. August is the preseason. September through December is the regular season. Fallout from that regular season coincides with the playoffs in January.
Supposedly, the two additional weeks of the regular season are going to borrow from the preseason. It’s easy to have mixed feeling about that. While you give a starter more chances to get injured in a game that doesn’t matter, you also rob that starter of time to work in-game rust out of his gears. Also, it makes it more difficult to distinctly evaluate talent that deepens the bench.
But if there's a question about the NFL getting enough attention, then maybe Goodell needs to reconsider why the year-round NFL Network and year-round shows like “NFL Live” have no problem filling their time slots.
In essence, I’m probably fighting a losing battle.
The more revenue the NFL gets from adding two more games will eventually result in a bigger pie that can be split amongst 32 teams, each with 53 players. (Notice roster size isn’t on the list of issues?)
It means that both sides will win financially, even if the organization formerly known as the NFLPA has an official stance against it.
But it won’t stop me from not liking it when it does happen