Resting Starters Stinks, but NFL Should Have No Say in Matter

Teddy MitrosilisAnalyst IJanuary 4, 2010

ORCHARD PARK, NY - JANUARY 03: Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts stands on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills  at Ralph Wilson Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo won 30-7. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

I’m with every irate fan in Indianapolis who couldn’t stomach watching the hometown Colts tank against the New York Jets two week ago, costing the franchise and city a chance at perfection.

As a fan, it goes against everything you want to see when you pay good money to come to the stadium. It all stinks. Preseason football is supposed to take place in August, not Week 16.

But in reality, it’s part of the business that we choose to devour year round with such relentless zeal, and the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell shouldn’t have a say in how teams manage their lineups late in the season.

“We want to make sure the integrity of the NFL is first and foremost in everyone’s mind, and try to find ways to make sure our games are competitive at all points in the season, including the preseason,” said Goodell on a CBS telecast.

Two issues with that.

One, who are you kidding when saying you want preseason football to be competitive? The only reason any fans show up to those games is because they have waited so long since the Super Bowl that they are craving for any form of football. But competitiveness will never be a strong point of any game when second and third-stringers play a large chunk of the minutes.

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Two, the only time the integrity of the sport would be in jeopardy is if a team is consciously throwing a game in an effort to negatively affect the standings. That’s the only time the league should get involved.

I applaud Goodell and the league’s competition committee for showing a valiant effort to improve the NFL experience for all fans. The intentions behind this movement are good.

“I don’t think you can punish [a team] for not playing [its starters],” said Goodell. “But we’re going to ask our competition committee to look at it…we want every game to be competitive."

Goodell said the league is considering many incentives, such as awarding extra draft picks, for teams that choose to play their regulars throughout the season. Kudos to Goodell for dangling a treat instead of wielding a hammer.

It would be wrong for the league to force teams to play their starters in games that have no bearing over their own playoff fate. Part of the reward of playing a great regular season is having the luxury of getting banged up players some extra rest before the playoffs.

It may be worse to force players to play than to simply live with the reserves. A game full of first-stringers who know they are going to the playoffs could become the epitome of a lifeless tank job. Would the players care? No. They are getting their game checks and they just don’t want to get hurt.

But frankly, Goodell shouldn’t be offering rewards to teams for playing their starters, either. The league needs to get over the “every game should be competitive” campaign. That’s a great wish, but that’s all it is: a wish. We all wish every day was vacation, but it’s not.

The biggest problem with all of this is the intruding nature that accompanies such decisions.

In my opinion, the head of a league is there to govern the league, not impact it. By offering rewards, the NFL will become too hands-on with its teams. If the issue of integrity really concerns Goodell, wouldn’t he want to be as impartial as possible and simply allow the games to unfold?

Goodell’s job is to make sure that business is being conducted in as honest a way as possible. His job is not to say exactly how it should be conducted.

Extra draft picks leaves Goodell’s fingerprints on the future of accepting teams, and that is exactly what the commissioner is not supposed to do.

The NFL is a great product. America craves football season, and I think it’s as good as it’s ever been, which is precisely why now is not the time for the league to overstep its boundaries. 

If this were the ‘70s, Paul McCartney would be telling Goodell, “Let it be, let it be.”

Resting players and strategizing is merely part of sports. Fans may be disgruntled by it at times, but their voice is loud enough to stand on its own. There are myriad ways for fans to be heard without relying on league officials. Most begin with money.

Team executives will probably be a little more weary than ever after watching the New England Patriots, who had clinched the AFC East prior to their Week 17 game, lose Wes Welker for the rest of the season after the wide receiver blew out his knee trying to make a cut against Houston.

But that’s just it: It’s all a part of sports. In baseball, teams spend the last couple weeks of September resting arms and setting up their rotations for October. You can bet the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are going to take it easy on their aging veterans this spring after they wrap up home court advantage for the playoffs.

Peter King, a must read of Sports Illustrated, addressed this issue in his Monday Morning QB column this morning.

King spoke with one coach who said it’s a matter of “fairness” and, “I’d like to see every team that plays a game with playoff implications have to play their best players.”

A matter of fairness? To whom? It’s not a matter of fairness to the 14-2 team that sealed its playoff birth weeks ago. It’s only a matter of fairness to the 9-6 team that is hoping a win in the final week will earn them some extra January football.

Why should the team that played better over the course of the previous 16 weeks have to do anything in the last game of the year that means nothing for them? It’s not their job to look out for other teams; their job is to take care of Number One.

The answer is simple to those teams looking for “fairness” while sitting on the cusp of the playoffs: win more football games.

Every team has the same odds at the beginning on the season of winning the Super Bowl (theoretically speaking). You can only blame yourself for not winning enough.

There are many times when Goodell is right to take action in an effort to benefit the NFL. 

However, this is not one of them.

You can reach Teddy Mitrosilis at tm4000@yahoo.com.

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