Last Wednesday, the NFL formally presented a proposal for an 18-game, "enhanced" NFL season.
The new season would not be any longer than the current season. The two games would not be added, but instead transferred from the preseason, which would be shortened to two games.
The idea, as presented, would subtract two meaningless games from the current 20-game schedule, adding two meaningful games in the process.
The only motivation driving this idea is money.
But, let's be honest—no one in their right mind likes the preseason.
Fans hate the preseason because it isn't competitive. Players hate it because they're putting their necks on the line for no reason. Coaches hate it because they can't run a normal gameplan for fear of showing too much strategy too early. Owners hate it because it isn't as profitable.
The only thing two more preseason games accomplish is filling out the final two or three roster spots and enticing gullible fans into thinking that "wide receiver so-and-so" is going to have a breakout year.
Besides, who doesn't want more football?
It makes sense to fans, who immediately perk up at the idea of more football—especially at this time of year, when the World Cup Soccer and Wimbledon do little to sate the appetite of the NFL's more diehard fans.
However, subtracting preseason just to add more to the end of the regular season isn't a viable option. At least, not to the players who actually play the game.
Players play hurt
This is a fact of life in the NFL.
Veterans don't just play sore, toughing it out through some pain, they play hurt—risking further injury along with their careers.
Whether it is a pull that can turn into a torn muscle, or a stress fracture that might never heal, players finish the season having earned some much needed rest.
Ray Lewis released a statement about the "enhanced NFL season."
“Don’t get me wrong, I love the game of football. If fans want to show their love, they should let everyone know that we are not machines...
"I know our fans may not like preseason games and I don’t like all of them, but swapping two preseason games for two end-of-season games—when players already play hurt—comes at a huge cost for the player and the team."
For those who would play the "don't coddle the millionaire athletes" card, just remember that Ray Lewis is one of the hardest and most aggressive competitors out there.
Tom Brady, veteran of numerous long playoff runs, had something to say about the proposal as well.
“I’ve taken part in several postseason runs where we have played 20 games. The long-term impact this game has on our bodies is well documented. Look no further than the players that came before we did."
Brady might not be the same type of rough and tumble player that Lewis is, but he raises a great point, playing 18 meaningful games plus a postseason is going to take its toll on even the most physically fit and lucky NFL player.
Think injuries aren't a problem?
In 2009, the NFL collectively put 297 players on injured reserve, down from 305 the year before. Since the Houston Texans joined the league in 2002, as many as 313 players have had their year ended by injury in the course of an NFL 16-game season.
Breaking down the numbers, that is an average of nine players per team and more than 18 players per week.
The NFLPA is expecting that number to climb even further if the season is enhanced in the way the NFL owners would like it.
With even a straight correlation, fans could expect to see up to 350 NFL players injured in an 18-game regular season. Three hundred and fifty players would be almost 11 players per team. No NFL roster can lose 11 players and still maintain a competitive balance within their division.
Players and trainers expect that number to be even higher.
As the wear and tear of the season increases, ligaments weaken, joints fail, and the overall stress on a body reaches critical mass.
It isn't safe.
Expect more injuries, but also shorter careers, as players who play 18 full regular season games plus two, three, or four postseason games—not to mention any playing time in the preseason—all of a sudden. For these players chronic pain can turn into debilitating injury.
Imagine a league where linemen are retired by 30 instead of 35 and running backs like Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson are done by 28.
With that many injuries and shortened careers, the NFL just isn't going to be what it used to be.
Get ready for a watered down product
Consider international soccer, leagues with a ton of games plus numerous international contests and friendlies, played almost entirely to pad owners' pocketbooks.
In soccer, when a player goes down, his team just buys another player just like him. Teams can loan players to non-competing teams in entirely different leagues.
In the NFL, that isn't really possible. No league exists with talent like the NFL to accept a player "on loan" in the middle of the season.
Don't even bring up the UFL, a league that aspires to be a developmental league, but is not a comparable situation.
Rather, fans would be treated to having subpar players replace their favorite athletes, and would pay the same amount to watch their favorite team fielded by replacements instead of the stars they bought season tickets for.
There has to be a compromise
As written, the only party that this proposal benefits is the NFL owners.
Without a hook or a carrot of any kind, enticing the players to accept it, fans will never get a longer NFL season.
Probably not a horrible idea.
But, if the owners have set their hearts on the idea of 18 games—and possibly more with the idea that more teams will be added as well—it is time for some other changes.
- Completely eliminate Organized Team Activities (OTAs) altogether—anytime NFL athletes are on the field supervised by NFL coaches, there will be contact and chance for injury.
- Completely eliminate the preseason. To play games that mean nothing (and don't make the owners a lot of money) is pointless. Teams can work out their respective kinks in competitive scrimmages, which carry less danger than an actual game.
- Increase protection for players under the collective bargaining agreement. As it stands, young players without three years of service have no insurance from the league in case of career ending injury. That has to change.
- Increase the revenue for players—if players (not owners) are increasing their risk to make both parties more money, the players are then entitled to a bigger slice of the pie. That is how business works.
If the owners' current proposal is accepted, the NFL season will not be enhanced—just longer and more profitable for the owners.
The only thing being enhanced will be the owners' bottom line.