An 18-Game Season Is Coming, So How Do We Make It Work?
By Allen Kim
Talk of an 18-game season recently resurfaced when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell mentioned it as a topic of discussion at the recent owners meeting in Boston. The players, coaches and GMs can kick and scream all they want, but an 18-game schedule is inevitable.
Once the NFL has their sights set on something, you know they’ll relentlessly pursue it until it achieves its goal. Instead of fighting the inescapable future of the NFL, let’s take a look at what can be done to ensure that all sides can at least live with the outcome.
Goodell wants every NFL event to be more valuable, and the fans certainly don’t get much return from the preseason. While preseason games are meaningless in that they don’t have an impact on the playoff aspirations of all 32 teams, they’re still valuable … just not for the fans. Veterans get an opportunity to get their legs back underneath them after a long layoff, coaches get to test out new things, unseasoned players get some more experience under their belts and teams can finalize their player evaluations.
However, taking away two preseason games and tacking them onto the regular season or postseason and calling that a fair tradeoff is ridiculous. Adding two games onto the schedule could potentially take years off of a player’s career, and that is without a doubt the biggest concern for the players. The commissioner has led the charge on a number of initiatives to make the game safer, but adding more games to the schedule only contradicts all of that. He can try to spin it all he wants, but there’s no way any of it passes the smell test.
Football is an inherently tough and brutal sport, and many players already have trouble getting through 16 games. Just imagine how many players are left standing by the time the playoffs start on an 18-game schedule. Even worse is that instead of the best team winning the Super Bowl, it may just end up being the healthiest team — and if that’s the case, it’s an absolutely unacceptable compromise.
The onus is on the coaches to make all of this work, and they’ll have to make the biggest adjustments to the new schedule. From more efficient preseason preparation to even more careful game management, those additional games will only add more pressure to the already daunting task of managing an NFL team. Coaches will have to cut down on the playing time of the team’s core players in order to make up for the additional time they’ll accrue, and they have to rely on their backups to step up in their absence. But if the coaches are able to find some sort of middle ground to protect the players without soiling the product, who are we to argue?
The framework of an expanded schedule will also hinge on how they change the structure of the current NFL calendar to give players the necessary rest to make up for the added snaps. One change that both sides may actually agree to without much fuss is adding a second bye week. Not only does it add another week to the NFL calendar, but it gives the players another week off to recuperate. It’s a win-win proposition that should easily pass if put on the table.
The biggest changes to the calendar will upset the coaches the most, but they may be the key to limiting the wear and tear of the regular season grind. Cutting down on some combination of OTAs, mini-camps and practices is a necessary sacrifice that will have to be made. To further combat fatigue and injury, you can expect the coaches to demand expanded rosters to compensate. However, adding more players means spending more money, and that’s not something owners are going to be too happy about.
But make no mistake about it: in the end, it’s money that drives all of this, and its money that will solve all of this.
The players are going to want more money, and they’re entitled to every last penny. Simply compensating them on a prorated scale is not enough, and the NFL would be foolish to think otherwise. Whether it comes in the form of a percentage-based raise or some sort of bonus, the only way the players succumb to the pressure for more games depends solely on how far the owners are willing to reach into their bank accounts. Once the NFL dangles that carrot in front of the players, it’s only a matter of time before they reach out and grab it.
The league has already started to plant the seeds of an expanded schedule in the hopes of dominating the sports calendar after they pushed back the 2014 NFL Draft, and putting more games on the schedule will only further their goal. Goodell is intent on pursuing this idea until it finally sees the light of day, and it’s the NFL, not the players that will have to make concessions in order for this plan to come to fruition.