When the NFL goes to an 18-game regular season schedule, fans will complain and the media will become indignant. The success of the league is legendary. So why change?
Because unlike Major League Baseball, where the creation of the designated hitter still is subject to debate, the NFL has been a testament to change. Remember when the quarterback wasn’t protected, when defensive backs could use their hands, when the season consisted of 14 games or of only 12?
I do, but the memory is as hazy as life before compact discs or the Internet.
If I were making the call, I’d keep the regular season at 16 and eliminate two preseason games. Exhibitions are a waste of money for fans and an unnecessary risk for established players. To get hurt in a game that doesn’t count in the standings is how the cliche insult to injury was established. An even greater insult is to charge fans regular season prices to watch a glorified practice.
NFL people have told me that they need four games to evaluate players. They’ll adjust.
The first face I saw when I heard the league was contemplating the 18-game schedule was that of former Carolina Panther fullback Brad Hoover. Hoover made his living stuffing defenders who were much bigger than he was. The human body was not designed to accommodate such a pounding, not even Hoover’s.
Brad played from 2000-09. Had the Panthers played 18 games during his tenure, he would have been cut, or forced to retire, long before the 2010 season. His damaged body would have insisted.
Adding two games will shorten careers and probably lengthen rosters. More players will be lost to injury. Quality reserves will be required to replace them.
You can never be too rich, and as much money as the NFL makes, it can make more. Exhibitions often don’t sell out and some are blacked out. Regular season games generate more money for the league and more money for the players¸ players that do not receive a fat game check for preseason work.
Those lucrative game checks could have an impact on the labor impasse that management and labor rapidly are approaching.
The players won the last round of negotiations. To keep the peace, owners capitulated. Don’t think they wanted to send retiring commissioner Pete Tagliabue out with a gold watch and a lockout.
The owners will not capitulate this time. Owners in effect will ask players to give back some of what they won. This is like asking a country that won a piece of land to return it. Players will dig in. Negotiations will turn nasty.
And a sport that has become so staggeringly popular that most of us can’t even tell you who No. 2 is will suffer. As much as we love the NFL, we can live a full life without it. Such a life would be painful; I can’t imagine the fall and winter without football, or the summer without thinking about football.
But, technically, we would survive. We’d fill our time with other pursuits.
The NFL prefers that we not be aware of this. But if there is lockout and players no longer play we will get by.
Ask Major League Baseball, whose post-strike motto was, and is: Plenty of good seats are available.
If two additional game checks appease players and avoid a labor dispute then, sure, go to 18 games.
Many of us will complain. But we’ll complain much more loudly if our beloved NFL is taken away.