Extra game, extra pain
May 22, 2008, 5:02:57 AM by Jonathan Rand - FAQ
Chances are you wouldn’t hear any bellyaching from Chiefs fans if instead of seeing the last pre-season game against the Rams on a Thursday night in Arrowhead Stadium, they could watch the Chiefs open their 2008 season three days later.
The possibility of such a scenario was recently floated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He suggested that a 17th regular-season game, perhaps at the expense of a pre-season game, could provide a nice boost to league revenues.
Have you ever heard anybody complain that the preseason ends too quickly? Choosing between a pre-season and a regular-season game is like choosing between a screen saver and the day’s most outrageous You Tube video.
Most NFL teams play four pre-season games, using the first two to look rookies and one of the last two as a dress rehearsal. Starters often make cameo appearances in the final game to keep their edge without tempting injury. Herm Edwards had his starters out by halftime in a 10-3 loss at St. Louis last year as the Chiefs wrapped up a winless preseason.
It’s hard to argue with Goodell when he says, “We are not satisfied with the quality of the preseason right now. We’d like to improve on that.”
An extra weekend of real games would bring the league an additional fat chunk of network TV revenue, as opposed to local rights fees for most pre-season games. Though pre-season games may be included in season-ticket packages, half-empty stadiums mean less money spent on parking and concessions.
Swapping an exhibition for a game that counts would seem like a win-win situation, except for players’ bodies. And here’s where the issue begins to become less clear-cut, especially because the league’s cut of the extra booty would not be all gravy.
The league would have to negotiate for an extra game with the players’ union, which commands about 60 percent of league revenues for its members. Rosters would have to expand to allow for the wear and tear of another game. If the schedule is increased by about six percent, the 53-man roster probably would have to be increased accordingly – perhaps by three players.
But players aren’t machines and it’s hard to predict that increasing the schedule by six percent would increase the risk of injury only slightly. Common sense would suggest there’s a point at which one extra game becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and we suddenly see an unacceptable spike in season-ending injuries.
But how many games are too many? We probably won’t know until we get there. The 2007 Giants played 20 games to win the NFL championship. Could they have held up for a 21st?
NFL teams routinely played six pre-season games through 1977. Redskins coach George Allen, for one, saw nothing wrong with making starters play four quarters in all of them. Only coaches could stand these endless summers. They swore they needed six games to properly evaluate young talent.
The regular season lasted only lasted 14 games then, the players’ union was merely a shell of its current self and some players needed the long summer to work off winter beer bellies. Starting in 1978, the league replaced two exhibitions with two regular-season games and the 16-game schedule has been a hit ever since.
But in a league that expects year-around conditioning and off-season work on the field and in the classroom, preseason games are becoming increasingly anachronistic. It’s almost inevitable that the NFL will eventually dump two pre-season games and play an 18-game regular season, as the United States Football League played in the mid-1980s.
It’s just a matter of how owners and players can divvy up the extra money and keep everybody happy. Their current spat notwithstanding, they almost always figure out a way to do that.
The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.
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