One of the biggest points of contention in the labor negotiations between the NFL and the NFLPA is whether or not to make the switch from a 16 game regular season to 18 games. Roger Goodell and most of the owners are strongly in favor of this. To be quite honest with you, I’m not so crazy about a 18 game regular season. Sure it would mean more “real” football for us fans, but I have some issues with this.
The biggest issue is injuries – hardly a game goes by without at least one player sustaining a multi-week injury. The league has tried in vain to limit these injuries with rule changes (I’m sure the helmet-to-helmet debate is still fresh in everyone’s mind), but it looks to me that it actually made the problem worse – in 2010, the number of concussions and length of time players were missing was higher than 2009, even with the same standards of determining whether a player would be allowed to play that week. These rule changes have also angered the NFL fan base, which has become more knowledgeable in recent times and sensitive to the heritage and integrity of the game. Quite simply, two more games means more injuries. Though it wouldn’t solve the problem, the only sensible solution wto this problem is to raise teams’ active roster limit from 53 and raise the number of game-day active players from 45. Without this compromise, moving to 18 games is unthinkable.
The issue of preseason games is another problem with the regular season expansion and goes deeper than most fans realize. Of course, the fans and media hate these games because they aren’t “real” football – the result are meaningless (the ’08 Lions, who went 0-16 in the regular season, were undefeated in their four preseason games). People don’t realize that coaches need these games to evaluate their roster, especially on the back end of the roster. Storylines like David Garrard overtaking the incumbent Byron Leftwich to become the Jaguars’ new starting quarterback are rare. What is not rare is evaluating how undrafted rookies (and drafted rookies, for that matter) in game situations to see if they are worth stashing on the roster as depth or a “jar on the shelf”. OTAs and Training Camp are not enough by themselves, but Jacksonville fans need look no further than Chad Owens, Charles Sharon, or Troy Williamson to know that you can’t evaluate players based on these practices. Courtney Greene was two steps short of the unemployment line going into the fourth preseason game, but showed enough skill against the Falcons for the Jaguars to give him a shot. Going into next season, he may be the most consistent player in our secondary. Without that fourth preseason game, who knows where he would playing (or working) now?
There are many questions that arise concerning the opponents for the two extras games in an 18 game season. How do Goodell and the owners propose to handle this issue? Pick them randomly? What conference will they come from? How will this affect playoff tiebreakers?
Finally, when would be an appropriate time for the season to start in an 18 game season? Goodell and Co. are currently planning on starting the season the same week it normally would, pushing the regular season into mid-January and the playoffs deep into February. That would mean many challenges for teams, especially for teams and fans who continue to play outdoors in freezing temperatures and in the harsh elements of winter. February playoffs present other issues with normal TV scheduling, including conflicts with viewer-grabbing Sunday broadcasts such as the NBA All-Star Game, the Grammys, the Oscars, and the Winter Olympics. I’m not sure the other businesses associated with these events would be thrilled about competing with the NFL, which dominates anything it’s put up against these days.
There are many consequences of changing the regular season to 18 games. Obviously, profit is king, but if you’re Roger Goodell, how can you justify changing it? Professional football has peaked in the last few years and under the current system has offered some of the most entertaining and memorable games and storylines in the history of the game. There are more fans than ever, more passionate fans than ever, and the “product” the NFL is putting out is the most popular of its kind. Mr. Goodell – if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.