“Enhance.” “Enhance.” “Enhance.”
In between the blockbuster headlines made by the big Tyjuan Hagler and Martell Mallett signings, Bill Polian let the cat slip out of the bag: the NFL’s franchise owners are moving forward on a plan to play an 18 game season, perhaps as soon as 2012. Upon first glance, this idea is incredibly exciting — professional football in February would be a godsend. However, once you dig a little deeper, you realize the dream of an 18 game season is actually a frightening, money-grabbing nightmare.
Owners aren’t stupid; they realize they are rapidly approaching a critical impasse with players. Currently, players take home roughly 60% of the proceeds generated by the League. Owners want more than that: they feel they assume the risk of funding stadiums, paying players and insuring their investments — all the while against the back-drop of a miserable economy. Faced with dwindling tickets sales (and the Red Zone Channel), the NFL is on pace to break its five year high of 22 blackouts set in 2009. Furthermore, franchises in Jacksonville and Buffalo find themselves in untenable economic markets.
In the meantime, scrutiny over the NFL’s treatment of the NFL Player’s Association has increased. For years, a former player (i.e. non-lawyer) led a union that had an uncomfortably close relationship with its opponent. In no other sport has labor peace reigned as prolifically as it has in professional football — yet this has been to the detriment of the players. As new labor head DeMaurice Smith (i.e. major law-dog) took over, he made it a point to put the NFL on notice: players aren’t being paid fairly, benefits for retired players are shoddy and the days of the NFLPA rolling over for the establishment are over. Of course, no one wants to hear millionaires argue with billionaires, but all signs point to lockout in 2011… unless the owners can find a few extra billion.
So, where does the extra money come from? Well, owners realize by adding two more games to their schedule, they create two additional sources for potential revenue in their stadiums and more importantly, with their TV deals. Who doesn’t love more pro football? But here’s why it won’t work:
1. The health of the players. The magnification of head injuries suffered by professional football players has never been greater. There is real evidence out there showing a definite correlation between head injuries sustained during the normal course of a football player’s career and the early onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. From there, we see depression, drug abuse and alcoholism. And the discussion is not dying down. Adding two additional games every year means an extra season’s worth of punishment to the career of every player who makes it eight years. That’s a lot of pain. And it’s not just head injuries: can owners realistically expect players to suck it up for a season that will be 12% longer?
2. The quality of the game. Aside from the head issues, think about the level of play: how often are teams ravaged by injuries? How many teams in Week 8 (much less Week 18) are starting third teamers because they had a rash of injuries at one position? No one wants to watch practice squad players. The league is diluted enough as it is. Expanding the rosters just puts bad players on teams they have no business making.
3. The record books will be meaningless. Sure, once there were only 14 games in a season. That was over 30 years ago — the game has changed a fair bit since then. While most proponents of the “enhanced” schedule think football isn’t a statistics game, just ask the millions of people that play Fantasy Football. Whether fans like it or not, the 1,000 yard running back/wide receiver and the 4,000 yard passer are meaningful benchmarks. How awesome will Chris Johnson’s 2,000 yard season look if three more people do it next year? Why invalidate an entire generation of on-field accomplishments? Those numbers have meaning.
4. The coverage will make people want to blow their brains out. Yeah, you read that right. Can you imagine 18 weeks of Brett Favre coverage? I can’t, nay, I won’t. Peter King’s heart will explode.
An “enhanced” football season is anything but that. It’s a wanton money-grab by a league that’s gone overboard. It’s time for the NFLPA to take a stand and make a choice for the good of the game (and their members) instead of their wallets.
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