The biggest story this NFL offseason is the uncertainty around the league’s current collective bargaining agreement. The collective bargaining agreement, which expires in March, could lead to a work stoppage during the 2011 NFL season. The most recent news regarding the collective bargaining agreement occurred earlier this week when the NFL made a presentation to the NFL Players Association during a session in New York espousing the merits of moving to an 18-game regular season.
Currently, NFL teams play 20 games (not including the postseason) over the course of the season, which are broken into four preseason, or exhibition, games and 16 regular season games. The 18-game “enhanced season”, as the NFL is calling it, would eliminate two preseason games and add two more regular season games. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is on board with the potential “enhanced season” concept. Goodell feels that the NFL doesn’t need the four preseason games that are currently played. While having four preseason games seems too much for some fans and NFL owners, adding an additional two regular season games could have the potential for a substantial negative impact.
At an early glance, the NFL’s “enhanced season” concept seems like a win for everyone. It creates more regular season football for fans to watch, it creates greater attendance for NFL owners since NFL preseason games don’t fill NFL stadiums with consistency, and it eliminates the two preseason games when most NFL starters don’t play most of the game and third and fourth string players are playing for their NFL lives. However, two more regular season NFL games can potentially create greater risks for injuries for its players simply because there are more games to be played. Obviously, in football more than any other sport, playing a game on a given day can really be a player’s last game of the season or even his career.
The NFL and commissioner Goodell deserve kudos for being active in adding emphasis on eliminating and decreasing the rate of concussions and head injuries in the name of player safety. In a memo sent to all the NFL teams about the NFL’s new concussion policy last year, Goodell said, “This new return-to-play statement reinforces our commitment to advancing player safety. Along with improved equipment, better education, and rules changes designed to reduce impacts to the head, it will make our game safer for the men who play it and set an important example for players at all levels of play”. Yet if commissioner Goodell wants to advance player safety then why is he for adding the amount of meaningful games NFL players must play under the enhanced schedule? It is obvious to anyone that if you want to limit potential injuries of any kind to football players then it would make sense to limit the amount of games. Since preseason games give a number of opportunities for fringe NFL players trying to make the roster, it reduces the wear and tear and potential injuries for starting and key players that can develop over the course of a long NFL season. Those players who are banging each other up for most of the preseason usually don’t play very much during the regular season.
Two current NFL stars have spoken out about their concerns of an 18-game regular season. New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady mentioned that he’s “taken part in several postseason runs where we have played 20 games. The long-term impact this game has on our bodies is well documented”. While Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis voiced his own concerns saying, “I know our fans may not like preseason games and I don’t like all of them, but swapping two preseason games for two end-of-season games–when players already play hurt–comes at a huge cost for the player and the team.” That two future Hall of Famers who both have an unquestioned passion for football would make these statements speak volumes.
It is important to note that the NFL is making a point that the “enhanced season” would not be adopted until 2012 at the earliest and that part of the “enhanced season” adjustment would possibly include increasing the roster size, changing the injured reserve rules, and adding an additional bye to the regular season to allow players more rest. The “enhanced season” concept seems to be at the preliminary stages but NFL owners need to look out for the health and safety of their players when considering adding two more regular season games.