Sunday, February 19, 2012

Goodbye Football, Pt. 2

I have a confession to make: I've had my fill of football. Once the Super Bowl ended, it was time to decompress. It's a great thing they moved the Pro Bowl to the week prior to the big game, only because it's not really a game at all, just a chance at watching a bunch football players not play actual football. No one is interested in the Pro Bowl. They should get rid of it.

But that's not why I've had my fill. After seven months, it's time to take my mind off the game. Okay, it's really about ten months, because I do get excited about the NFL Draft in April. But this year will be different. The Lions aren't picking first. Or second. They're not even picking in the Top 20. The Lions will be picking No. 23.

Why No. 23? Because they made the playoffs. No, they didn't go far, but they made the playoffs despite losing in the Wild Card. Their Wild Card appearance plus their record of 10-6 put them at 23. Great.

Enough with the draft, though. I've got more to say on that later.

There's three months in between the draft and training camp. With training camp comes the NFL Preseason. Four weeks later, it's Opening Kickoff.

It's a 16-game regular season. It's twenty if you count the preseason, and as many as 23/24 if you count preseason, regular season, and post season (if you play in the Wild Card, if not, subtract 1). Even if you're one of the lucky teams like the Patriots and Giants who got to play in the 24 total games, Tom Brady nor Eli Manning play in the final preseason game, and maybe not in the first one, either.

But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell once again brought up the topic that worries me most: establishing an 18-game season. Remember, I've had my fill of football. It's February. The build up for the 2012 season starts after April and lasts all summer. I'm decompressing.

Unfortunately, Mr. Goodell wants more football. Well, not so much more football, but more regular season football. Two more regular season, and two less preseason. Why? Preseason games don't matter, and the fans don't like them.

Even if fans don't like the preseason, it's not clear their clamoring for two more regular season games. Mr. Goodell and his bosses (the NFL owners) are only half-listening to the fans. No matter how hard he pushes for an 18-game season, it should never, ever happen.

18-game seasons are dangerous. Most of your 1st-string plays sparingly in the preseason to give backups and younger players more playing time to develop or move up the depth chart. If your Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannings, or Matthew Staffords are playing for more games that count, the likelihood of injury doesn't go up significantly, but their loss to the team will be no matter how small the increase in chance.

Some have speculated that rule changes by the league designed to reduce the number of injuries is a way for Goodell to go back in a few years and say "Hey, we've reduced injuries - we're now moving to an 18-game season." Just look at their policies on player concussions. Or how now defenders can no longer hit a "defenseless receiver" attempting to make a catch in mid air. Or how horse collar tackles are now prohibited. Either way, I suspect this has less to do with extending the regular season to 18, and more to do with league liability as there is pending litigation on how the NFL has handled past concussion incidents.

But I do see 18 games as a way of exhausting fans' attention. The NFL won't make more money. They already charge regular season prices for preseason games, ahem, games that don't count.

An 18-game season will diminish the importance of many milestones and arbitrarily create new ones. When it was a 14-game format, a 1,000 yard rushing season was a big deal. A running back had to average just under 72 yards a game over that time frame to reach the milestone. Now, you only need average 62.5 over 16 games. But 18 games? You'll need to only average a ho-hum 55.6 yard game over an 18-game stretch to reach 1000 yards.

The same can be said for reaching other milestones like quarterbacks throwing 30+ touchdowns and 3,000+ yards. Wide receivers would need less than 6 receptions a game to reach 100 catches on the year.

Just think about how the NFL is now a passing league anyway. There were 4 quarterbacks who passed for more than 5,000 yards last year. Only 2 had accomplished this in the previous 27 seasons, and one of those 4, Drew Brees, was the second player who went over the 5,000 mark in 2009. All single-season NFL records will lose their luster, their magic gone. It'll be like baseball in the steroid era, only the only things juiced here are the rules.

So Mr. Goodell, if you're reading this (and most likely you're the one person on this planet who actually does), take my advice: cut the Preseason down to 2 games, and keep the regular season at 16. The league is already making money hand over fist. You've done a great job in terms of league profitability. Don't get greedy and your fans won't get bored with your product.

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