Kobritz: Proposed 18-game NFL season should be DOA
BEYOND THE LINES
NFL brass have made a proposal that will turn the league into a facsimile of the recently expired Alliance of American Football: short on talent and bereft of credibility.
In early negotiations on a new CBA the league proposed eliminating two preseason games and expanding the regular season from 16 to 18 games. The NFL’s motivation is simple: money. An additional two games could generate as much as $2.5 billion by some estimates.
The biggest drawback to an 18-game schedule is more wear and tear on players in a league where the average career is barely four years. That’s the primary reason the NFLPA has refused to accede to previous demands to expand the schedule. To make the idea more palatable, the NFL’s latest proposal comes with a twist: an 18-game season, with a 16-game limit for players. In other words, players could play in no more than 16 of the 18 games.
While the wrinkle in the NFL’s proposal, if accepted, may prove less taxing on players’ bodies, it will lead to a dilution of the product along with unhappy players, fans, sponsors and media partners. Even assuming expanded rosters, the additional talent won’t be the equivalent of first or second stringers. First-string quarterbacks – e.g., Tom Brady, Drew Brees – are in the starting lineup for a reason.
What happens to the Patriots and Saints, respectively, when those players, although healthy, are benched in order to comply with the 16-game rule? How will fans, who paid to see the first string, feel when they find out they’re holding a ticket to watch the third string take the field? Rather than sit players strategically, will teams bench the entire first string for two games in mid-season? Networks will be screaming if forced to broadcast the equivalent of a preseason game in week 17.
It’s obvious the NFL’s proposal has more holes than a wheel of Swiss cheese, so why make it? Keep in mind the league and union are merely negotiating at this point. In any negotiation, ideas and proposals are often thrown out for several reasons, including gauging the reaction of the other side or providing a starting point for compromise, even when the proposer knows it’s a non-starter. However, if players receive sufficient incentive, i.e., a substantial increase to the salary cap, they may accept an extended season, as much of a long shot as that may be.
What we do know is the four-game preseason is too long and the games are meaningless. In order to avoid injury, starters see little action, which makes for a bad product. But the current proposal merely defers those games to later in the schedule.
The CBA doesn’t expire until March 2021, so unless one side or the other does something crazy – i.e., a lockout or a strike – there are two more years for the parties to negotiate. Many a proposal will come and go before a new CBA is agreed to, but none is likely to be as absurd as this one.
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at email@example.com.