As the belated debate regarding the wisdom of an 18-game season finally has begun to unfold (and, as we’ve previously said, we think that “enhancement” of the season should end at 17 games), we need to reiterate a little-known point that we first raised in May 2010, but that has gotten lost in the shuffle.
Regarding the question of whether the union will or won’t agree to add two regular-season games, the reality is that the union already has agreed.
Under Article XXXVIII, Section 12 of the CBA, the league possesses the ability
to increase the regular season to 18 games. The only question not resolved is the
specific amount of money that would be paid to the players for the extra
games. (The matter would go to arbitration if the league and the union couldn’t reach an accord.)
Under Article XXXVII, Section 6, the league is required to use its “best efforts to hold no more than four preseason games.”
Thus, the NFLPA has agreed to stage up to 22 preseason and regular-season games per year.
The union likely would respond to this reality by pointing out that the league could have played 18 regular-season games in 2011 and 2012 if the league had opted not to cancel the current labor agreement two years early, and that termination of the CBA wipes the slate clean. But the dynamics of collective bargaining put the union in the position of having to negotiate their agreement to play 18 games out of the deal, which means that the players will have to make a significant concession if the league were to agree to remain at 16 games.
Of course, the same logic applies to the league, which wants to scrap the current system for compensating players, shrinking the slice the players get under the promise of enhancing the total size of the pie.
Regardless of the traditional rituals of the bargaining process, the issue of “enhancement” to the regular season could only exacerbate the tensions between the two sides. In the end, the players likely will agree to it — but only if the price is right.
In setting the price, the players and the league need to keep two important points in mind. First, adding two games increases by more than 10 percent the number of live reps to which players are exposed each year, which means that the chances of suffering a serious injury increase for each player by more than 10 percent. Second, adding those games increases the chronic wear and tear on every player; for example, playing eight seasons with 18 games equates to nine seasons with 16. The compensation for each player needs to take these short-term and long-term consequences into account.
Also, the league needs to be certain that adding two weeks to the regular season will add enough revenue to justify the potential impact on the players. Some think it’s a linear relationship, and that the same average amount of cash generated each week during a 17-week schedule will be realized in weeks 18 and 19. We’re not so sure that this is the case, and the reality is that no one will know the answer until it’s too late to turn back.