On this slow first-weekend-without-football-until-who-in-the-hell-knows-when, several of you have pointed out an idea floated by the man who represents Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for dealing with the league’s desire to “enhance” the season from 16 to 18 games.
Agent Don Yee believes that, among other changes, each player should be permitted to play in only 16 of the 18 games.
“This compromise will create even more interest from fans,” Yee told the Associated Press. “What two games will the head coach sit the starting [quarterback]? That’s a discussion that will set sports talk radio airwaves afire.”
He’s right, but the airwaves will be set “afire” for all the wrong reasons. If fans are paying full freight for nine home games, they don’t want one of the home games to be treated like a preseason game, as to the quarterback position or any other spot in the starting lineup. And that’s exactly what would happen.
With Commissioner Roger Goodell strongly opposed to teams that have clinched playoff berths sending in the scrubs in the later weeks of the season, Goodell won’t want to see teams periodically shuffling in second-teamers throughout the course of the season, via a cockeyed suicide pool for coaches.
It also would create a major problem on special teams, where key members of the punt and kickoff units would have to be arbitrarily benched and players not necessarily accustomed to those duties pressed into service. That’s a recipe for injuries, possibly serious ones, during punt and kickoff returns.
The better approach? Work out a fair system for compensating and protecting players for 18 regular-season games. If the extra two games of full-speed contact are offset by the elimination of two preseason games and a reduction in contact throughout the offseason and training camp and during other practices, at some point it becomes a fair trade. Especially if the pie grows via the addition of two more weekends of regular-season games that can be televised at a high price on FOX, CBS, NBC, ESPN, and DirecTV.
All that said, we continue to believe that the best outcome would entail a reduction of the preseason to three games, an increase in the regular season to 17 games, and an overhaul of the practice system to limit opportunities for injury. The one extra game per team would be played on neutral sites both outside and inside the United States, with every team playing eight home games, eight road games, and one neutral-site game.
If the goal is to grow the pie, 16 neutral-site games in places like Ann Arbor and South Bend and the Alamodome and other NFL-ready stadiums that don’t host NFL teams would generate a ton of local interest.
Alternatively, if the real goal is to address fan concerns regarding the quality of the preseason games, all the league needs to do is cut the price of preseason tickets in half and adjust the cost of regular-season seats to offset the difference. The fact that the league instead wants to bootstrap fan concerns about the preseason into a fan desire for a bigger regular season tells us that the braoder goal here is to reduce the players’ per-dollar cut while at the same time increasing the overall revenue so that the total dollars paid to the players will grow, while the total dollars kept by the owners really grows.