The prepared remarks presented on Thursday by Commissioner Roger Goodell at the Harvard School of Public Health made no mention of the impact of the potential expansion of the regular season from 16 to 18 games on the league’s overriding concern to promote and preserve player health and safety.
In a question-and-answer session that came after his speech, Goodell addressed one key aspect of the possible reconfiguration of the season from 16 regular-season games and four preseason games to 18 and two.
“I don’t believe the veterans need four preseason games anymore,” Goodell said. “The primary purpose of a preseason for a team is to evaluate and develop players and then they select their teams.
“Our athletes stay in shape all year now. It’s a different game. So I believe we can get to two games. That’s one of the genesis of the 18 and two or potentially the 16 and two. Both of those are alternatives that we have to look at. Do I think we’ll move towards a shorter preseason? Yes, from a health and safety standpoint but also from the standpoint of fan reaction. [Preseason] just does not meet the standard and quality of what the NFL is all about. People come to our stadiums or watch on television, they expect to see the best football. That means the best players and a competitive game. We don’t deliver on that promise in the preseason.”
Despite the enhanced safety concerns, the NFL has yet to take 18 games off the table. As a result, suspicion will persist that the league plans to take full advantage of its unilateral ability under the 2011 labor deal to slash the preseason in half, in the hopes that the players will crunch the numbers resulting from the loss of 10 percent of the annual inventory and decide on their own that two extra regular-season games may not be a bad thing, after all.
That’s not so far fetched. With the league and the NFLPA sharing revenue like never before, losing two preseason games would reduce the players’ share of the cash, which in turn could keep the salary cap flat or even make it drop.
On the other hand, swapping out two preseason games with two regular-season games could dramatically increase the revenue, given the value of selling games that count to the networks.
Until the league conclusively and unequivocally says that there won’t be an increase in the regular season from 16 to 18 games, it remains a possibility. And the only way it will ever become a reality is if the players want it.
The only way the players will ever want it is if they realize that, financially, they need it.