With the NFL making a clear commitment to the preseason HBO series Hard Knocks, the league needs to be sure that a constant flow of participating teams will be available.
Last year, the league decided to reserve the right to force an unwilling team to accept the assignment.
But the “thou shalt” possibility comes with some caveats. Teams that have made the playoffs in the last two years, teams with new coaches, and teams that have been on Hard Knocks within the last decade are exempt.
Via Barry Petchesky of Deadspin, that leaves the powers-that-be with the power to compel only one of eight teams in 2014: the Bears, Bills, Cardinals, Giants, Jaguars, Raiders, Rams, and Steelers.
Arizona coach Bruce Arians already has said he would fight “tooth and nail” an involuntary assignment to do Hard Knocks. But it may not come to that, for the Cardinals or any of the other seven teams.
The 24 exempt teams can still choose to do the show, and typically there’s a franchise that craves the national exposure that comes from being on Hard Knocks. Some also believe that the experience helps players deal with distractions.
The most intriguing possible team at this point is the Vikings, whose new head coach has very recent experience with Hard Knocks; Mike Zimmer served as defensive coordinator of the 2013 Bengals.
Either way, someone will do it, whether they want to or not. It’s highly unlikely that the team that gets the gig will being doing so against its will.
Of course, that would only make the ultimate reality show’s official reality show even more compelling.