There arguably was a time when Hard Knocks had some degree of usefulness to the NFL team that made itself the centerpiece of the training camp reality series. Arguably, that time has come and gone.
Hard Knocks debuted in 2001, years before social media became a thing and the various teams began pumping exclusive! video via their websites and apps. The best argument for doing the show — to enhance national awareness of a team — isn’t nearly as strong as it once was, especially since doing the show never really correlated to establishing a national following.
Meanwhile, the best arguments against doing the show have only gotten stronger, with each example of strategic secrets (like snaps counts), embarrassing moments (like Antonio Cromartie not knowing the names of his children), and flat-out dysfunction (like Hue Jackson vs. Todd Haley last year) proving the point that there’s nothing to be gained and plenty to be lost by accepting the Hard Knocks assignment.
But the league collectively likes collecting the checks from HBO, so the league continues to sanction the show. This year, the formula that narrows the field of teams that can be squeezed to do it has yet to prompt a team to accept the assignment willingly. Indeed, it seems as if none of them (Raiders, Giants, Lions, 49ers, Washington) want to do it, at all.
So why not just get rid of it? Although the tension would become far more compelling if a team was forced to do it against the organization’s wishes and if the team brought that attitude to every interaction with the cameras (like James Harrison did in 2013 with the Bengals), the league seems to be reluctant to make a team submit against its will, hopeful instead that someone eventually will take one for the greater good.
This could be the year that doesn’t happen. Teams have enough to worry about at training camp without having to participate in the weekly effort to craft a one-hour show from countless hours of footage. Even with the apparent ability to veto anything that would make the team look bad, the team has to both spot it in real time and be willing to push HBO and NFL Films to drop otherwise compelling scenes (like Hue vs. Haley) onto the cutting-room floor.
It’s just not worth it, for any team. It’s a distraction with no upside and all downside.
Look at this this way: If there were any real benefit to serving as the subject of Hard Knocks, teams would be lining up to do it. Instead, teams line up to not do it.
And that should tell us all we need to know about whether the league should keep doing it.