Given the conflicting quotes attributed to Packers CEO Mark Murphy on Friday, I opted to pretend to be an actual reporter and do some actual reporting.
Short story shorter, I got Murphy on the phone to clarify his thoughts on a potentially expanded regular season.
Murphy said that he remains opposed to 18 games, a position he has taken on multiple occasions in the past. He acknowledges, however, that 17 games could work as an obvious compromise between 16 and 18. Murphy supports 17 regular-season games primarily as a way to continue to grow the game internationally, ensuring that every team would have, every year, eight true home games, eight true road games, and one neutral-site game, with most of those 16 neutral-site games played in other countries. However, Murphy was adamant that the preseason would have to drop to three games, and maybe to only two (despite the loss of revenue that would come from reducing the total number of preseason and regular-season games from 20 to 19).
We interpreted Murphy as being in favor of 18 games based on this quote attributed to him by Darren Rovell of TheActionNetwork.com, in an earlier one-on-one conversation with Murphy: “Maybe another way to do this is to add one neutral site game and one international one for every team, so we can use this to grow the game.” Murphy said that he said (or at least meant to say) “or” not “and,” and that he supports 17 games (with a reduced preseason), not 18 games.
Murphy had opposed expansion of the regular season in the past due to player health and safety, and I specifically asked him whether he believes that advances in player health and safety justify increased regular-season exposure. He said that, even though the “numbers are down” from 2018 as to injuries like concussions, the numbers could go up in any given year, and he acknowledged based on his own experience as a player that there’s a “wear and tear” component that builds throughout a football season. Extending the season only adds to that.
Murphy also didn’t rule out during our conversation the possibility of 17 regular-season games and two byes, which would nudge the Super Bowl to President’s Day weekend, something the league quietly has coveted for years. There’s a concern, however, that the networks wouldn’t want each team to have two byes. (The NFL had one season with two byes, in 1993. Then, the league had only 28 teams, four fewer than the current composition of the standings.)
As to the idea of an 18-game season with a maximum player participation of 16, Murphy made it clear that he’s not in favor of that approach, primarily because he believes that fans would not like it. He agreed with my assessment of such an approach as “gimmicky,” and he expressed concern for fans who, for example, have always wanted to see Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers play not getting to see him play because those fans have the misfortune of holding tickets to one of the two games in which Rodgers won’t play.
Personally, I like the 17-game regular season, for many reasons. I don’t like 8-8 records; 9-8 or 8-9 would clearly make a team a loser or a winner for the year. (And, yes, I realize that someone could end up 8-8-1.) I also like the idea of 16 neutral-site games, especially since it could mean a game at Ann Arbor or a game at Notre Dame or a game at Happy Valley or a game at Ohio Stadium or a game at some other large, iconic venue, which of course could be wired for real-time video communication with the league office.