NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t give many interviews these days. When he does, the news contained in his answers, to the extent there is any, doesn’t always jump off the page. In a business-issues sit-down with Julia Boorstin of CNBC at the annual Sun Valley, Idaho “summer camp for billionaires,” Goodell gave an answer with important news that only becomes clear when considering it within the context of the specific question asked by the interviewer.
First, the question from Boorstin: “There seems like one of the sticking points is your push to have 18 games. How do you address concerns about player injuries, as well as the question about whether there could be just too much football?”
Said Goodell in response: “We always talk about, ‘How do we restructure our season?’ Is it the right structure with 16 regular-season and four preseason games? Should we look at expanding the playoffs? Those are discussions we’re having with the [NFL] Players Association. I think the steps we’ve made to make our game safer and better have worked tremendously well in collaboration with our players, but also in changing rules and equipment. We had a 30-percent reduction in concussions last year, and I think we can use that same model to reduce injuries in lower-body injuries. So I think the way we’ve modified in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement was to really work to a way to train our players differently and modify our game in such a way as to address those issues.”
Considering the talking points provided in response to the question asked, a fair and reasonable analysis is this: Yes, Goodell still wants 18 games. (Indeed, he never denied the existence of a “push” for 18.) And, yes, Goodell believes that expansion from 16 to 18 regular-season games (along with a reduction for four to two preseason games) is justified by the advances that have been made in player health and safety.
It’s the closest anyone from the NFL has come to admitting that 18 games isn’t just on the table but it’s front and center. Basically, the NFL believes it has made the game safer over the last eight years, so the NFL now believes the time has come to increase the number of regular-season games.
Look at it this way. If Goodell disagreed with the premise of Boorstin’s question, all he had to say was, for example, “we’re not pushing for 18 games” or “we don’t plan to push for 18 games” or “health and safety issues prevent playing 18 games.” Instead, Goodell acknowledged discussions with the NFLPA regarding the “structure” of the season (without denying a push for 18 games), and he then rattled off the reasons why the game is safer “as a way to address those issues.”
Which issues? Based on the question he was asked, concerns about player injuries in an 18-game season.
So, basically, the push for 18 games continues. And the league currently believes the game is safe enough to justify it. Even if Goodell didn’t come right out and say it, he essentially did.