In making the case that a 17th game won’t impact player health and safety, Cardinals chairman Michael Bidwill made a statement that caught my attention: “I think our fans would like more. We have surveyed our fans. The heath/safety data plays out that we can do 17 games and it’s not going to impact the safety and the health of the players.”
The first part — the notion of a fan survey supporting 17 games — stood out because a simple Twitter poll last week posted to the PFT account produced a stunning degree of opposition to the idea. The second part, regarding health/safety data supporting 17 games, triggered more natural curiosity regarding the genesis and content of that data.
So I posed a simple question both to the league and to the Cardinals: Can we get more detail on the survey and safety data mentioned by Michael Bidwill?
“It wasn’t any type of formal polling or data driven research but rather anecdotal feedback from Cardinals fans he interacted with at team events and functions,” Cardinals senior V.P. of media relations Mark Dalton told PFT via text message.
Added the NFL, via email from league spokesman Brian McCarthy: “The league and teams have spoken to fans over the years to get their thoughts about a wide range of topics, including changes to the season structure. Fans have been supportive of the idea.”
In other words, there’s been no formal survey of fans regarding 17 games. And there’s been specific no health and safety data supporting the idea that 17 games won’t impact the health and safety of NFL players.
That said, it’s undeniable that the NFL has made the game safer over the past decade. Which makes it easier to justify adding a 17th game. But the game becoming safer generally isn’t the same thing as the existence of health and safety data suggesting that another regular-season weekend won’t impact player health and safety.
Here’s the broader reality regarding the push for 17 games, words and phrases aside. The league wants it, and the league is going to get it.
But what about the actual surveys or polls from fans expressing a desire to stick with 16 games? The simple truth is that, while fans may prefer 16 games, they’re not going to quit watching football games if the number moves to 17.
Thus, the better question is whether the fans want 17 games or none? If we put it that way, they’ll take 17. Eventually the players will have to answer that same question, if the league wants 17 games badly enough to lock out the players in 2021. As a lockout inches toward impacting the revenue from games that would be canceled, the players will confront — individually and collectively — the question of 17 games or no games. And they, like the fans, will choose 17 over none.
Whether the league or any of its owners will ever be so blunt and candid doesn’t matter. This is precisely how it’s going to happen, and the league is banking on the implosion of the 1987 strike after a few weeks of replacement games and the termination of the 2011 lockout on the brink of players losing real money as clear and obvious evidence that, as push approaches shove, the players won’t tell the NFL to take their 17 games and shove it.