The two Tua Tagovailoa incidents this week have sparked renewed questions regarding the wisdom of routinely having two teams that played on Sunday turn around and play on Monday.
Obviously, that’s not changing. Amazon has secured the rights to Thursday Night Football for 11 years, at roughly $1 billion per year. And it’s not just the league but the NFL Players Association, which shares the revenue on a roughly 50-50 split.
So, yes, there could be issues when it comes to a player who was injured on a Sunday having enough time to prepare to play on a Thursday. There could be challenges when it comes to cumulative wear and tear of 120 minutes (and, in theory, up to 140 minutes) of game time with only three days off in between. But that doesn’t matter, because the decision has been made that, for most weeks of the season, two teams that played on Sunday will play again on Monday.
Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty was asked earlier today on WEEI whether he believes Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners care about the health of the players.
“I think their job is to grow the business,” McCourty said. “And I would say that’s what they care about most, to grow the business. I don’t think they want to see guys go out there and get hurt every play or anything, but I think their job is to grow the business.”
He’s right. Thursday Night Football grows the business, by peeling one game per week from the cluster of action on Sunday afternoon and making it a big-ticket standalone game.
Caring about player health and safety doesn’t really grow the business. It keeps the business from shrinking. From 1994 through 2009, the league’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee spent far more time downplaying the concussion problem than solving it, delaying the reckoning for as long as possible. Then, when medical science triggered the reckoning that Congress forced on the game in October 2009, efforts were taken to protect what the league had built, while still finding ways to keep building.
It didn’t deter the proliferation and permanent embrace of short-week football. It did, however, delay the expansion of the season from 16 to 17 games, since it was hard to reconcile health and safety with more exposure to situations that compromise health and safety.
Going forward, the league will keep trying to grow the business. Seventeen will become 18. And it will try to do that while periodically doing whatever needs to be done to neutralize threats to the game arising from health and safety concerns.
That doesn’t mean the league shouldn’t constantly consider taking steps to ensure that players who were injured on Sunday should be kept out of the Thursday night game. That’s a lot to expect from those who are trying to grow the business, however. To get the biggest audience and make the most money, they need to have the best players available to play, in as many games as possible.