On Thursday night, Sports Business Journal reported that the owners will vote next week on a proposal to apply flexible scheduling to Thursday Night Football. On Friday morning, the NFL confirmed the proposal during a conference call previewing the upcoming annual meetings.
The NFL did not answer the question of whether the NFL Players Association has approved what arguably would be a change to the overall working conditions.
“I guess we’ll have further conversation around that when we get to Thursday night next week,” NFL V.P. of communications, public affairs, and policy Jeff Miller said during the conference call. “I know that around Thursday night that was circulated as one of the potential voting proposals for the owners this week. I guess I’ll leave it to others with more subject-matter expertise to talk about the engagement with the union on that point.”
We’ve asked the NFLPA the same question. The union has not yet provided a substantive response.
Miller then pivoted to the most obvious concern the union might have — is it consistent with player health and safety to have teams that likely have already played one short-week game in a given season to play another?
“The flex on Thursday,” Miller said, “from a health and safety perspective . . . over the course of the last several years now, we have not seen a differential injury rate on Thursday night games or, said more precisely, on games played on short rest compared to games played on longer rest. So playing those games on Thursday is not a concern from a health and safety perspective.”
It seems to be a little too narrow to focus on injury rates in games played with normal rest and games played with limited rest. One concern relates more to the overall wear and tear.
Can a player who is already banged up get ready to go on a short week? Is a player who finds a way to play on Thursday after emerging from Sunday’s game taking an unacceptable risk? Does playing more than one short-week game in a 17-game regular season increase the risk of injury at some point in the year, regardless of whether it happens in a short-week or normal-week game?
Whether the union objects to Thursday night flexing remains to be seen. The two sides ultimately may differ on whether the adoption of flexible scheduling for Thursday nights constitutes a sufficient change in working conditions to prevent the NFL from doing it without union consultation and consent.
Nearly a decade ago, when the NFL first floated the possibility of expanding the playoff field from 12 teams to 14, the union said, “No so fast” — and it took years for the plan to be implemented, because it absolutely required union approval.
If, in this case, the union is willing and able to flex its bargaining muscle, there may be no Thursday night flexing, even if all 32 owners vote for it next week.