Less is More - Thoughts on the NFL Expanding to an 18 Game Schedule

Many thanks to maryrose for this fine offering, which you can also see syndicated on the Washington Post's NFL League Panel this morning. Of all the things I've learned from MR over the past few years, the lesson of 'less is more' has been one of the most prescient and useful. It certainly applies in the case of expanding the NFL regular season schedule, if you ask me. - Michael Bean -

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is on a mission to make the NFL regular season 18 games long.  His first argument is that 18 games and two preseason games fit into the same 20-game window as four plus 16.  Who is he kidding?  Not the players.  First-string players currently might play a total of one game throughout the whole preseason.  Added to 16 the total is 17.  With a two-game preseason, the players will still need two halves of football to get ready.  Added to the 18, the total is 19 instead of 17. Mr. Goodell is recycling some of that old fuzzy math.

The commissioner's second argument is that the fans are not getting their money's worth, paying full price for two preseason games.  That argument is cosmetic and can be remedied by simple math.   The Steelers and every other team can simply cut the price of the preseason games in half and add 12 percent to each regular-season game.  The total invoice would be the same for the same inventory.   I would bet the farm that no one would care (I would not, and I am one of the season-ticket holders that Mr. Goodell is supposedly thinking about).  How would his argument fly then?  In fact, NFL teams might be wise to take that approach anyhow and not force the season-ticket holders to buy preseason games.  This would create opportunity for fans that otherwise can never get tickets to regular games to at least attend a preseason game for a thrifty cost, but I digress.

Because this plastic surgery could easily remedy the commissioner's red herring, it leads me to believe that there are ulterior motives for the idea.  Is this a façade on the horizon of the next collective bargaining agreement?  Is the NFL trying to posture a bad idea so that it can then pull back the plan as a bargaining concession?  Really, the idea is so bad that I can't help to believe that is what the owners' have up their collective sleeve.

This assertion is quite logical, considering the players do not want 18 games.  James Harrison says he will tear up his contract.  Steelers' player rep Charlie Batch is vehemently opposed to the notion.  Even Aaron Smith, normally reserved about most things, speaks out against 18 games.  Hines Ward claims that it will take years off the players' careers.  Rashard Mendenhall can't understand it and Antwaan Randle El "hates it."  The testimonials are endless.  I've not heard one player agree with Roger Goodell.  Moreover, the game will morph into a game of attrition rather than a game of skill.  The best team has a greater chance of falling to the healthiest team.

There are at least two current problems within the NFL which will be exacerbated by the commissioner's decree.  The first is the injury situation.  Due to today's weight training and nutrition, players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever.  Body collisions are more impactful and more stressful.  We might be asking too much for players to be smacking each other for 16 days.  Now we ask two more?  The league recently went on a chivalrous campaign to reduce and treat concussions, and now it wants the players to bang heads a couple more times?

The second problem is the competitive aggression, or lack thereof, at the end of the season.  Teams are mailing in the final games after they secure their playoff spots.  The Colts do this on an annual basis.  Last year the Steelers and Jets both finished 9-7, with New York winning the tiebreaker and then making it all the way to the AFC Championship Game.  With two games remaining, the Jets had their two strongest opponents left on the schedule (Indianapolis and Cincinnati).  Lucky for New York, both of those opponents had secured their playoff lots and were playing just to avoid injury.  The Colts were leading the Jets when Peyton Manning left the game in the second half.  Manning's back-up promptly changed the game in New York's direction and the Jets never looked back.  Pittsburgh, who fought tooth and nail to win its final games, was left out in the cold while the Jets coasted into the playoffs with an identical record.

This type of competitive indifference is bad for the league, and I am not crying over spilled milk.  Next year the Steelers may benefit unwittingly.  The point is, the longer the NFL season, the more likely it is for games at the end to be meaningless.  It's one thing for baseball games or basketball games or hockey games to be meaningless at the end, because each means less period.  But NFL games are different.  What the Colts do every year stands out like a sore thumb and changes the complexion of the playoff race.  Yes, the league is now scheduling more division games at the end, and that helps, but adding more games to the schedule negates that edge and then some.

The bottom line is that less is often more.  At the risk of sounding like Yogi, more of a good thing is not a good thing.  I love a 14-ounce porterhouse, but force me to eat 18 ounces and I get sick.  The beauty of the NFL is that it leaves its customers with just the right touch of inventory, unlike the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, which over-serve their fans both in regular season and in playoffs.  The NFL has it right, and yet now wants to fix something that ain't broke.  It is a classic case of Peter Principle.  Because something works now, it will work on a higher level.  Please Mr. Commissioner, do not get caught in this trap.  The NFL is head and shoulders over its professional counterpoints because of one simple mantra - less is more.  Don't screw it up!

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