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It seems as if an 18-game NFL season is inevitable

The idea of an 18-game regular season has been floating out in the NFL ether for quite some time. What does that mean? The owners desperately want it. And in the world of big business, the people writing the checks eventually get what they want.

NFL: Super Bowl LIII-NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL CBA is up in 2021 which could lead to a lockout, a strike or, if all goes smoothly, a harmonious and successful renegotiation with specific changes that, if the owners finally get their wish, will include an 18-game regular season.

It seems like the threat of an 18-game regular season has been hanging up there in the ether for close to a decade (if not longer). Unfortunately for NFL owners, their desires for a lengthened regular season have coincided with growing concerns for the toll the game of football takes on an athlete—specifically the toll it takes on his brain—who decides to make that his first post-college profession.

To the league’s credit, it has responded—no doubt, reluctantly—to the concerns by spending many hours and many millions of dollars over the past decade researching ways to make injuries associated with head trauma— injuries both of the short term and long term variety—less of a factor than they ever were at any point in NFL history.

This has led to several rule changes, a focus on proper technique and an enlightenment for everyone—including owners, players and even the fans—to the dangers of the sport of football.

Will this be successful in the long run? It’s hard to say. No matter what one does to try and make football safer, it’s a violent sport at its very core, and there’s only so much one can do to lessen the toll it takes on the body and, more importantly, the brain.

So why an 18-game regular season? If the league is so concerned about player safety, how can it even think about expanding its schedule?

Because of money, that’s why. Hypocritical? No doubt. But people need to remember that the owners, well, own the teams. They are in charge—believe it or not, it’s not commissioner Roger Goodell.

More regular season games means more revenue for the league, as well as the major networks, who, believe me, would love two more weeks to air the ratings juggernaut that is NFL football.

As someone who has worked for many bosses in my day, believe me when I tell you, when a boss wants something, eventually the boss is going to get his or her way. Is it always fair? No. But the person writing the checks usually has a stronger vote.

This ongoing threat of an 18-game schedule kind of reminds me of those all-too familiar threats from various team owners throughout the years who always seem to want a new stadium...or else. Sure, the politicians and citizens complain, and these fights often go on for years. But in the end, the owners usually win out and get their new stadiums built—at little cost to the owners.

Again, fair? No. But the NFL is big business, and the kind of revenue it generates is ultimately too much for a city to walk away from.

I’d imagine the same can be said for your average NFL player (emphasis on “average NFL player,” meaning the rank and file).

As least that’s what former NFL player and current analyst Phil Simms said recently.

“More money,” said Simms in a quote courtesy of his podcast, Unbuttoned, and “More game checks. It’s pro-rated. Give me two more game checks. If you put it up to a vote by the NFL players, it’ll overwhelmingly go over and say yes. Some of the elite quarterbacks and a few players, no. Well yeah, you’re making 25 and 30 million. But the guys that are making a million or less...two more game checks? Are you kidding me? Think about what those checks look like and how much that is and how much of a difference that makes in their lives.”

Onto the fans...

I could never figure out why they don’t want more regular season games. We say we hate the over-saturation of the league (“Damn those Thursday games!”), but most hardcore fans do nothing but talk about football the entire off-season.

Is more football really such a bad thing? If yes, why? How can more of something we enjoy really be a bad thing? You might say it will dilute the product and produce more meaningless games. It could. But it could also lead to more teams remaining in the playoff hunt longer, which will lead to more meaningful football.

No matter how you slice it, the league isn’t going to move away from the 20-game revenue model it’s been using since at least the 1960s and early-to-mid ‘70s, when there were 14 regular season games and six preseason games.

You might think it sucks that you have to pay full price to watch a meaningless preseason game, and you’re right, it does suck. But the owners simply aren’t going to cut the current four-game preseason schedule in half and be done with it. Again, they’re going to want to keep their 20-game revenue model, which will mean expanding the regular season.

Fans also seem to be concerned about player safety.

But is player safety really a concern to the average NFL fan?

If so, great, but that doesn’t mean an 18-game regular season won’t be a good thing.

One thing we can say now that we couldn’t say even 10 years ago, is that, again, we know the deal with regards to the toll the game of football takes on the body—specifically, the brain.

If you’re a high school or college football player (or his parents), and you don’t know the dangers of playing that sport, shame on you for a thousand years.

But you probably do know the dangers. The NFL may have reluctantly allowed us all to know the real do about the game of football, but at least it finally let us know.

Now, a player gets to decide on his life path—and do so with all the important information at his grasp. If a player knows what he’s putting himself through and still wants to play, who is anyone to stop him? Even Troy Polamalu, of all people, said he knew the deal years ago but chose to keep playing anyway. James Harrison once said he was willing to go through hell so his kids wouldn’t have to.

Perhaps the fans will one day be the judge and jury on the dangers of the game of football and begin to tune out in numbers that will ultimately cripple the National football League.

However, that day doesn’t appear to be coming anytime soon, which means an 18-game regular season will likely be a reality in the very near future.