NFL Should Adopt the 17-Game Season Plan

By Todd L. Frank  |   Friday, August 27, 2010  |  Comments( 0 )

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There’s been a lot of talk about the NFL strongly considering adding 2 games to the regular season and getting rid of 2 pre-season games. Most people seem to agree about ditching the extra exhibitions, but many are still split on jumping to 18 games vs. staying at 16.

Let me echo the obvious solution that’s also been thrown around outside official league circles: a 17-game regular season.

The owners and TV networks (aka The Powers That Be) really want more games, more product, more money. Sure, the players wouldn’t mind more money, but they aren’t so psyched to risk their health more than they already do. The 18-game plan (plus 2 pre-season games) has the same 20-game total as the current 16-4 format. By going to 17 while still only playing 2 exhibitons, 17 + 2 = 19. So the owners can appear to be compromising with players by “reducing” from 20 “games” to only 19. But I think we all know that an extra Sunday of real games that count is worth at least as much as 2 half-assed pre-season games that few attend in person or watch on TV.

So what to do with an odd number of games? Well the league seems quite interested in playing games in places like London and Mexico City. When they do that, one of those teams essentially loses one home game. With a 17-game schedule, every team in the league would still have 8 home games and 8 road games, plus 1 neutral site game.

Neutral-site games don’t all have to be in foreign countries (though this offers more opportunities assuming the league wants to continue them). Imagine if large college venues hosted regional rivalries? You’re telling me a Pittsburgh vs. Philly game at Penn State (in the center of Pennsylvania) wouldn’t be great? How ‘bout 49ers-Chargers at the Rose Bowl? Even without a regional attachment, something like Patriots-Cowboys at Notre Dame would be good for ratings and ticket sales.

Some have suggested adding an extra Wild Card team to the playoffs as a way of extending the season (adding more product/money), and I can’t decide if I’m really for, against, or indifferent to that idea. Save that for another column.

The other interesting twist to a 17-game season would be 2 bye weeks for each team. So the owners would still get to add 2 weeks of football ratings/money to the regular season, but the players would only have to play 1 extra game. (Currently there’s 16 games played over 17 weeks. This 17-game plan would still get the owners to the 19 total weekends of regular-season football they are seeking with their 18-game plan.)

Given all the talk about wear and tear and injury, I’m sure most teams wouldn’t mind getting an extra breather somewhere during the season. With 2 extra weekends of your big-screen TV and your Fantasy team and your office pools and your gambling (woops, did I say that? Gambling doesn’t exist…) do you think you’d even notice that the Lions, Dolphins, Packers, and Bills were on an extra bye week? No, you wouldn’t. Cuz the football season would now be 2 weeks longer.

This seems like a necessary compromise, especially since it preserves the owner- and fan-favored idea of “more real football” while still placating the players on the matter of bodily wear and tear. As Mike Florio from Pro Football Talk points out:

“Though the shift in the 20-game schedule from 16 regular-season games and four preseason contests to 18 and two will not result in a higher number of injuries per se, since the total number of live reps in a game setting won't change, starters would see their exposure to regular-season injuries increase by more than 10 percent, since they'd be playing the bulk of the two extra regular-season season games. Though a 50-percent reduction in total preseason snaps would likewise reduce the number of preseason snaps taken by starters, the net result would be more opportunities for wear, tear, bruising, and breakage for the key players on each team.”

I realize I’m not the first or only person to float this plan, and neither is Florio, but I’d love to see it officially considered by the league. I didn’t even get into how the calendar would be affected, but that would be a relatively easy adjustment, and it might even result in having Super Bowl Sunday the day before everyone’s off for President’s Day, an idea I’ve already suggested.
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