The 18-game schedule dilemma
On paper it really does seem a no-brainer. Four pre-season games is too many, no-one wants to pay or even watch them, but there is the demand for two extra regular season games. So why not simply subtract two and add two?
Ah but off field activities in the NFL are anything but no brainers. The owners are of course looking at more revenue from attendances, concession sales and television rights. The players are looking for not just their share of that, but also an increased share based on the extra wear and tear on their bodies.
DeMaurice Smith, the new head of the Players Association, has been sparring through the media with Commissioner Roger Goodell over potential CBA discussion points and you know that when they finally sit down face-to-face, this is going to be a major talking point.
So let's look at the issues surrounding the potential switch, firstly from a player's perspective. Back in 1978 when the NFL switched from six pre-season and 14 regular season games, to the current format of four and 16, players pretty much played all the exhibition games from start to finish. So there was not much in the way of additional workload involved.
The NFL now is a far quicker, harder-hitting and all around more professional environment. Players work at team complexes all year round and the pre-season games quickly degenerate into my third string offense against your second string offense in front of about 10,000 die-hard fans in an empty stadium. This obviously has to change.
But the issues over increased stress on players' fitness is a well justified one and players all round the league have been quick to speak about it. If you think the stories about the old-school players suffering health issues now are bad, imagine what they could be like in 30 years time (OK so they'd have a ton more money to spend on their healthcare though)?
So how about increasing the schedule to 20 weeks with two bye weeks for each team like they tried in 1993? This would go down well with television companies with an extra week of regular season scheduling. And you combine this with increasing rosters to 55 players and letting all of them dress and play in each game. This would save starters playing special teams and allow more substitution.
The owners will have to find two more salaries and probably an increased share of revenues going to the players. This will of course be the major bone of contention in the CBA talks but throwing one more can of petrol on to the fire is not going to make a lot of difference.
For the fans, it's an extra game that really means something. The fantasy players can add another week to their schedules and only the sad historical statisticians will moan when they complain about 1,000-yard seasons meaning less. But we all still appreciate OJ Simpson's 2,000-yard season in 1973 which was 14 games compared to Chris Johnson's number from last year.
I don't see this being introduced in the NFL for 2011 as negotiations will still be ongoing with the CBA for months to come yet but 2012 onwards, look for 18-game seasons to become the norm just like they were in the USFL all those years ago. And Tampa teams did pretty well in that league.