The Super Bowl is Sunday and this is undoubtedly one of (if not the most) exciting weekend in football. Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers have reached the pinnacle of the sport and should make for a great championship game. The Black Eyed Peas are ready to rock the stage at halftime and Jerry’s World is ready to break new attendance records. However, with the conclusion of the Super Bowl comes the beginning of the off-season and there are a ton of things that need to be looked at by commissioner Roger Goodell ranging from a new collective bargaining agreement, an adjustment on player fines/suspensions, to possibly expanding the actual schedule.
Since he took over for Paul Tagliabue in September 2006, Roger Goodell can be described in one word, change. He changed the rules for player celebrations, banded Twitter, changed how the NFL fine’s its players and what is deserving of a fine, and even changed the rules for OT in the playoffs, which can be read entirely here. His next change could be the scheduling and expand to an 18 game regular season (which must be approved and voted on by the owners). The plan would be to cut the preseason down from four games to two. And then in essence add those two games you took away at the end of the year (however it should be noted, the veterans don’t necessarily play all the preseason games as it). This would allow for a boost in revenue for the NFL as it is more meaningful games which means two more Sundays in front of our TV’s and more overall coverage as the length (as far as dates are concerned) of the season would obviously be expanded as well. Many players including Steelers pro bowlers Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu have spoken out publicly about how this will change the culture of the NFL and negatively. After this season has finished this issue will be looked upon in more depth but on the surface the problems have become clear.
Problem number one is health. Roger Goodell is all about the safety and well-being of his players and never has that been more apparent than what we have seen this year. He has raised the fines and what constitutes a fine considerably for helmet-to-helmet hits and hits against a defenseless receiver. A move that seemed to have annoyed most both in the game and fans watching it, and also burnt a serious hole the wallet of ’08 Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison. But it is understandable because there is a serious need to try to cutback the number of concussions however possible. Becoming a bigger issue in recent years, the way concussion injuries were handled this year has been another change by Goodell. If a player shows any sign or symptoms of a concussion he is not allowed to go back onto the field and continue playing. They also cannot return to play in games after until they pass the concussion test and are approved by the doctors. We saw many examples this season (mostly with quarterbacks) with players like Matt Moore, Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, and Brett Favre who were all forced to miss time whether they felt they could play through it or not. So with all these precautions why are you now going to make teams play an extra two more games? How is that helping to limit concussions, by exposing these players for an extra two weeks? By the time mid December rolls around, every team (and even player for that matter) is banged up to some degree but will try their best to finish out the season the best they can. Lets take a look at the trend we have seen in running backs over the past couple seasons. We no longer have that true number one back on teams that will get 25-30 carries a game. Teams use multiple backs in games whether their “starter” is hurt or not, simply because they can’t last 16 games receiving such a large workload. The career of a running back is also generally much shorter than we have seen in the past as well. Some of the best backs from a few seasons ago Larry Johnson, Willie Parker, and Shaun Alexander, big name 1,000 yd guys are not even in the league anymore. How much faster will players be breaking down having to play more games? Seems as if Goodell is contradicting himself a bit; I can’t see how you expand the season and then preach about player safety and apparently I’m not alone.
Tradition is another problem with expanding the schedule. Yes, they have expanded it twice before (from 12 to 14 and then 14 to 16), but doing it again will create new record books. Of course all previous records will be broken because now players (quarterbacks in particular) will be able to add to their stats with two more games. Look at the problems baseball has been dealing with and their history books. People want to put asterisks or add a new wing to the baseball Hall of Fame for players that allegedly used steroids. Are you going to keep old records and now have new ones? Change the Hall of Fame because now numbers will look better and maybe a guy who wouldn’t have gotten in years back now has a chance to in the future because he has the same numbers as someone who played two games fewer games a season? There will be many decisions that will have to be made and thought over thoroughly. Other decisions include expanding the actual number of players allowed on a team. This includes the actual roster and practice squads as with more games comes more injuries and means more players will be needed. Not to mention with two less preseason games, players fighting for those finals spots will have less of a chance to prove themselves. That means more gems, like Danny Woodhead (who was released by the NY Jets following the preseason and then signed by the New England Patriots) might get cut after preseason and wind up playing a crucial role that season for another team.
Goodell will also have to change the injured reserved system. Instead of the current system where players on the IR cannot return and are finished for the year, maybe Goodell should make it more of a DL spot in baseball. Meaning that a player on IR would be able to come back and play that season by putting him on the shelf and not have to waste a roster spot. With an increased schedule a guy who breaks an arm early in the season, he may have a chance to return that year. But under the current system, he may be placed on the IR because the team needs the roster spot filled to continue the season and even if he is healthy enough come post season he cannot. The Denver Broncos had a tough decision to make before the regular season even started this year. Linebacker and best defensive player Elvis Dumervil tore his pectoral muscle in preseason and needed surgery. Recovery time for that injury is four to five months meaning December (still regular season) would have been the earliest he could have returned. The Bronco’s ultimately decided they could not go that long with a man down and ultimately had to end Dumervil’s season before it started. Under my suggested new IR system, the Bronco’s would have been able to reserve Elvis and bring in someone to take his spot until he was healthy and cleared to come back to play. At that time of course someone would have to be released but it at least keeps the door open should the Bronco’s had made the playoffs and Dumervil was healthy enough for postseason play.
Finally, would his goal even be achieved? Going to an 18 game regular season could hurt more than it helps. In the past, (not so much this season) we have teams, like the Colts most of this past decade, that wrap up everything by week 14 if not earlier. Then comes the debate of sitting or playing your starters, ect. Goodell has been trying to figure out ways to eliminate this problem and keep all the games meaningful all season long. But whose to say with a longer schedule, that a weak division (like the NFC West this season) doesn’t have a champion crowned by possibly week 13 and now the remaining five games for at least those four teams in the league mean nothing. Not really his idea for more competition I’m sure, but definitely a real possibility. Not to mention filling the seats of bad teams as the season just drags on.
Here’s another suggestion for commissioner Goodell. Instead of changing everything (scheduling, teams, your stance on player safety) start simple. I understand the need for limiting coaches challenges to only 2 per team, as you don’t want to delay the game and need to keep it running smoothly. But why lose a challenge when a coach is right? How does that make sense? The whole point of challenges is to correct when officials mess up the call. Isn’t it possible to happen more than twice a game? Coaches should have unlimited challenges if they keep getting them right. The rule should be that you are only allowed to have to have two “losing” challenges. Officials have bad days just like everyone else, but that shouldn’t cost a team the game or even worse their season, just because they challenged twice already (even if they won both of those challenges).
Clearly when it comes to an 18 game schedule I’m certainly not a fan. My take, why not just increase what people want to see, the playoffs. Sounds crazy but hear me out. I understand why Goodell wants to expand the regular season its simple, money. More games means more tickets to sell, more nationally televised games, more coverage of his sport. However, expanding the playoffs will accomplish these goals, granted maybe not to the extent he originally wanted but it’s about compromise at this point as Goodell has labor issues to deal with as well (the CBA will surely want more money for the players per season if the owners want two more games out of them). Now, we’re not talking about full-blown expansion for the playoffs, I think two extra games will be good enough and add that extra competitiveness he is looking for. First, get rid of the byes. Teams with the best regular season record get home games in the playoffs that’s good enough. By forcing four teams to take a week off every year takes them out of a rhythm and some argue it actually gives an advantage to the wild card round despite having to play one extra game. Since 2000, only two number 1 seeds from either conference have won the Super Bowl being the Saints last year and New England over Carolina in ’03. So under this new theory no matter what your regular season record is, you ultimately have to win four games in the postseason, to win the Superbowl, ALWAYS. Now in order to have this new bracket work out, you would need eight teams from each conference to make the playoffs, that would mean adding two more wild card teams to the mix from each conference. Now some people are oppose to this because they feel it just “water downs” the competition, but lemme say this, isn’t having a team with a losing record (this years 7-9 Seahawks) already diluting the competition? At the same time, it was that losing team that was able to knock off the defending champs. So maybe by “watering it down,” we are simply just giving the underdog more of a chance and with the current love affair for a feel good story/underdog we adore in America, I believe this is a good thing. Again take this year for example. Under this proposal, the Giants (10-6) and Buccaneers (10-6) would be added to the NFC playoffs. Those are two 10 win teams, I don’t think that is “watering down” the competition. Now that will not be the case every year and in certain instances it will allow more 8-8 or even 7-9 teams to make it depending on how bad that conference is that year. But as we saw with the Seahawks this year, look at what they can do when given a chance.
When the season finally concludes, I expect Roger Goodell to take a long hard look at all the pros and cons to an 18 game expansion. I am hopeful that the commissioner and the owners will side with the players (as I believe it should ultimately be their choice since they are the ones who have to play the extra games and have their bodies go through it) and their concerns rather than the concerns of their own wallets. Even if the expansion does go through, it would not go into effect for next season, granting us at least one more season of football as we know it.