The NFL exhibition season is too long. Fans think so. Players think so. Even Commissioner Roger Goodell thinks so — or he thinks he thinks so — and if Goodell wants it, then the owners will want it and the coaches will accept it.
Goodell has been talking about reducing the preseason for years. It’s time to do something about it. The hitch — there’s always a hitch — is that no one can quite agree on what to do with the extra time in the schedule. More regular season games? More playoff games? Either of those translates to more money, and of course that’s an attractive option for the league.
One thing is certain: Exhibition games are, by and large, a waste of time. Fans therefore resent the high ticket prices charged in order to see, well, who knows what you’ll see?The Redskins’ first game was interesting because of Kirk Cousins and the possibility that it won’t be the last time we see him this season. But most seasons, there is little to recommend the games and nothing to recommend them by the fourth quarter.
The sensible thing to do with the extra two weeks — nothing — is not going to happen. Teams could use the extra training camp time to get players in shape and perhaps avoid some of the serious injuries we see each August. The down time could be added into the players’ offseason schedule, which — while not arduous to people who work 12 months a year — is fragmented enough to keep them from getting any long stretches of time to themselves.
But dropping two exhibition games means losing revenue, and teams aren’t going to put up with that. For a while, the league seemed eager to cut those two preseason games and expand the regular season to 18 games. For fans and the NFL’s television partners, two more games would be nirvana. They would also mean mo’ money, which, as the late Notorious B.I.G. taught us, leads to mo’ problems. As the concussion issue reached a head — no pun intended — that solution seemed to lose momentum, although it’s not dead yet. However, the players negotiated their contract based on 16 games, not 18; two more real games with real stakes means two more Sundays on which they could suffer severe injury.
The solution that seems to have to most momentum is expanding the playoffs to 14 or 16 teams. However, this spring, the NFL’s competition committee refused to green-light an expanded playoff schedule — for 2013, at least. The idea is far from dead in the water. The league has reserved several different Sundays for upcoming Super Bowls just in case expansion is approved because that would mean pushing back the date of the Super Bowl, possibly to Memorial Day weekend. (Just kidding. Actually, the league wouldn’t mind having the game coincide with Presidents’ Day weekend, though, and while that idea is annoying on the face of it, having the Super Bowl that Sunday might be a refreshing jolt of gravitas to what has become a chorus line of dancing Lincolns and Washingtons selling mattresses and cars.)
If the playoffs expand, purists say, that will inevitably lead to the inclusion of teams with losing records. That is true, although there is nothing in the current setup that prevents that from happening. (See Seahawks, Seattle, 2010.)
But it seems a foregone conclusion that one or two exhibition games will disappear — and soon — and that those games will reappear somewhere else. Better they show up as playoff games than regular season games. Players already receive pay for the playoffs, so salaries wouldn’t need to be tinkered with. And if wild-card weekend expanded to three games a day for two days, would anyone really complain? That’s often the best weekend of the playoffs. Yes, it eats up a lot of the calendar. But at least it’s the calendar at a slow time (except in 2014, with the Olympics, which may be why the NFL decided it was the wrong year to expand the playoffs).
The NFL has bigger issues than the exhibition season — class-action lawsuits involving thousands of players who claim head injuries and the spate of offseason arrests spring immediately to mind. But fans have been griping about the four-game schedule for years, and Goodell has been promising a solution for almost as long. It’s time to act on it.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.
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