Enhancing Player Safety. Adding More Games. A Radical Solution.
It’s hard to ignore a couple of controversial issues swirling within NFL circles these days that don’t seem to want to go away. I’m talking about player safety and the league office’s plan to expand the number of regular season and playoff games.
I’m not the first to point out that these two firestorm issues are at odds with each other. Of course, they are both are driven by the so-called root of all evil: money.
The fact that player safety isn’t going away has been made painfully more apparent, once again, by the recent lawsuit brought on by a group of retired players who claim the league gave them pain killers and anti-inflammatories in decades past to keep them on the field, deceiving them about the severity of their injuries, and failing to warn them these treatments were merely masking their injuries—thereby not allowing them to properly heal, and ultimately causing them long-term health damage.
Whether you believe the claims or believe the players should have known better than the team doctors (or listened more seriously to their doctor’s advice), it’s easy to imagine money-lusting owners and coaches would encourage doctors and trainers to mask injuries in order to keep star players on the field, or that players would conceal their injuries out of fear of being cut and losing income, for that matter.
It’s even easier to make the connection between expanded schedules and money, no matter how many times Goodell reminds us that we don’t like exhibition games as way of an explanation.
After recently making a commitment to reach $25 Billion in profits by 2027 – that is, growing by another $1 Billion each year over 14 year-- Goodell is almost bound to generate revenue at all costs, including adding games, keeping star players on the field, and further jeopardizing player safety.
Many have pointed out that players already face a weekly grind and so exposing them to added games after the brutal 16 game schedule they already play--and then another round of intense playoffs--flies in the face of player safety.
With all that in mind, I’d like to offer a radical solution to the player safety and expanded schedule dilemma, although I am guessing most fans won’t like it. Because it’s an attempt to find a middle ground, meaning everyone compromises just a little – fans, players, owners – to keep the game healthier.
My proposals starts with eliminating preseason games altogether, and restores the old 14-game season.
However, I would schedule games every-other weekend, with a week rest in between games, except once per season when games are played in back to back weeks (an anti-bye week, so to speak). The occasional Thursday night game isn’t so bad if the standard is two-weeks between contests.
During the regular season a team would only play other teams from within their own conference; six games within their own division, and the remaining eight games against two of the other three divisions each year, on a rotating basis from year to year.
The AFC games would take place one weekend, and the NFC games the next, and so on. So there are always NFL games televised each week.
That would have the regular season games running from the first week of August until mid-January. Which roughly parallels the existing span from preseason to week 17.
Eight teams in each conference would make the playoffs, with no bye week for #1 seeds, and playoff games still played one week apart, thus still taking three weeks to whittle it down to a final two teams.
But it would mean two extra playoff games (when the 1 seeds play the eight seeds) during that first weekend of the tournament. That keeps the SuperBowl weekend close to where it current sits.
The advantage is that players are better rested throughout the year, not subjected to preseason games, with more time between games, and a shorter regular season. And the league gets a couple extra lucrative playoff games.
The disadvantage is waiting two weeks for your team to play, four weeks between home games oftentimes. And two fewer regular season games to televise. And lost revenue from no exhibition game and fewer regular season games.
Okay, to offset these disadvantages, here’s where it gets a bit more radical. I’d also propose that team rosters should be cut down to forty players. However, I am calling for every team to form a second team that plays in an NFL “B” League (to be named). That creates another 40 roster spots (or a net of 19 additional players, beyond the existing 53 active roster players, plus eight practice squad players), and creates another set of coaches for each of the existing 32 teams to hire.
B League games would be played in existing NFL stadiums on weekends when the A team is off. Rather than sitting on practice squads, these eight players, along with the last 13 on depth charts, plus the new 19 players would be assigned to the B League.
Teams would be able to freely move players back and forth between the big club and the farm team in cases of injury or merit promotions / demotions. (Honestly I’d have to study if 40 players is enough on game day compared to 45. Maybe five B Leaguers suit up for depth in cases of injury only)
So Ravens fans, for instance, would have a second Ravens team to root for and could watch these players develop against real competition. It would also become a proving ground for another set of coaches and younger officials. And it would test teams’ abilities to manage rosters, develop players and coordinate with their minor league franchise. You could even consider a separate set of B League owners, more like baseball, with league buy-ins required (more $$$).
Rule experimentation could take place in the B League. Teams could opt to play some B League home games in alternate venues. Send those guys to Europe, for instance, rather than missing out on an A League home game. Or play in Harrisburg for the Ravens. Richmond for the Skins. Toronto for Buffalo, etc.
The B League would consist of 12 games, six at home, starting the week after the first week of the A league season, and finishing the week before the end of the A league regular season.
Of course the league would sell tickets (perhaps require ticket purchases at a lower rate) for the B League games, and have a separate TV deal. So the extra revenue there would offset some of the lost revenue from a slightly shorter regular season as it currently exists.
In essence, the league would create a minor league system, with more opportunities for more players and a proving ground to try out coaches, officials, rule changes, etc. B League teams could become the de facto scout team and practice and scrimmage against their A League brethren.
Owners would be paying for the added 19 players and additional coaching staffs and travel, etc. (Like they don't have the money). But they’d have thirteen fewer A League-level players to pay, shifting these players to more modest B League-level salaries, while the extra coaches and remaining players in the B League would earn more modest salaries as well.
B League teams could also wear similar but alternative uniforms, thus generating more merchandise sales opportunities for the league. New official uniform providers, etc. And of course there would be a B League set of playoff games and a SuperBowl, creating more revenue and interest for fans whose A League squad may have had a down year.
That gives the league and an entire new series of playoff games, and creates 26 total regular-season A and B league games to sell too – that's more than the current 20 exhibition and regular season games.
You may be thinking that fans won’t respect minor league games. To help address this I would have the outcomes of both A and B league games count in the A League standings. A League wins would count for 2 points, and B League wins one point apiece.
A team that drafts and manages their 80 players poorly would be penalized even if their best 40 played well in the A League. The expanded playoffs and lack of a bye for one seeds would help filter out any A team pretenders who made the playoffs off the strength of their B League counterparts, or give more opportunity for a good team that was dragged down by it's B Team to excel in the playoffs. A 1 vs 8 match up could get much more interesting.
And of course you'd have more intrigue when AFC finally meets NFC in the Super Bowl, with little sense of how the two conferences stack up.
While it’s radical, and it takes away “real” Ravens games for us, it does replace it with what could be a new, intriguing product that helps the league feed its unending appetite for revenue.
And, perhaps most importantly, it enhances player safety by giving them more rest between games over a shorter season.
If you are still reading, fire away….