Schedule expansion would hurt the NFL

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Longer season risks exhausting its stars

Ed Kapp
Contributor

At first glance, the idea to increase the National Football League’s regular season from 16 to 18 games seems like a no-brainer.

Fans have long argued that four games of pre-season action, in which many of the NFL’s biggest stars play only a handful of downs and are on the sideline well before breaking a sweat, only to make way for a team full of late-round and undrafted players trying to impress coaches and land a roster-spot for the better part of three quarters, drags on far too long.

With over nine billion dollars in revenue generated last year alone, amidst one of the harshest economic climates in the continent’s history, it seems like an easy call that adding two weeks onto the NFL’s already robust 16-game schedule would be a terrific idea.

Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case.

If the NFL and the NFL Players Association decide to switch to an 18-game regular season for the future after the current collective bargaining agreement expires in March, it will come at the expense of its athletes’ wellbeing.

By extending the regular season by two games, the likelihood of injuries sustained and careers shortened as a result of those injuries would likely increase dramatically.

At the end of the day, we must realize that football is only a game and that the players’ health must be the number-one priority. Long after their days of entertaining the masses with spectacular on-field performances are done, these men will be forced to deal with many very real and very serious injuries that they sustained during their professional careers, largely in attempts to keep fans satisfied.

By increasing the workload of NFL players by two games per season, every season, the average NFL tenure could possibly dip below the current and already surprisingly low 3.6-year average career.

Considering that retired NFL players are only awarded a pension if they have a career that spans three or more seasons, these extra two games per year could all but ensure that many player’s careers won’t last the required time and will thus not be given any money from the NFL after they retire, or are forced to retire – no matter the amount or degree of injuries sustained.

Although at first glance, an extra two games may not seem like much, an additional two weeks of competition would entail an extra 20 or more clean hits taken by vulnerable quarterbacks, an extra 40 to 50 potential carries for already-beat-up starting running backs, and another 100 or so shots taken by both offensive and defensive linemen across the NFL – every season.

Given the tremendously violent nature of the game, it’s fairly clear that an extra 20 to 100 violent collisions endured every season would take a tremendous toll on an athlete’s well-being – both now and in the future.

Those who are less sympathetic to an athlete’s well-being should realize that an additional two games of competition would also likely take its toll on the level of on-field performance.

By eliminating two games from the preseason schedule, teams, especially those with primarily young, inexperienced players, will be less able to adequately prepare for the regular season.

Although squads like the Indianapolis Colts, perennial Super Bowl contenders, seemingly take preseason games for granted, exhibition games are instrumental in helping youthful teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and the St. Louis Rams, squads composed largely of undrafted free agents and late-round selections, develop and prepare for the regular season.

If the NFL were to eliminate this valuable time from these teams’ preparation schedules, it would only hinder non-established organizations and further the divide between the league’s contenders and bottom-feeders.

Furthermore, with the addition of two games, performance would likely drop off in the late season when the majority of NFL players have traditionally packed up and gone home for the year.

Although the majority of these players probably wouldn’t have a problem competing in an extra two meaningful games a year, their bodies would be more prone to injuries after two added weeks of the NFL grind.

The 2009 season saw over 300 players suffer season-ending injuries in only 16 weeks of competition, so you can imagine that that already surprisingly high number would only increase after two weeks are added to the regular season.

As bodies break down and injuries mount, the majority of teams are going to finish the regular season and enter the playoffs with a significant portion of their roster on the injured reserve.

If the NFL were to add two regular season games to their schedule, it would most likely diminish the level of play in the playoffs – when games really matter.

In the past, the playoffs have traditionally supplied fans with some of the best action of the season, but with more and more players sustaining injuries and being resigned to the sideline in their street clothes, many playoff teams would enter the post-season looking like a shadow of their former selves.

Although two weeks of added competition may seem like an idea that will only give NFL fans more of what they crave, it would almost all but ensure that many teams would stumble out of the starting gate and eventually limp into the post-season – thereby diminishing the quality of on-field performance as opposed to the ideal of enhancing it.

Although the move to an extended regular season seems imminent at this point, Colts’ President Bill Polian called the decision a “fait accompli” twice in his weekly radio show on Oct. 25. The addition of two weeks of regular season competition is not going to be a good thing for the NFL.

With the additional two games, fans may get an extra 120 minutes of competition every season, but it will be coming at the direct expense of the NFL’s athletes’ well-being and will likely only hinder the level of play that NFL fans have become accustomed to.

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