Whether you are in the midst of a blizzard or languishing in the much milder climate of Cowboy-ville, football fans all find ourselves plunging full bore – and I emphasis the word bore – into another winter of discontent. As we prepare to clean closets, groom lawns and watch that God-awful combine coverage, it is worth noting that even the dreaded off season has its purpose.
Excluding the world appeal of soccer, of course, the NFL has the highest television ratings among the big players in sports. It seems logical that the number of regular season games of 16 in the NFL, compared to 82 for both the NBA and NHL and a whopping 162 for Major League Baseball, has something to do with that statistic. In other words, folks, as painful as it it to put away the game gear for six months, the old saying about having too much of a good thing holds some truth in this instance.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would like nothing more than to increase the number of NFL games per season to 18. It’s hard to believe that pro football once played only a 12 game schedule. That was increased to 14 games in 1960 and again to 16 in 1978. Through those changes the league has grown and prospered. So what, you may ask, would be the big deal about adding another two weeks of football watching pleasure?
For those who are happy with the current trend toward an offense friendly league, possibly nothing. For fans like me who enjoy a hard hitting, defensive struggle, the effects have already been felt in the form of rules and regulations to try and keep skill players healthy through season’s end. Everyone wants to prevent injuries to players on both sides of the ball. However, if one more restriction is placed on where and when defensive players can make contact with quarterbacks and receivers, the league might as well take the pads off the signal callers and wide-outs and put them in skirts and bloomers. On the other side of the coin, it seems that offensive players are being given more and more slack from officials in the use of stiff-arming defenders to gain extra yardage and pushing off in pass coverage. If the number of games is increased, I fear we can expect this trend to continue.
Besides the obvious injury aspect of increasing the length of the NFL season, the drama of the game would also be diminished. No, I’m not talking about the Kardashianesque drama that ESPN reporter Ed Werder likes to conjure up. The drama I’m referring to comes from knowing that every match up on any given Sunday can impact the big picture. While I’m sure fans of the other above mentioned leagues don’t enjoy losses, it would be hard to argue that dropping a game in mid-season in any other sport can create the ripples that occur with the outcomes in the NFL week in and week out.
The short term financial gains a jump from 16 to 18 games would bring are unquestionable. There are intangibles to consider too, though. For this fan, the most obvious one comes in the form of the rush of excitement I get every July that signals the beginning of training camp and the start of another march to the Super Bowl. If making the season longer in any way diminishes the joy that September brings, then 16 games is good enough for me.