By Chris Todd (@ctdk1980)
The NFL prides itself on ensuring parity throughout the league (the Patriots’ constant presence at Championship games notwithstanding), one way the league tries to impose parity is through its schedule, which in theory provides easier fixtures for weaker teams from the previous year.
Outside of divisional games and a rotation of divisions from year to year, teams currently play their remaining games against the other teams in the conference that finished in the same position in the standings the previous season. This helps teams who struggled the year before to bounce back to competitiveness.
While parity is a goal for the NFL, another goal undoubtedly is to maximise revenues and this is where the idea of a 17 game season comes in. Glossing over the undoubted objections the NFLPA will have with the suggestion, how even would a 17 game schedule look?
An issue with the current construction of the schedule is the paucity of intra-conference games, this has lead to a situation where the NFL has generational talents competing against each other infrequently. Long serving legends of the game such as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have only battled twice through their long careers, while Brady has come head to head with Peyton Manning a remarkable 17 times.
Adding an extra game to the season would allow the league’s schedule makers led by Senior Vice President Howard Katz a little more flexibility to make regular season ratings winners. Imagine the match ups, Mahomes-Wentz, Watson-Wilson, Jackson-Prescott. Surely, that will have network executives salivating at the incoming advertising revenues!
The issue then becomes how to deal with the logistics of squeezing another game into the schedule, proponents of an extended regular season often talk of cutting down the preseason, given that starters play very limited snaps during camp, and most coaches say they learn more about their players in intra-squad competitive practices than in actual preseason action.
At the moment there is a 4 game preseason followed by a regular season of 16 games in 17 weeks, for any change to go beyond idle thought there would need to be significant ground given to players. While negotiations are ongoing for the new CBA, this would be the obvious time to start discussions about significant changes to playing conditions.
To add a game to the regular season, how about taking 2 games from the preseason. The league could mandate joint practices between teams (rather than the current system of friendly coaching staffs agreeing to them privately) to add some competitiveness to camp. This would also leave room in the schedule for a 2nd bye week, which would certainly go down well with players and safety chiefs. It would mean the regular season would consist of 17 games in 19 weeks without needing to take up more space in the calendar so playoffs would stay in January and the Super Bowl would stay in its now traditional spot in the first weekend of February.
A bye product of this restructure of the regular season could also help the NFL plans for international growth and further expansion. Currently 5 teams give up a home game to play on neutral venues in London and Mexico, causing frustration for fans of these teams, and could be seen as an area where the NFL lacks its desired parity.
The extended regular season could allow a fairer schedule of 8 home games, 8 away and 1 at a neutral site. This would allow for further expansion of the International Series without requiring a franchise to move in the short term. This would also mean the NFL would be able to develop fanbases in other territories; Germany, Brazil, Netherlands and even China have been mooted as potential sites for future International Series match ups. This could also allow the NFL to present games in US cities that have been marked as potential future bases for expansion franchises down the line, San Diego, Portland, Oakland, San Antonio, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Birmingham, Salt Lake City among others have all been mentioned as bases in the event of expansion.
Perhaps the NFL could test the water with one or two games each season.