Posted 04/28/2009 at 02:58 PM
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has not been discrete about his interest in shifting to an 18-game regular season schedule once the current collective-bargaining agreement expires. Although the general reaction from most people seems positive there are many possible unintended consequences that could come with such a shift.
No one likes the preseason but it does allow teams time to ready for the season and gives opportunities to a lot of undrafted players or career practice squad players to earn a chance at making a team or getting noticed by another team. With a shortening of the preseason personnel decisions will need to be made much sooner and without live-game experience. Potential injuries are a big knock on preseason football and certainly every year there are some starters that go down in meaningless exhibition games. There is no reason to believe that fewer injuries would occur by making those games count however, and in reality the risk of injury will likely be greater as teams will be rushed into intense meaningful action sooner. If the injury is going to happen anyway, a team is better off if a key player is injured in the preseason as well because they will have time to get a replacement set-up versus trying to fill the hole mid-season. The extra wear of preparation and physical impact of two extra games will be significant and the playoffs may actually feature a worse level of overall play.
Although fans do not like being forced to pay for meaningless preseason games, an 18-game schedule will force fans to pay for meaningless games at the end of the season. With two extra games, the likelihood of significant playoff positioning impact games in the final few weeks of the season will go down significantly. Certainly there is likely to be a few key games that still matter late in the year but more teams will clinch playoff spots earlier in the year and the final few games could turn into games where key players are rested. This is already a problem with the current schedule and it will get worse with 18-games. Teams that have failed to make the playoffs are likely to get young players experience and veteran stars may be taken out of games. There could even be a sense of 'tanking' for draft position, something the NBA has struggled to deal with and the NFL has largely avoided to this point. Essentially there will still be preseason games, it will simply occur at the end of the year for teams that have nothing to play for. This would also wreak havoc and take some enjoyment out of the set-up of fantasy football leagues which has become a huge part of the NFL's popularity.
All current records and statistical measures will be thrown out the window. Every current single-season record would be broken in quick order and career milestones would eventually be wiped out as well. The players currently considered all-time greats would be on the second page of lists for career numbers within a decade. This would give players incredible leverage in contract negotiations in a league that already is often held hostage for key players after a few good years. The league moved from 14 to 16 games and no one remembers the consequences but there will be some negative impacts by this move that appears inevitable.