Just Say NO to the 18 Game Season!, Part I

They say that from age arises wisdom. If that is true then there is probably no wiser of a veteran than the Steelers James Farrior.

Which makes Farrior’s comments about the owners impending 18 game season nothing short of jaw-dropping. In an article with the Tribune Review’s Scott Brown, Farrior recently conceded that the 18 game season is inevitable (click here to read the full article.)

He may be right. Nonetheless, that fails to make an 18 game season a good idea, and it does not mean that the NFL Players Association should not fight this tooth and nail.

Immediate Impact on the Steelers

I do not make the above statement lightly. A decision by the NFLPA to put its foot down on the 18 game season would likely elevate the probability of a lock out from highly probably to something near metaphysical certitude.

Judged solely from a “how does it affect the Steelers” view point, a protracted lockout leading to a canceled 2011 season would be a disaster.

No football in 2011 could easily mean the end to the careers of Aaron Smith, Hines Ward, and perhaps Farrior himself. It would mean that the next time Casey Hampton set foot on a football field he’d be 35. Brett Keisel would be 34 and so would James Harrison. Troy Polamlau would be 32.

Much has been made of the age of this group of Steelers. Nonetheless it is perfectly plausible that this core of men could make another run at a Lombardi in 2011, regardless of how the current season concludes.

But what about 2012? Add another year to a couple of key players, and you’re much, much more dependant on rookie contributions.

But the game is bigger than the Steelers, which is why the 18 game season must be fought.

The “Problem” of Preseason Football

To listen to Roger Goodell, fans are really demanding the 18 game season, because they’re fed up with preseason football.

Personally, I like preseason and missing not being able to see the games down here in Buenos Aires. Preseason offers fans two things they otherwise do not get:

  • An extended look at new players
  • A chance to see a bunch of guys give everything they’ve got in purist of a dream

Nonetheless, I understand and respect the argument of season ticket holders who object to being forced to buy preseason tickets, and of other fans who are forced to pay full price for something that is less than the NFL’s top product.

On top of that, preseason has changed. Those over 30 or so might remember the Sports Illustrated commercials that began shortly after the 4th of July, hyping “the time that helmets are strapped and hands are tapped and protected.” As SI told the story, the dawning of NFL training camps was a time to them to spring into action.

Those spots ran in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Back then, preseason was a beacon of hope for a populace that had been starved of football in 5 or 6 months. There was no internet then, and even if there was, free agency did not exist and OTA’s were just blurb to fill out unused space in Sports sections.

How to Scale the Preseason Mole Hill

Goodell and other 18 game apologists are not even fooling themselves by insisting that extending the season is the only way to go. Several solutions exist, many of which have been suggested first by others, some are my own. Here they go:

  • Simply drop one game from the preseason –

Coaches play starters sparingly in the 1st and 4th games anyway. A three game preseason might give their reps in and rookies could still get a decent look.

  • Convert one preseason game into an all rookie or all youth scrimmage

Similar to the first proposal, but this one would give rookies, undrafted free agents, and guys who simply hang on practice squads year-in and year-out a bigger shot a prime time.

  • Make preseason an optional part of season ticket packages

Owners could roll the costs into the regular season and/or provide incentives (such as greater chances to buy additional playoff tickets, points that you can accmulate to get better seats) to purchase preseason tickets. This would also allow non-season ticket holders a better shot at games.

  • Move games to neutral sites

Having teams play 1-2 preseason games at a site outside of either team’s home field would help expand the NFL’s fan bases by giving other communities a chance to see NFL football.

The fallacy of the “need” for an 18 game season because of problems with the NFL Preseason is self-evident.

But that says nothing of the why going to an 18 game season would be fundamentally bad for the game. Stay tuned for Part II where we’ll bring that out in detail.

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