The NFL competition committee has held “lengthy discussions” about the possibility of trimming the preseason down to three games, which would obviously be very welcome news. Preseason football is unwatchable, and the fourth game, with starters sitting and the only drama being the last roster spot or two, is excruciating. So why am I so skeptical about this?
Packers president Mark Murphy, who’s on the committee, raised the issue at the behest of coach Mike McCarthy.
“I think there would be support for three,” Murphy said. “I think Mike’s [idea], that’s what we’ve talked about. Rather than playing that fourth game on a Thursday ... don’t play a fourth game and then you’d have an extra week. We’ve looked at different models, but I think that’s the one that makes the most sense.
“You’re giving up some revenue, but it’s one of the worst things we do.”
Ah, that’s why I’m skeptical. When is the last time you knew the NFL to forfeit revenue for no reason? (And despite the pointlessness of that last game, it almost always does well at the gate and is part of the league’s TV contracts.)
With the caveats that I am distressingly cynical about most things, and that this is pure extrapolation, the NFL knows that the value chain goes Regular-Season Game > Preseason Game > No Preseason Game. The league has long wanted a longer regular season, but the players’ union has resisted for reasons including concerns over player safety and how the additional profits would be distributed.
The owners would sell forfeiting a preseason game as a concession, and replacing it with a regular-season game as an even trade. The players, rightly, know that preseason football is nothing like competitive football in terms of intensity and the prospect of injuries. A 17- or 18-game regular season would likely require major CBA negotiations, with the players seeking more than the linear increase in revenue due to the geometric increase of wear and tear on their bodies.
But a longer NFL season feels inevitable. (I’m always kind of baffled that it hasn’t happened already.) Cutting back the preseason is a first step in extending the regular season, which will mean more money for everyone, at the low low cost of safety, quality of play, and fan exhaustion.