Preseason gives 18-game schedule some appeal

Kevin Fishbain
2013 preseason schedule

Aside from the dazzling play from rookie QBs Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, the 2012 preseason won’t supply a whole lot of positive, memorable moments.

Instead, the preseason has been marked by typically sloppy play, another year of fans having to overpay to attend preseason games and most notably this summer, replacement officials.

When you consider the ridiculously high popularity of the NFL and the daily demand for league news and updates, the preseason gets plenty of media coverage. That also brings to light the facts that a) the quality of play is mostly subpar b) it can be hard to glean much from preseason results (the 2011 Rams went 4-0 in the preseason) and c) we are constantly reminded that preseason games mean little. This preseason got even more negative scrutiny because of the scab officials.

When those negatives of the preseason get magnified, Roger Goodell gets the recipe he needs to gain public support for his ultimate goal of doing away with two preseason games and moving to an 18-game regular season.

Goodell’s desire for an 18-game schedule got shot down pretty quickly by the players and did not hold up the agreement on a 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement. Goodell often said that an 18-game schedule would “move the game forward” and it was his response to fans who complained about the preseason.

One thing Goodell never suggested — and something he wasn’t asked about — is why not just keep the 16-game season and cut out two preseason games? It’s not worth asking because the answer is obvious: Every team would lose one home preseason game. That’s a lot of money lost.

Until someone finds a way to recoup that money (Albert Breer reported last summer that canceling the entire preseason would cost approximately $1 billion), you can count on 20 NFL games — 10 home games per team.

Goodell’s proposal received its fair share of vitriol from players and fans. His persistent push for the 18-game schedule when it didn’t seem like fans shared his view was frustrating, even more so was his lip service about his reasons for adding two regular-season games (we get it — more games means more money. You don’t need to hide from that).

But now, it’s starting to make a little sense.

The 18-game regular-season schedule bandwagon hasn’t gotten a new member, yet, but as more and more fans watch preseason games on television that are meaningless in the standings and pay an absurd amount of money to see the product, the 18-game schedule will get the popularity Goodell wanted from the public, as fans simply will want to do away with four preseason games.

This is not meant to devalue the preseason games for teams. The coaches need the games to help evaluate players to make crucial roster decisions, but decreasing the amount of preseason games also means less opportunity for players to get hurt, something that the Bengals and Buccaneers, who lost starting OGs Travelle Wharton and Davin Joseph to season-ending injuries in the preseason, respectively, can attest to.

The owners showed during the lockout that while it was important to win the public-relations battle, as seen in the war of words with the players, the actual opinions of the fans meant little, which is important in the long-term look at an 18-game schedule. From this writer’s perspective, 18 games will get more traction as fans become more disenchanted with the preseason product on the field, and that would please Goodell and the owners. But the players are a whole other group to convince.

The final CBA stated, “The League and/or Clubs may increase the number of regular season games per Team above the standard of sixteen (16) only with NFLPA approval, which may be withheld at the NFLPA’s sole discretion.” That buys the league some time, but it’s hard to foresee a situation in which the players agree to 18 games.

This is not so much a call for more regular-season games but a realistic look at the type of negative attention four preseason games receives, and will continue to in the years ahead. The only way to decrease preseason games is to add regular-season games. The likelihood of players agreeing to do so in the near future is slim to none, but fans might start to warm up to the idea after a few more years of four meaningless preseason games, and Goodell could finally get the support from fans for 18 games that he claimed he had last summer.