As the NFL continues to soar in popularity, I can’t decide whether Roger Goodell should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize or an Oscar for Best Actor.
While the commissioner has cracked down on vicious blows to defenseless players and advocated new rules against hitting quarterbacks, today’s NFL is still increasingly more dangerous. Reported concussions are up 21 percent from the 2009 season. Hardly a game goes by when a player isn’t carried off the field with a serious injury.
Of course, professional football is an inherently violent sport played by athletes who are bigger, stronger and faster than ever. But if Goodell truly cared about player safety, why would he allow the league’s executive vice president of labor and chief counsel Jeff Pash to claim it will be much easier to get a new collective bargaining agreement if the union accepts an 18-game regular schedule?
Player’s association executive director DeMaurice Smith responded by saying he was “inundated” with calls from players protesting plans to expand the regular season by two games. The league doesn’t care that careers last an average of only 3½ years and a player’s average lifespan is just 55 years (52 for linemen).
More games mean more chances to pad the bottom line. While attendance is down for a third straight year, the league is feasting at the TV trough. NFL games were the most-watched shows in all 30 of the league’s markets on opening weekend with an overall 17 percent increase in viewers from last year. TV ratings are also at a 20-year high with NFL Network ratings for Thursday night games up 38 percent from 2009.
Sure there’s a point of diminishing return in regards to player performance and health along with an increased risk of product over-saturation with a longer season. But that hasn’t stopped the NFL before. Old timers will remember when the season increased from 12 to 14 games in 1961 and then to 16 games in 1978.
Believe it or not, there is actually a provision in the current deal with the NFLPA to play as many as 22 games a season. The union has countered with a pitch to reduce offseason workouts, backing up the start of OTA’s from March to June and adding four more players per active roster. The capper in this contentious caper is the way Goodell refers to the league’s plan to add more games. He calls it the “enhanced” schedule. Sorry commissioner, sometimes less is more.
Another concern for the NFL should be the reseeding of teams for the postseason. Under the current system, a division champion gets to host a playoff game despite having fewer wins than its wild-card opponent. It’s not inconceivable that the 49ers could win the NFC West with a 7-9 record and get to face a 10-win team at Candlestick Park. Better yet, how about requiring playoff teams to have at least a .500 record? No losing team should get a chance to wave a championship banner. Let’s call that “enhanced” thinking on the road to the Super Bowl.
KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.