Can You Have Too Much of a Good Thing?
With changes potentially coming to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) we need to ask one question, can you have too much football?
Right now (20 February) the NFL and NFLPA are locked in talks on several proposed amendments to the CBA which will dramatically change the structure of the preseason, regular season and playoffs.
These changes include:
17 game regular season. This will feature an extra bye week
Seven teams in each conference playoff
Only one team will get a playoff bye per conference. This means there would be six wild-card games
Three preseason games. Down from the current four
What is the CBA?
The NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement is a labour agreement negotiated between the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and NFL team owners.
The agreement outlines pension packages, medical support, health and safety standards as well as the distribution of league revenue.
Less is More
Shall we start with the positives? One less preseason game is something to celebrate, with viewing figures even worse than the Pro Bowl it is time to reduce and retire the preseason games.
Football is a physical sport. If you make players take part in a game that doesn’t ‘count’ you’re only going to get poor results.
If every teamed tried their best to win you’d be exposing players to the risk of injury unnecessarily, potentially ending their season before it has even begun. Instead, we have teams fielding a weaker line-up with players, who are younger and inexperienced and are unwilling to try in fear of injuring themselves and throwing away their chance at starting in the regular season.
Now for the not so positives. What is the one thing the NFL has over any other major sport? The answer to that is urgency.
A 16 game season followed by a three-week single-elimination playoff, that is the formula that makes football work. If a team makes it all the way to the Super Bowl they will have played a maximum of 20 games and a minimum of 19.
If we look around the sporting world we'd see that in the English Premier League, teams play 38 games across the course of the season, just under double the amount of the NFL.
The number gets even more ludicrous when you look at the NBA, the NFL’s biggest competitor in the US market. Teams play 82 games in the regular season and have a four-round playoff, with each series potentially being seven games. That means you could have a team playing another 28 games for a total of 110 potential games in one season.
In the NFL, every game counts, when you’re nearing week 10 and your team is hovering at .500, it’s all still to play for.
That brings me onto the second issue with the proposed changes, the seven-team playoff bracket.
The current playoff structure is meant to reward the best of the best in the NFL, it makes sense, each divisional winner is given a chance as well as two wildcard teams.
To showcase why I’m not a fan lets look at this years AFC, easily the least competitive conference of the two.
Under the proposed structure the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team who went 8-8 would have made the playoffs despite not having a winning record.
Adding an additional team also removes the bye week for the second-best team in the playoffs.
Using the same example, the 2020 Super Bowl Champions would have had to play in the wildcard round. This proposed playoff bracket puts even more emphasis on the home game and could potentially top position teams into wildcard round road games.
Urgency. That is at the heart of my problems with the proposed changes. What do we really gain from an extra game? What do we really gain from having an extra team in the playoffs?
It is such a minimal gain in the overall amount of football we get each year but such a monumental step back in terms of structure and quality I don’t see the benefit.
The best benefit I’ve seen so far is from TalkSport pundit Will Gavin who points out a 17-game season would mean the need for more neutral games and the potential for a longer London season.
If we ignore those UK fans for just a minute, what benefit is there for football fans? A longer season only benefits the league, they have an extra day of ticket sales and television deals. But for those watching, the quality will almost definitely take a hit.