It’s no secret that some NFL owners would like to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games, but they might have have to settle for 17.
On Wednesday, at the Fall League Meeting in Fort Lauderdale, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about the rumors of a possible 17-game regular season in the near future.
“Again it is part of the discussions,” Goodell said. “We’ve had very fruitful discussions on the positives and negatives of changes to the game that we’ve made over the last 10 years, which I think are really important as it relates to the safety of the game and how we’re preparing and practicing, training our players and I think those changes have made a significant impact in a positive way. That is something that we’ll continue to discuss that may or may not be part of whatever we ultimately decide.”
The reason some owners proposed expanding the regular season is to cut the unpopular preseason from its current four-game slate. Preseason games are oft-criticized for the poor quality of play with starting players generally playing little.
But NFL owners are reluctant to cut down the number of preseason games without a vehicle to make up the lost revenue. Many teams include their two home preseason games as a mandatory aspect of season ticket packages.
If the league gets the 17-game regular season they’re proposing, Goodell said it wouldn’t force the league to start the season earlier.
“We would still start the week after Labor Day, so we would have the same starting week but would just play one week longer (in February),” Goodell said.
The compromise of 17 was suggested by Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy, a former NFL player. If Murphy’s proposal comes to fruition, the preseason would be cut to either two or three games.
But a big question yet to be answered about a potential 17-game season is how the schedule would work. Currently, with their 16-game regular season, NFL teams play eight home and eight road games.
So how can you schedule a 17-game regular season without creating a competitive disadvantage to the team’s forced to play an extra road game?
One proposal involved making the the extra game an international contest for each team with the NFL’s popularity growing overseas, especially in Great Britain. The NFL scheduled four games in London this season, and all of them sold out. NFL football is also popular in places like Canada, Mexico and Germany.
So there are some logistical details to be ironed out on how a 17-game season would look, but it certainly looks like an 18-game regular season is a nonstarter with the player’s union.
“I don’t see an 18-game schedule—under any circumstance—being in the best interest of our players,” NFLPA Chief DeMaurice Smith told ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe in July. “If somebody wants to make an 18-game proposal, we’ll look at it. I haven’t seen anything that makes me think that it would be good for the players.”
While more regular season games would lead to more money for players, the union boss is concerned with how more football games would impact the health of his rank-and-file.
“For us, it comes down to who players are as men, and is it good for us,” Smith told Wolfe. “If a coal miner is willing to spend more time in the hole, does it likely result in more money? Yeah. Is that a good thing for him as a person? Probably not. That’s the question nobody confronts. It’s easy to say it’s more money. But is it good for us? The answer is no.”