Ask any National Football League fan whether they would be in favor of expanding the current 16-game regular season schedule by 2 games and the answer would be a resounding yes. Who would not trade 2 pre-season games for 2 regular season games? Season ticket holders who pay full price for those pre-season games would not object and neither would the NFL owners who would stand to make significantly more money with the added television revenue. Added regular season games will also drive ticket sales and concession revenue. So this is a win/win right? The fans get more meaningful football and more bang for their buck and the owners make even more money. Well what about the players? Are they in favor of a longer regular season? And what effect will an 18 game schedule have on the product on the field?
If you ask any established NFL player, they are likely to be in favor of doing away with one or maybe two pre-season games. Training camp is plenty long and that coupled with 4 pre-season games gives NFL players ample time to suffer injuries. But would the same players be in favor of making an already long and grueling season into a longer one? A few players, including Ray Lewis, have already voiced their desire to not have the season extended. While the increased revenues would, in some part, mean higher player salaries, but is it worth the physical toll. Also, extra games and injuries can play a role in cutting careers short by years. How many players would trade 2 additional game checks a year for a couple years worth when their career is cut short?
You also have to factor in how extending the season will affect teams that are heading towards the play-offs. Additional games will mean additional injuries, especially at the end of seasons. Injuries always make things unpredictable in the NFL, but how much will the quality of play be reduced as some teams limp into the play-offs. Would the NFL look at expanding rosters at the beginning of the season to allow teams more roster flexibility in an effort to rest players and prevent injury? This could be a good remedy, but again it dilutes the quality of play.
Another question to be answered is what happens with the schedule in an 18 game season? Are 2 more random games added, or would the NFL use this as an opportunity to increase the number of divisional games? A scenario where certain division opponentsplay a third game against one another could work. Perhaps the match-ups could be based on the divisional standings from the previous year. This set-up could also give certain teams an advantage as a third game against a divisional opponent would give the home team an advantage. This could be rotated from year to year, but in a given year it could have a major impact on divisional standings and play-off participants.
The schedule expansion is a movement that is gaining momentum amongst the NFL owners and when that happens it is likely something we will see in the near future. Certain aspects of an 18 game season are attractive, but I think a change like this has far reaching effects on the NFL. Not only will injuries and scheduling play a greater role in the fate of a team, but statistical comparisons for players and teams will be drastically changed. Do the benefits of 18 games versus 16 games outweigh the negatives? I am not so sure.