As we re-discovered this past week, the NFL preseason can be a bit dull. It’s more or less fine right now because we miss football so much, and the players do need a couple weeks of game simulation to get ready for the real thing. The preseason is obviously important for evaluating the marginal spots on the roster, but about two weeks from now it’s going to be intolerable and there’s still going to be more left.
We don’t really complain about other sports’ preseasons. The NBA’s happens during football season, so most people can’t be bothered to notice. For some reason, folks get JACKED UP for pitchers and catchers reporting in baseball, and the Spring Training that follows. The NFL, though, is a constant minefield of praying that key contributors don’t get injured. Here’s how I’d change it:
- Make the preseason two weeks, instead of four.
- Extend regular season to 19 weeks, from 17.
- Instead of making players go through gauntlet of two extra games, give teams three byes per season.
- Schedule Thursday night contests so they’re coming off of bye weeks.
Bill Simmons had similar, though slightly different, ideas for the regular season in his 2012 “Hierarchy of Hypocrites” column (he advocated for 18 weeks with two byes and the same Thursday policy). Pragmatically, I acknowledge that this probably couldn’t work right away. The NFL’s Competition Committee said last year that three preseason games were the minimum necessary. These games may seem meaningless to us, but coaches and scouts count on them for sculpting their franchises’ depth.
Also, existing television contracts would need to be re-worked. Though there would exist the lost gate on attendance of preseason games — where season ticketholders are charged full price — one would imagine that the revenue would be more than recouped if television networks had the opportunity to broadcast two extra weeks of meaningful football games. CBS, NBC, Fox, and ESPN would almost certainly be down for that, right?
Again, there wouldn’t be more games per team, but there’d be more weeks in the season, and for the typical fan, watching preseason games would be replaced by getting to watch NFL starters. Who would be against this proposal?