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Calling An Audible: Owners And Players Huddling About A Shorter Preseason

Roger Goodell

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

If you are an NFL fanatic, this will make perfect sense to you.  We know your life would be textbook if the television networks could finally develop an iteration of the league you love with more spring and summer staying power than the AAF or all of the other imposters.

Fans like you despise the preseason. Fake football. You are willing to pay ridiculously high prices to watch longshot free agents and low draft picks battle to make special teams because the owners say you need to. That includes the fourth preseason game when the first-stringers all get the night off.

Admit it, you wish the NFL preseason would go away or lose some weight.

Good news, folks. The commissioner is in your huddle.

On Monday, Roger Goodell reiterated what we’ve all been thinking for years – the four-game preseason schedule is probably two weeks too long. It needs to be cut in half and it needs to happen right away.

Goodell couched in it a perfect way, basically insinuating that the league had better things to do.

“I’m not sure the preseason meets that level right now,” Goodell said.

The problem with this common sense initiative is that it can not be unilaterally adopted by the owners. The NFL and its Players Association are currently chatting about a new collective bargain agreement and what to do with the preseason is simply a bargaining chip.

“I feel what we should be doing is always to the highest quality,” Goodell told The Associated Press while participating in Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly’s charity golf tournament.

“I’m not sure, talking with coaches, that four preseason games is necessary anymore to get ready for a season to evaluate players, develop players. There are other ways of doing that, and we’ve had a lot of discussions about that.”

When the league talks about cutting the preseason schedule in half, what it’s really saying is it wants to fill the created void with two more regular season games to increase the inventory it can sell to the networks.

This seems like a fabulous idea, doesn’t it? But like every other line item that gets discussed during labor negotiations, the players want a piece of the larger financial pie since they believe adding two more regular season games increases their workload and the threat of injury.

Even if the parties agreed upon the concept, nothing would happen until the new CBA kicks into gear during the 2021 season. But Goodell, who we remind you is the agent of the owners, believes it’s a good sign the two sides are already discussing the particulars so early the process.

The calendar for the season would remain the same, but the regular season would begin in mid-August so it could still conclude with the Super Bowl the first week in February.

Back in the good old days there were many more preseason games. From 1947-60, there were only 12 regular season games. That increased to 14 from 1961-77. In 1978, the current 16-game format was introduced.

In the 1960s, each team played either four or five preseason games. But by the end of the 1960s, that number grew to equal what life was like in the decade before when barnstorming was all the rage.

When the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, the NFL was granted an exemption to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act which monitors competition between competing businesses. The owners were thrilled with this and some decided it made great sense to expand the preseason and make season ticket holders pay for the home games as a means to keep their seats in good standing.

Keep in mind, that the players do not share the revenue the league makes from preseason games. And from 1970-77, the NFL mandated that each team play six to enhance the 14-game schedule, usually three at home and three on the road. It was only in 1978 when the 16-game schedule was announced that the preseason was kicked back to four.

If the NFL can come up with a way to add two more regular season games, and fairly compensate the players for it, we will likely see the preseason shrink in time for the 2021 season. Apparently there is already a plan in place to compensate for the evaluation time that would be lost by enacting the shorter training camp.