One of the more annoying scams in pro sports is the NFL’s insistence on charging full price for each team’s two home fake games each August. I suppose that if theater goers are willing to pay to watch dress rehearsals, the NFL can say it wasn’t the first to the notion, but I stick to the ancient principle of charging half-price for half-baked.
The topic arises because the NFL and the NFL Players Association are discussing eliminating two fake games and going to an 18-game regular-season schedule, as part of the early commencement of negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement. The current deal signed in 2011 expires after the 2020 season, but the parties agreed to get chatty now because they don’t want to walk into the next media-rights negotiations all ripped and unzipped from a labor war.
Team owners have always lusted for more counting games because of the additional revenues from broadcast partners. Players have always resisted, because of the health risks in a game that neurological science increasingly says is more insidiously crippling than owners ever wanted anyone, especially players, to know.
For what is believed to be the first time in CBA negotiations, owners last week put the 18-game idea on the table, with a twist — no player can play more than 16 games.
Imagine you’re a fan flying in your family of four from Anchorage to Seattle for the annual trip to a Seahawks game, only to discover that Russell Wilson was spending Sunday recording more cute-family-at-home videos instead of trying to reach Tyler Lockett in the end zone with a laser heave over Richard Sherman’s head.
You would be justified in bringing from home a bear trap and setting it near Pete Carroll, John Schneider, Jody Allen or whomever you deemed accountable for the perfidy, confident that no judge would sentence you for anything more than a misdemeanor. Perhaps the game might involve the Dallas Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones, in which case your action would make you a national hero.
Aware of the potential for public contempt with the 16-game limit on players, the proposal was said in media reports to offer potential exemptions for QBs, punters and kickers, the theory being no one wants to see the backups for those positions. But how many positions would be exempt? Wouldn’t Rams fans want to see DT Aaron Donald play every game?
Multiple other consequences would derive from the proposed 18/16 change, not the least of which is the need to add roster spots to play more snaps. The owners wouldn’t be impacted by the new costs as much as the players would be irked by having to spread around more money from their share of the game’s overall revenues, currently at 48 percent.
But before we get carried away, 18/16 is just an opener. And it was already given an initial swatting by the union. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith spoke with ESPN Friday and he said no, but not with the stridency typical in labor talks.
“I don’t see an 18-game schedule — under any circumstance — being in the best interest of our players,” Smith said in Miami. “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.”
The union made another point: It calculates the average career is 3.4 years. The additional games would drop the figure to 2.8 years, below the three-year minimum required for pension eligibility.
“Fans and media discuss what would happen to ratings and revenue or whether (18 games) is a good idea or bad idea. For us, it comes down to who players are as men, and is it good for us,” Smith said. “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.”
But if the owners did make 18 games a CBA priority, what would players demand as concessions?
A big part of the 2011 CBA was reform on behalf of player safety, which greatly reduced the number of days and hours devoted to practice, and the amount of contact permitted. To add back extra games would seem to contradict those gains. At minimum, the players should get a second bye week, less training camp and elimination of the Thursday night games they uniformly hate.
The union already needs to do a much better job getting benefits to former players, and negotiating more salary protections for the shrinking middle class of players, those below the big-money stars who often find a minimal market after their four-year rookie deals expire.
Some players have also talked about a liberalization of the NFL’s marijuana policy. Feel free to pile on with stoner jokes, but there is rapid acceptance nationwide of CBD products for their virtues of pain/inflammation reduction without the THC ingredient that makes for highs.
When it comes to weed, it is hard to imagine a more publicly constipated high-profile group than the old white men who run the NFL. So imagine the cultural breakthrough that would follow if NFL liberalization were cast as a small part of the answer to the national opioid crisis.
Of the negotiations so far, Smith and NFL Roger Goodell have been quoted as saying progress has been made, and the atmosphere is not as tense as 2011, which resulted in a brief lockout. Both sides think it’s possible a deal could be struck before the 2019 regular season begins.
Right now, of course, nothing is urgent. Two full seasons remain on the current CBA. But the 18-game season is at least officially a talker.
Given the growing issue of safety, I think players would be foolish to let owners claw back hard-won ground on their physical welfare. Then again, this is ‘Murca, where when enough money is thrown, problems go away.