The NFL has been considering extending the regular season to 18 games for a while. On Friday, a report came out that the owners have proposed a plan to do just that. They proposed adding two games to the current 16-game regular season, but limiting players to a maximum of 16 games. However, there are a lot of problems with this potential expansion, both for the NFL and its players.
Will Fans Want to Watch Backups?
The biggest implication of this proposal is that backups will have to play two regular season games. Coaches may decide to play the backups against potentially easier opponents. They could also split up when the backups play; for example, they could play the defensive backups with the offensive starters for two games and vice versa.
However, no matter how teams decide to play their backups, fans would have to be willing to watch their stars sit out for meaningful games. They may not want to watch their team if many or most starters will be sitting out. Further, they surely would not want to pay the same ticket prices to watch worse, potentially pre-season level football. For example, would Chiefs fans want to watch their team if Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, along with the rest of the starters, were not playing?
If fans are not willing to buy tickets for the extra games, then it would not really be worth it for the NFL to go through with this plan. Fan bases usually show up to games even when their superstars are injured. However, there is a difference between watching Brett Hundley replace an injured Aaron Rodgers and the entire second team playing in lieu of the starters. It would certainly be much lower quality football. Fans would require much lower prices to attend games, if they were willing to attend at all.
Another consideration with this proposal for a longer regular season is about how teams will manage their rosters. Currently, most teams have only one kicker, punter, and long snapper on their rosters. However, having to play backups at these positions would mean teams have to figure out how to fit in extra players they currently do not need. The NFL would have to figure out a way to work around this issue such as adding roster spots specifically for these positions.
In addition, a team sitting out many starters dramatically reduces the number of available reserves. If injuries occur, which are certain to happen in football, that could create huge ramifications. The NFL would have to think about creating an exempt list for teams to use when sitting players out because of this rule. That way, they could sign free agents for a however long they need to replace starting spots on the roster.
Finally, teams commonly rotate players at many positions, especially on the defensive line and in the secondary. Further, many second and third-string reserves play on special teams. Benching these players would essentially force teams to load the roster with players off the road for two games.
There are many questions that involve how teams will be able and allowed to manage their rosters. The NFL has to figure out how teams can manipulate their roster before this proposal moves forward.
Finally, the NFL regular season is the most important regular season in American professional sports. While other leagues have over 80 or even 100 games, the very low number of NFL regular season games makes each win extremely valuable. Having to sit starters in two of the potential 18 games would mean backups will play over ten percent of the regular season.
This is a league where playoff spots often come down to the last week of the regular season. It is also a league where seeding is extremely important because of first-round byes and home-field advantage for a one-game elimination tournament. Frequently, seeding and playoff spots are decided by just a one win difference or even tiebreaker scenarios. The games which reserves players participate significantly in would end up being enormously critical to a team’s success. This proposed plan for a longer regular season would have playoff implications. It would face enormous blowback if a team misses out on a playoff spot or first-round bye because they had to sit all of their best players for two games.
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