Every year around this time, fans and media start calling for the reduction or elimination of the NFL preseason. We all know the product is not great. However, coaches need the preseason to properly evaluate the back end of their roster and make tough decisions. Even so, the league makes money from the games and they often draw bigger television ratings than playoff baseball games.
As long as that remains the case, significant changes to the preseason will not happen. Injuries are also a big gripe this time of year. There is nothing that can be done to truly get rid of this issue. This is football, not ballet. Anytime it is played at a high level, someone is likely to get hurt.
At my core, I am an NFL fan first, and a writer second. Money talks. Thus, these changes will likely never occur. Nevertheless, here are a couple tweaks that would make the preseason more fan friendly.
Play starters later in games, not early
Yes, preseason games are “meaningless”, but winning is always more fun than losing. The big names usually play a quarter or so in the preseason. They may play a bit longer in the third exhibition game.
Every minute of an NFL game is important, but the fourth quarter is most important. Thus, I have never understood why the third and fourth stringers are the ones that play late in preseason games.
Barring a rash of injuries, those are not the guys that are going to be playing late in games that really count. How cool would it be to have Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford enter for the fourth quarter of Friday night’s Patriots/Lions game with the score tied or close and play for nothing but pride? It may give the game more of a Pro Bowl type feel. The Pro Bowl has also come under fire from fans in recent years, but it too usually gets a decent television rating.
There is some precedent for this. Legendary Bengals head coach Sam Wyche would negotiate with his opponents in the preseason to do this very thing in the 80s.
Stop charging regular season ticket prices
By no means is this a new theory, but the fact that fans must pay the same amount to watch Aaron Rodgers play a full game as they do to watch guys like Taysom Hill for three quarters is ridiculous beyond words.
The preseason is never going to make for great football, but going to an NFL game of any kind is a really cool thing. It is something every fan should have the chance to experience, but not everyone does.
Major League Baseball offers several discount ticket packages to groups that help underprivileged youth throughout the season. The NFL should do the same for its preseason games.
Again, as long as preseason games make the league money, there is no urgency to change it among the people who can do so. That does not mean that these two relatively small changes would not take something that is usually pretty blend and make it feel just a little bit special.