Fans want it. Franchise owners want it. Television networks want it. So do ticket scalpers, souvenir dealers, fantasy-leaguers ? Just about everyone who pledges allegiance to the National Football League craves a schedule extension to 18 games per team. Except many players. And me. The reluctant players, leery of seeing their already short life expectancies shrink further, might warm to the idea if salaries are sufficiently hiked to account for extra pain and suffering.
Surely the yea-sayers would include prolific procreators like the Jets' Antonio Cromartie, 26. He has 14 mouths to feed - eight kids and their six moms. (Yeah, throw a flag for a cheap shot. Guilty.) But, in a tour of training camps, Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, heard enough objections that he persuaded stunned owners last week to table a vote on going to 18 games. For those of us whose pain and suffering would amount to the horror of settling for the existing 512 regular-season games instead of the suggested 548, consider this:
A study encompassing the past five years determined that games generate an average of nearly 5.5 injuries. Based on such a rate, an additional two weeks would result in 176 more damaged players. Do we really wish to subject these men to further trauma? Let's put this proposal under the microscope and see what is not so obvious to the naked eye. A truncated exhibition schedule of two games apiece, while a blessing on the front end to season-ticket buyers subjected to paying full fare for glorified scrimmages, will penalize borderline players auditioning for a job.
In a two-week preseason, starters would require more minutes to get game-ready, exposing them more to injury and denying lesser lights an opportunity to impress. So, you do not give a flip about the players? Is this all about you? Fine. You acknowledge the magic of the 16-game schedule that involves half or more of the teams in playoff contention come Christmas, right? How ingenious it is to keep so many fan bases captive for so long without opening the post-season gates to the commoners.
Better yet, the 16-week plan curbs the number of teams that clinch early and rest their regulars, wreaking havoc in the subcultures of bettors and fantasy-football players, not to mention infuriating the same ticket-holders venting about two-series-and-out starters in August. Tack on two more weeks, and the potential consequence is a multitude of meaningless games - or, worse, games in which one team holds out its stars. The season, like the battered players, would limp to the finish line.
And another thing: We have grown accustomed, since the NFL adopted the 16-game model in 1978, to an ease in comparing players, statistically. How does Adrian Peterson stack up against Emmitt Smith? Begin the debate by matching their season-by-season numbers. No need to dig out a calculator and multiply by 16, then divide by 18 ? or is it vice versa? Know what else 18 games might mean? A Super Bowl on Presidents' Day weekend - the latter half of February.
Can you say "sports season overlap"? College basketball would be approaching the madness of March. The NBA would be at its all-star break, the NHL deep into its second half. Pitchers and catchers would be reporting for spring training. Ultimately, the call will be made as a bargaining tool in labour talks. With the collective bargaining agreement nearing an end, the unfathomable scenario of an owner-authorized lockout looms next season.
The guess here is that, to make up for the subsequent lost revenue, owners will do a money-grab and induce the players union to sign off on extra games. Players get their limbs yanked every which way on Sundays; they'll endure a little arm-twisting in negotiations. Before tossing the status quo, here's hoping all parties are mindful of three appropriate maxims. • Bigger is not always better. Had the NCAA broadened its basketball tournament to 96 teams, the field would have been so watered down, it could be called off on account of wet grounds.
• Be careful what you wish for. As flawed as the college football bowl system is, it guarantees gravity for regular-season games. A multi-tiered play-off would reduce the drama that awaits us every Saturday. • As musicians, actors and other entertainers are reminded, always leave the audience wanting more. With the pros, 16 is sweet. Quoting Sir Paul McCartney: Let it be. firstname.lastname@example.org