Tuesday, August 21, 2007

TIME TO CUT THE PRESEASON IN HALF


Every year we ask the same question right about this time of year – why are there so many preseason games? Maybe we wouldn’t mind so much if not for two realities of preseason that stick in our collective crawl and won’t go away.

First there is the fear of injury to prominent players. A couple of key injuries could change the landscape of the NFL for the entire season. Imagine how much different our expectations would be if players such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or LaDainian Tomlinson are bitten by the preseason injury bug.

Real fans don’t want to see that happen. We all want to see the best players on the field. We all want our team to beat the others while they are at their best. We don’t want there to be any questions, what-if’s or excuses for the victory. We want it to be pure. We want it to be free of asterisks. Certainly Barry Bonds can relate.

Atop the head coaching wish list during the preseason is health. Time and time again, teams that remain healthy are more times than not those that achieve and even exceed expectations. Look at the 2000 Ravens for example. They remained healthy throughout their Super Bowl run. In 2001, Jamal Lewis barely breaks a sweat in training camp and his season is done and for all intents and purposes, so was the team’s season as well.

The concerns over health often persuade coaches to hold their veterans out of preseason games. Brian Billick has said that his goal for the vets is to get them a game's worth of snaps over the course of the preseason. His formula for doing that appears to be spoon feeding them on Game 1, give them a quarter and a half in Game 2, two quarters in Game 3 and a paid vacation day for Game 4.

So why bother at all with four games?

Some might say that four games are necessary to pair down the roster from some number over 80 during camp to 75 by August 28 to 53 by September 1.

I’m not buying that!

NFL teams today have organized team activities out the wazoo during the offseason. Sure, they say the activities aren’t all mandatory but if you are a young player trying to make a roster and you don’t show up for “voluntary” practice or offseason conditioning on campus, good luck. Internal hemorrhaging might start from the brow beating and psychological counseling might be required after the guilt trips that will almost certainly follow your absences.

So with all of those “voluntary” workouts and all of the film study and all of the coaches that analyze every nuance of every player’s movements, don’t you think they can still efficiently trim rosters?

Of course they can!

Which brings us to the second reality of preseason that sticks in our crawl – economics.

The NFL charges you and me full boat for these lackluster preseason games that are on whole appealing to only guys like Eric DeCosta who in many ways view these games like a kid looks at his toys during the days after Christmas.

I will admit that these games are an upgrade over no games. But how much dress rehearsal do you really need? How much do you really want? It’s like listening to a band piece together a new song. Eventually you want to hear them play it at their best and from start to finish. Game 4 of the preseason is like listening to the roadies play the music and oftentimes the results are like fingernails to the chalkboard.

Making it worse of course is the fact that the NFL charges full price for the dress rehearsals. As I sat there in the rain on Sunday night, yawning so much I was praying for a Red Bull vendor to come by, I couldn’t help to think that I was just hosed for $220.00. I looked around at tens of thousands of empty seats during a 13-12 game no less, because no one really cared that much.

The players didn’t. Despite losing and despite playing poorly, Ravens veterans were laughing and carrying on along the sidelines. I think one of them said, “Can you believe that guy paid $110 per seat for this?” Laughter erupted afterwards.

Well, it probably didn’t go down quite that way but you get my point.

And it all begs the question “Isn’t there a better way to handle the preseason so that everyone gets what they need?”

For me, the answer is to drop two preseason games and add them to the regular season.

The coaches remove 50% of the risk of injury during meaningless games which benefits the coaches and players. And the fans get something meaningful for their money.

The idea hinges on the feelings of the owners and almost every important decision made these days by NFL owners is grounded in one area – economics.

How does a proposed change affect their wallets?

I say it fattens them!

First there are the concessions which take a beating during the preseason and then there’s the added expense of carrying so many players on the roster for so long. Cutting down to 53 sooner saves money right? So let’s see, so far we’ve added revenues and subtracted expenses. The owners must be listening, right?

And then there’s the NFL’s sugar daddy – TV revenues.

Wouldn’t the league stand to make more if there were more games that actually counted? Advertisers would be more interested because more viewers would be watching and as a result, companies will spend more to advertise. If the advertisers spend more, the TV networks make more and they will be able to pay more to the NFL. More, more, more. Ch-ching! Ch-ching!

That’s music that makes NFL owners sing!

Some might say that stretching the season to 18 games dilutes the product. Not for me. I’m watching it anyway and if you’re reading this you probably are too. What would you rather watch a preseason game or a regular season game?

Others might say that stretching to 18 games would affect the record books. And you know they would be right. But that didn’t stop the NFL from going to a 14 game schedule from 12, and eventually to today’s 16 game format.

It’s a no brainer. So what are they waiting for?

Go ahead and say it Larry!

“Git ‘er done!”

2 comments :

Mr J said...

This is really the only way for the owners to make money that doesn't wind up in the hands of the players, who don't get their real payday until the regular season. Remember the low end revenue-producing owners do not really want the salary cap to increase each year since they are the ones who, under the current CBA where players get 60% of ALL revenues, get the short end of the stick as total NFL revenues increase. This is their only way to absorb some bottom line cash.

However, you are right that its fans who get screwed and one of the main reasons why Rosenbloom traded the Colts for the Rams. The fans simply refused to pay for preseason games.

Perhaps a compromise could be reached. All preseason games should have a certain generous percentage of the proceeds go to the NFL retirees who are in bad shape and beyond the scope of the current benefits system. At least your dollars would go to the players who need it.

With the NFL owners probably wanting to change the current CBA after 2008, there could be many issues placed on the table to bring some sanity and morality back to the NFL. The blackeye some of the players have created need to be remedied.

Jerry Brotman said...

Great article, Tony - couldn't agree more. But, with the NFL generating even more revenue by showcasing these "scrimmages" on national TV, the chances of change are, "slim and none"!