The NFL is negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement between the team owners and players in advance of the expiration of the current agreement next year. There are a lot of points being discussed, such as changes to free agency and the salary cap, but the most interesting one is the proposal to add a 17th game to the regular-season schedule and two more teams to the playoffs, resulting in two more playoff games.
Expanding the schedule is something I’ve heard about on and off throughout my lifetime and it wouldn’t be the first time the NFL has changed the schedule. In 1978, the league added two regular season games to the schedule by cutting two preseason games, and in 1990 they added a 17th week to the schedule, giving every team a bye week at some point in the season. They even experimented with a second scheduled bye in 1993, but quickly reversed course in 1994.
The extended season has worked out pretty well for the league, and there’s a certain simple genius to the way the schedule is currently designed. Each conference has four divisions consisting of four teams each and divisions are scheduled against each other on a rotating basis. Every year a team plays each team in their division twice, four teams from a division in their conference, four teams from a division in the other conference and two teams from the divisions in their conference they didn’t play this season based on where those teams placed in the standings the previous season.
It’s hard to say how an additional week would be scheduled; the simplest solutions would be to add either a second game against the teams that finished in the same place in divisional standings from the in-conference division teams play that season or to add a game against the team with the same conference standing from the other conference. Neither of these are particularly ideal, and a 17-week season adds another complication: is it a home or away game?
A cross-conference game could be scheduled so the NFC gets an additional home game one season and the AFC gets that home game the next season. There have also been rumors of this 17th game being played overseas or at least out of country in places like Europe, Canada and Mexico where the league wants to expand to buy doesn’t want to add additional franchises in. The proposed expansion would add 16 games to the 18-week schedule, so one could easily be played in foreign markets almost every week.
Richard Sherman, the 49ers cornerback, said last month that he felt the 17th game was only being introduced because the league has been trying to get an 18 game season for years, despite all the talk from the league about trying to reduce the incidence of CTE, which is currently somewhere in the neighborhood of “everyone who has ever touched a football has it.”
“It’s odd to me… when you hear players safety is their biggest concern, but it seems like player safety has a price tag.”
“Players safety up to the point of ‘hey 17 games makes us this much money so we really don’t care how safe they are…’”
Sherman on 17-game season 👀 pic.twitter.com/lheRqhMZRa
— 95.7 The Game (@957thegame) January 29, 2020
He’s probably right, the league has wanted an 18 game schedule for a while. The reason given has basically been that it’s so terrible when a player gets injured in a preseason game that doesn’t count, but players are less likely to be injured in the preseason if only because they’re less likely to play, especially in they’re starters. Preseason games can also helps coaches decide which players to keep or promote, and some have argued two preseason games isn’t enough. But regular season games make a lot more money for the league and owners, so you can see why they’d want more of them.
The two additional post-season games (which bring in even more money) also have pros and cons. The move would take the wild card week bye away from the second-place team in each conference, and that perk is extremely valuable to high-ranking teams. Teams that play on wild card weekend are at a big disadvantage; since the first-round byes were added in the 1978 season, only ten teams who played on wild card weekend have won the Super Bowl, and six of those wins happened in an 8-year period from the 2005 to 2012 seasons.
It would be much more fair to just add four more teams to the playoffs and eliminate byes altogether, which is how the playoffs worked from the NFL/AFL merger in 1970 until the 1978 expansion.
These changes, if approved by the NFLPA and the players themselves, wouldn’t take effect until the 2022 season at the earliest. I like football and more games, especially more playoff games and big, international regular-season games seems like a lot of fun. But with all the new information about CTE and the concerns it raises about schedule balance, I just don’t know if this proposed expansion, which team owners have agreed to, is a good idea.