In a release today from NFL.com, Packers chief Mark Murphy is one of the key figures in the attempt to change the NFL schedule from the 4-preseason/16-regular game season to a 2-preseason/18-regular game season. The name for this idea is the "enhanced season".
Mark Murphy, president of the Green Bay Packers and a member of the league's negotiating team, briefed some national media on the proposal after the meeting, saying that it would not be adapted until 2012 at the earliest and suggesting the NFL would consider reducing the preseason from four games to two, adjusting roster size and injured reserve rules, and adding a bye week at the start of the regular season as part of the initiative. Murphy also said the NFL is studying the concept of adding its own developmental league -- likely in the spring -- within the United States to replace the league's past efforts in Europe.
Now, this isn't a new idea for Packer fans, and particularly their season ticket holders, who are obliged to purchase preseason game tickets at the same price as regular season tickets. Season ticket holders grumble at spending $70 a seat to sit and watch the backups play against another team's backups, and still pay the same price for a cup of beer. As a non-season ticket holder, I don't think I have ever attended a preseason game, simply for the reason that I don't want to pay that much money for something that has the fan energy of a community band concert.
So, on the surface, this sounds like the perfect solution. Two preseason games (along with Family Night) and then the Packers can start playing for real. More real games, more television games, more commercials, more advertising, and more happy fans. Think of it...18 week fantasy seasons, records falling left and right with the extra two games. It makes a lot of sense, and makes sense that Murphy, who represents the league's smallest market, would be championing this change for the shareholder owners of his club.
And, expansion of major league sports seasons is pretty common. At the beginning of the 1900's, Major League Baseball had only a 140- game schedule, upped to 154 permanently in 1920, and to 162 in 1961. The NBA started with a 55-game season that has expanded to today's 82. Even the modern NFL has grown from a 12-game season to a 14-game season in 1961 to today's 16 (starting in 1978).
Naturally, something that sounds so perfect simply can't be so perfect, and already there are concerns, many of them valid. Most notably are the concerns from the NFLPA.
"...the NFLPA had "concerns" about the reliability of the data the league provided regarding the impact of an 18-game regular season and injury risks, and how the league would provide "post-career health care." And, as well, how players would be paid, with [George] Atallah suggesting there would have to be "enhanced compensation," to the players since the number of meaningful games is expanding."
The use of the term "enhanced compensation" is definitely amusing, but the concerns from the players are pretty serious. Every season, the NFL drafts and crafts players that run faster, hit harder, lift more, and work out more. While the NBA and MLB have longer seasons, the physical impact of an NFL season is evident by Week 14, much less the playoffs. It's a violent sport, which is why Tom Brady and (of all people) Ray Lewis spoke out in concern.
“I’ve taken part in several postseason runs where we have played 20 games," Brady said. "The long-term impact this game has on our bodies is well documented. Look no further than the players that came before we did. Each player today has to play three years in order to earn five years of post-career health care. Our Union has done a great job of raising the awareness on these issues and will make the right decision for us players, the game and the fans.”
Added Lewis: “I’ve been blessed to play this game for so long, but it’s time to start thinking about what legacy and impact changes like this will leave for the players of tomorrow and us after we retire. I know our fans may not like preseason games and I don’t like all of them, but swapping two preseason games for two end-of-season games -- when players already play hurt -- comes at a huge cost for the player and the team.”
The physical toil of a season is more considerable to me than the natural concerns over money--which Murphy rightfully points out will be based on the same percentages that divide the revenues now. There's no doubt that the NFL is going to have to carefully bargain with the union in order to make the enhanced season a reality.
The move would also make the NFL have the largest schedule increase over time. MLB going from 140 games to 162 games is a 16% increase. The NBA going from 55 to 82 games is a 48% increase. At 16 games, the NFL already has increased its season length by 33%, and 18 games would be a 50% increase over from 12 games. [And yes, I know I'm playing around with numbers. Just take it at face value. Hakuna Matata.]
As a Packer fan, it would be interesting to see how that extra regular season game would be awarded to season ticket holders...remember that both the Green and Gold Package ticket holders get a preseason game. If one preseason game is eliminated, which package keeps the preseason game and which one gets another regular season game? Naturally, the Milwaukee (Gold) fans will want the extra regular season game that they used to have. Would the one home preseason game then alternate years?
Personally (and I only say this as a waiting list member), I'd offer a Gridiron package and make a whole new group that would get the preseason game and the extra regular season game, allowing a large number of willing people to leave the waiting list to get two games. Those that wish to wait for Green or Gold tickets can remain on the list. This way, the Green/Gold ticket owners still get their six/two regular season games and no longer have to worry about paying for the single preseason game. A younger generation of season ticket holders get to be the preseason crowd and have their own "real" game. Since it is unlikely that everyone would leave the season ticket list for those two games, the Packers would then have a pile of tickets to use as they wish...more tickets to sell locally in contests or even just sell on their website.
And again, this would cause tremendous strife amongst the fans, just as the change will cause plenty of strife amongst the owners and players (though I have no doubt the television networks would only benefit from such a deal, which may end up being the deal-sealer. Money has a way of making things move).
But, perhaps the most interesting part of this whole situation is seeing our President, who was baptized into his job with FavreGate, becoming a vocal leader and representative of the NFL as a whole in just two short years on the job. That's a good reflection on the Packers as an organization and the respect that he is garnering already.