How To Make an 18 Game Schedule a Good Thing For the NFL
There seems to be a lot of debate about the NFL potentially moving to an 18 game schedule, but the fact of the matter is its in the best interest for everyone. It won’t be completely easy, but they can make it work and here is the way they should do it:
Eliminate a Preseason Game: Now most proposals for the 18 game schedule suggest cutting two preseason games, but I think that is a little drastic. Those games might not matter much to fans, but NFL jobs are won and lost in those games. And a team’s 3rd string running back and 5th corner will mean a lot more during a longer season. I’d cut back one game just for time, so the season doesn’t extend too far in to February.
Expand the Rosters: I already believe the NFL should expand the rosters above 53 players, and believe even more so with an expanded season. I would increase the roster to at least 60 players (maybe 63 for posterity) and the active roster to about 55 players. Those extra players will be needed with a longer season, and also give teams the added benefit of being able to develop young talent that is too raw. In addition, I’d expand both the practice squad and the offseason roster size to also accommodate for the need of extra players. The greater roster size will help mitigate the damage done with losing a preseason game (though there is a risk of not getting any preseason game experience).
Expand the Draft: Since the Owners will want to help keep salaries down for additional players (in addition to the star players who don’t want to see that money come out of their slice of the pie), expanding the draft would be a good option. I would go back to a 9 round draft, and the same rookie free agent process that follows it. As it stands now you’d have a good chuck of those 64 additional players making 53 man rosters, so they should have no trouble making an expanded roster. This will help as teams are now looking to develop talent for the future. And since the draft has become a money making event it will be valuable to the NFL and the owners.
Create a Rookie League: This is a bit farther out there, but would help with the problem of taking away the camp time/preseason with expanding the schedule. I believe the NFL should do something similar to the NBA’s Summer League and MLB’s Arizona Fall League. I think 4-6 teams should go together and send 10-15 rookies (and maybe 2nd year guys) to play 2-4 games to make up for time lost in the preseason. While the playbooks would be even more vanilla than the preseason, it would offer valuable game experience and to a greater extent practice experience (a la Senior Bowl week). Now my guess is teams might keep their top rookies out of it, and the majority of players would be late round/rookie FA guys but it will still be worth it. If you have 4 teams together each year one of those team’s hosts it and all 4 teams split the profits (or more likely losses). It won’t be a money maker, but will help players and assistant coaches alike.
Why This Works For The Owners: The owners will make their money back in spades for having an expanded season since the T.V. deal alone will cover their additional costs for salaries. In addition, it will keep the NFL brand out there for a longer period during the year and help them have a larger share of the pie. Expanding the rosters will help their teams in the long run, develop sustainable, cheaper talent. And expanding the draft is probably a money maker for the NFL, since the draft has become so popular. The rookie league could be a tough pill to swallow at first, but the success of the AFL and Summer League have to at least make it seem feasible (and that is another option is to save on travel costs, have it in states without a franchise). Not only are those leagues successful in producing talent and helping to acclimatize players to the big leagues, but they are popular among fans, newsworthy, and are even being broadcast on radio and TV. The NFL Network and NFL.com can broadcast the games, maybe even get small syndication contracts with local stations to help pay for the league.
Why This Works For The Players: Some players may bulk at longer seasons and injury risks, but I think that is a simple fix. More overall money, as well as better health benefits for retirees and pension plans. In the end the players will make out fine. Getting rid of one preseason game shouldn’t be a big deal for most players. As for the expanded rosters and draft, while it might upset a few star players since they won’t get as much of the new revenue, it is a good thing. Almost all the new players are going to be playing at the rookie or veteran minimum, and the Players Union would be adding that many new members. Giving more chances for players to make the roster will give more guys the chance to be on that star level at some point. Also, the 18 game schedule will keep more teams in the playoff hunt longer, meaning more teams will have something to play for. Which is something the players like almost as much as the fans.