Increasing the NFL season to 18 games is a terrible idea

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An 18-game NFL regular season has been looming over the league at least since it was clear that the 2011 lockout was an inevitability. What the league wants, the league — more specifically the team owners — usually gets. The revenue split used to be 50/50 with the players, but now a greater share has gone to the owners since the lockout. The 17-game regular season and expanded playoffs are a product of the 2020 CBA.

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While the players don’t get the same percentage of the pie that they used to, at least the NFL is backed off of testing for marijuana. The NFL and team owners had been open to that for some time, but were not going to act on it without some type of concession from the players.

When the NFL begins to negotiate the 2030 CBA in a few years, the future of television will be at the forefront of the discussion. Assuming that the league will at least be as popular as it was in 2023 — let’s cross our fingers for the future of TayTrav — the most assured way to continue a massive increase in revenue is to add an 18th regular-season game.

The expansion will be sold to the players as more money in the pot. As much as the NFL television rights will increase next decade with no signs of the league slowing down as America’s most consistent television product, 18 regular-season weeks will still cost more than 17.

However, the players were far from unanimous in their approval of the expansion of the regular season from 16 to 17 games in 2020. What is also going to increase along with the value of the NFL, is the players’ knowledge of sports business.

If Pro Football Talk’s Albert Breer is reporting that he heard talk about an 18th game at the draft combine over the weekend, then the players have likely had that information for a while. It is time for the players to demand that teams and the league offices earn their keep.

The owners receive the majority of revenue split, and Roger Goodell is paid more than any player. Those leaders with titles should earn their keep and find a way to make more money in a way that isn’t off of the backs of the players. Instead of instituting “hip-drop” tackle penalties in a sport in which 200-plus pound people are required to run into each other at full speed, many times from a distance, the conclusion should be drawn that them running into each other for an extra three-plus hour game is inherently unsafe.

Boxing long ago got rid of 15-round fights, and the UFC now has weight classes, gloves, and time limits that it didn’t have in 1993. The infrastructure of both of those sports is rotten, but at least they know that reducing the length of the fights improves safety. Full-contact sports are dangerous. There is no way to regulate an increase in contact that results in improved player safety.

A hesitant defensive player can lose his job, at best, and at worst, the functionality of a body part. They never should have been torpedoing their heads at offensive players. Spearing has long been against the rules and also never flagged enough. With all of that being true, adding more flags to the too many that are already called against the defense can actually increase injury risk, especially with another game added to the schedule.

In 2010, Goodell set a goal for NFL revenue to reach $25 billion by 2027. The 2022 season reportedly generated nearly $20 billion. The Kansas City Chiefs’ win during the final game of the season in February 2024 is the most viewed Super Bowl of all time. Interest in the NFL is in the opposite direction of waning.

Which is why the players should go full-court press on the NFL during the next CBA negotiations. I am aware that there are fewer than 1,700 total players in the league. Salaries stretch from Joe Burrow’s down to players clinging to the practice squad. Still, at some point the players have to take a stand. Because if they give in for an 18th game with less than a ferocious fight a year or more before the CBA expires, many of the ones who voted in favor will not be on a roster long enough to benefit from the salary increases after taking all of the punishment of an extra game.

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