For several years, the NFL has made two peculiar pushes. The first, which has had some success, is to play more games overseas. They’re up to three now, and have been talking much about adding more. The second, which has yet to be successful, is their longstanding desire to expand the regular season to 18 games.
I’m not terribly crazy about these two proposals, though I don’t have any burning anger against them, either. It’s clearly an effort by the NFL to make even more money. But if these pushes are to continue, I’ve felt for some time that the proper solution would be one offered today by Mike Florio: Expand only to 17 games, and then send the resulting extra 16 teams overseas.
Florio lays out the case for a 17-game regular season with the following four points, of which I’m going to break down into a few subpoints for later commentary:
1. Sending a 17th game overseas allows each team to give up a home game on equal terms.
2. Starting European games at 9:30 AM ET could give the NFL a permanent fourth window to air games.3(a). Any extra wear and tear on players would be addressed by introducing a second bye week.
3(b). The extra two weeks resulting from the 17th game and extra bye could push the Super Bowl to a three-day weekend (President’s Day).
3(c). The 17th game and 2nd bye would come at the cost of two preseason games.
4. The NFL would make “enormous” money off two additional weeks.
Here are my own comments on Florio’s points:
1. It does seem like the only way to get high-profile and lucrative teams to play overseas on a regular basis.
2. I’m having a tough time thinking the 9:30 AM ET games are going to be anything more than a novelty. Not only does that mean 6:30 AM PT (yawn), but it also means encroaching upon church time, something that I personally don’t have a problem with but many other people will.
3(a). I think a second bye week should be installed even without a 17th game. Furthermore, I’d time that extra bye with the Thursday night games, so that teams would have ten days of rest both before and after those games.
3(b). I like the idea playing the Super Bowl on a three-day weekend, and even today I’ve never understood why the NFL doesn’t play the Super Bowl on a Saturday. There’s no conflict with college football, and the workforce would be in better shape on Monday.
3(c). I think the coaches will push back considerably on losing two preseason games, given all the current complaints on practice limits. Losing the thoroughly non-entertaining fourth game wouldn’t be a huge deal, but I think losing two will be tough.
4. Can’t argue with this.
I’ll add two more points. One is the cosmetic benefit of having everyone with either a winning or losing record on the season. The other is in regards what matchups you’d create with a 17th game. I think it would be awesome to have permanent interconference games between geographically close teams. A few teams would have awkward assignments, but most would be quite interesting. Here’s how I’d assign them, in order from best to worst:
In years where these teams don’t play each other, that can be a neutral game that can be sent overseas. And if the NFL can’t line up 16 games overseas, you could find some interesting neutral sites within the United States. How cool would it be to play, say, Steelers/Eagles at State College? Or Browns/Lions at the Big House or the Horseshoe? Or Texans/Cowboys in San Antonio to test the waters there?
And in the years where those teams are scheduled to play each other, you just create a home-and-home series between the two teams in question, and whichever team has an extra home game gets a game exported to keep things balanced.
While all this dreaming is fun, the NFLPA has plenty of legitimate reasons to strongly oppose both an expanded schedule and more overseas games, reasons that don’t need much explanation. So don’t expect this to happen any time soon, and almost certainly not until the current CBA expires. However, it’s safe to say that the union is going to have a long laundry list of things they want to change in their favor. In order to get those changes, they’ll have to give some things up in return to the owners, as is the nature of collective bargaining. Thus, if the NFL wants to put a priority of adding and exporting more games, the NFLPA should make it an equal priority to strongly push against it.
And in the end, the compromise from that battle might very well result in something close to what Florio’s proposed.