Before we even begin this diatribe, let me say all that I have to say about the Saints* bounty fiasco. I'm going to focus on other stuff here, although Goodell does deserve a good deal of criticism in how he's handled that whole situation from the start- honestly, he had about a good a grasp of that as Adrian Peterson had on the football during the 2009 NFCCG. I just want to say this. I will always respect and admire Kurt Warner and Brett Favre for being far more classy individuals than, oh, let's say Drew Brees. I know that the latest revelations detailing slide shows mocking their horrific injuries- and then encouraging them as part of ‘the mission'- by the Saints* in 2009 will never be treated publicly with anything other than indifference by those gentlemen. And they're fine, fine men for it. But really, just really: I would love for them both to take baseball bats to the kneecaps of Jonathan Vilma, Sean Peyton, and Gregg Williams.
And then make a slideshow about it. OK, moving on.
Last week I detailed a story wherein Roger Goodell, in an interview with Time magazine, outlined a possible replacement for kickoffs. I proceeded to break it down into the three major flaws that I saw, and concluded that not only was it a bad idea, but it would probably never actually happen.
Now, before I continue, allow me to give the beleaguered "enforcer" some leeway on that. This was not something he presented at the NFL owner's meeting or to the NFLPA or anything of the sort. It was an idea brought to him by a rookie HC (Greg Schiano) that he was essentially musing about out loud to a magazine that's not even sports-centric. While I will admit I haven't read the article in its entirety, it still struck me overall that he was just saying "gosh, this was an interesting idea I happened to have heard the other day". He hadn't put any real thought in it, he was just intrigued by its novel approach- and there's nothing wrong with occasionally entertaining the creative, out-of-the-box idea.
However, he did present an outright bone-headed idea today, fresh from the quarterly NFL owner's meeting. He wants to extend the playoffs- either to 14 teams, or, get this, 16 teams.
Now, I may not be a mathematician or anything of the sort. Hell, I never even took calculus. (Poli Sci degree FTW!) But I'm 60% positive that 16 is 50% of 32 100% of the time. Good lord! Are we really going to include half of the NFL in the playoffs?!
I'll be the first to admit that our current playoff system- while still in my opinion an overall great setup- has a few flaws. The fact that a sub-.500 team can, and has, made it seems bonkers to me. And we all remember the outrage in 2008 when the 8-8 Chargers went and the 11-5 Patriots watched from home. Overall however I am willing to accept the occasional flaw in a system that still overall works (although I would readily accept a provision that outright prohibits a sub.-500 team from going, with that division crown's spot becoming a de facto 3rd wild card spot). The one thing it certainly does not need is for more teams to be involved- and hell, I'm saying this as a fan of the Vikings, who would be major beneficiaries of a 14 team playoff system this year.
But that's also part of the point. Honestly, as much of a homer as I am, I'll say that if the Vikings don't make it this season, then they didn't deserve to. We had our spot dead to rights before absolutely laying eggs against teams like the Buccaneers and the Redskins. (I'm still not surprised at our loss to Seattle, being we were in their home stadium- I called that a loss way early in the season.) And you know what? When your team lays eggs like that, then sometimes they don't get to-or deserve to- go.
Part of the beauty of the current NFL setup is that practically every game matters. A truly, truly great team might- at best- have 2 games at the end of the season that don't. And even that's pretty rare, as usually the best your top-tier teams get is 1 freebie at the end (and even that is not guaranteed). That's why NFL fans rabidly root, rave, celebrate and mourn right from the very start. Teams that start 0-3 are scratched from the playoffs pretty much by everyone- and they're usually right. Think about MLB, NBA, or the NHL (that's that historic but now dead sport that once upon a time was a lot of fun to watch right as the NFL was winding down and then after it was over, and it was really cool. You youngins' who don't recall those days will just have to take my word for it). In any of the other three ‘major sports leagues', a team can start 0-3 and there's absolutely no need to panic. Most fans don't even really follow those leagues until they're about halfway through their seasons, because the early games amount to squat.
Which segues into my next point- the 16 game schedule. Now thankfully the last CBA prevented that from being expanded, but by G-d we all know both Goodell and the owners have not totally given up. Technically the CBA would allow the schedule to be expanded with the NFLPA's approval, which will come right around the time the NHL starts back up in the hockey rink that just formed in hell. But the CBA doesn't last forever- sooner or later (thankfully later) we're going to have to face this ridiculous, boneheaded idea again.
Seriously, Goodell/ owners. You've got a hell of a product on your hands here. Leaps and bounds the biggest and most popular sports league in the United States, which says something considering how sports-crazed this nation of ours can be. (Honestly, people follow the Olympics.) But you are starting to tamper with it just a bit too much. Haven't you ever heard the phrase "don't fix what's not broken"? Let's use an example to illustrate. Remember that guy George Lucas, he made these really freaking awesome fantastic incredible super-duper movies that he called "Star Wars". They defined lives (well, they defined mine anyways...) and were a cultural phenomenon, they changed the way movies worked forever. And then that guy went and started tampering with them, and the next f****** thing you know, Han didn't shoot first. And it was total BS and lives were ruined (well, mine was anyways...). That's the road you guys are risking here- you're going to make Greedo shoot first.
I've already got issues with the stupid Thursday Night Football addition. Football has historically been this: Friday's for high school, Saturday's for college, Sunday's for the pros. (Then there's MNF, which I'm cool with.) Thursday? Shouldn't exist. The games have flat out sucked because teams are exhausted, and people have a hard time watching because it's in the middle of the f'in work week. And unlike MNF, when people are still rested up from the weekend and looking for a distraction after that crappiest of crappy days, we're all just as exhausted (OK, maybe less so) than the teams that are trying to play out there. As far as Thursday games go, you've got your two Thanksgiving Turkey Bowls, and that's it. Leave it aaaaloooone.
I get that the NFL has always been an evolving organism. Hell, it basically started in the days before time as rugby, and then a genius/ mythical messiah figure said "hey this crap is really boring, why don't we spice it up with the forward pass?" and the greatest thing to have ever happen happened. Rules will always be tweaked in the offseason; some good, some not so much. And the attempt to change things to help ensure player safety- regardless of whatever motivations the NFL really has *cough*concussionlawsuits*cough*- is great in my book. Shortening kickoffs, making intentional (INTENTIONAL!) helmet-to-helmet shots illegal, stuff of that nature: great. Good. Do it. I don't want Matt Kalil in twenty, thirty years' time to be drooling under some Minneapolis overpass sounding for all the world like Matt Damon in Team America.
But the flagrant attempts to just squeeze more money out of a fanbase that's already giving it to you hand over fist is going to end up ruining the sport and, in the long run, will lose you money. Great things often come in small doses, and the NFL has always been that way. The 16 game schedule, coupled with the 12 team single-elimination format, held on just Sundays with some MNF sprinkled in: it's always been a beautiful thing. (Yes, we used to have some Saturday NFL to liven up the more pointless/boring of the college bowl games later in the season- but I'm fine with the NFL continuing to leave those out.)
Your average fan who happens to live in his or her team's home city is very likely to catch at least 14 of the 16 games his or her team plays. (Barring stuff like blackouts- that's another rant for another day.) Do you know what happens if you increase the schedule to 18 games and increase the playoff format to even ‘just' 14 teams? That fan is going to probably watch less, because less games matter. Heck, in that system you easily have scenarios where just 10 games matter. Currently, that's impossible. Go with the beyond ludicrous suggestion of 16 team playoffs, then is practically guaranteed that only 10 games matter for some teams.
And you know what else? You start having Tuesday night and Wednesday night games, and people just won't be able to keep up. Keep expanding the schedule, the playoffs, keep expanding the nights games are played, and you've got a major problem on your hands- a problem otherwise known as "the NBA in November".
Let's take a step back from how Roger Goodell and the owners are seriously at risk of over-saturating a product that's been so strongly blessed by the concept of "less is more". Let's take a look at player safety. The hypocrisy shown by the NFL in challenging the safety of the kickoff while simultaneously increasing the Thursday night schedule (hence, shorter recovery times at least once for all teams) has been pointed out by many already. Prior to the CBA saving the NFL from itself by preventing the 18-game schedule, it was also pointed out how disastrous that could be for players who already often describe themselves as "zombies" come December. If the NFL is actually serious when it says it wants to drastically improve player safety, then it must take a good, long, and honest look at TNF, an 18 game schedule, and yes- even a 14/16 team playoff format. (Basic logic- more teams continue playing football after the regular season, the more injuries there will be. It's not so much a ‘cause' like the other two, per se, but simple math states that it will equal more overall player injuries.)
Goodell, you are sometimes genius, but more often lately bumbling fool. Don't ruin the NFL. Please. She's a thing of real beauty right now. But you keep tinkering with it, keep tampering with it, and then Greedo's gonna shoot first, and it's going to hit your league right in the heart.