On March 30, National Football League owners voted unanimously to expand the upcoming season to 17 games. The last time the league expanded its regular season was 43 years ago when it switched from a 14-game format to the current model.
A host of changes will take place this season, including reducing the preseason from four games to three to comply with the collective bargaining agreement, which puts a cap on the total number of preseason and regular-season games to 20, and requiring that every team play at least one international game once every eight years.
While die-hard Eagles fans who can’t get enough of the Birdgang may welcome another regular-season game, the question is: Who really stands to win with an additional game?
For all of the NFL’s recent rhetoric on causes like criminal justice reform and their commitment to the long-term health of current and former players, their latest move is a reminder that their priorities are clear. It’s all about the money.
As expected, team owners are on board with the expanded schedule because it translates into more revenues for the “Shield.” The new 17-game season coincides with the announcement of an 11-year, $110 billion media rights agreement with broadcasters and streaming services that takes effect in 2023. There’s a lot of money to be made. With an additional game, the league can charge even more for those rights.
According to the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the expanded season will be a game changer as the league seeks to keep its spot as the most popular and financially profitable of all the major American sports leagues. He said, “This is a monumental moment in NFL history. The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans. And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world.”
Despite the collective bargaining agreement, some NFL players are not excited to play another game and note the health risks it could pose. Alvin Kamara, running back for the New Orleans Saints, described the change as “dumb ... as hell.” Houston Texans running back David Johnson told a Houston Chronicle reporter he doesn’t agree with the idea, either: “As football players, especially as a running back, it’s tough to get through injury-free.” Richard Sherman of the San Francisco 49ers went as far as to say that the league would be hypocritical to add the physical demands of another game while calling for player safety.
“It’s odd to me — and it’s always odd — when you hear player safety as their biggest concern,” Sherman said, via Sporting News. “They’re really standing up for player safety, player safety, player safety. But it seems like player safety has a price tag. Player safety up to the point of, ‘Hey, 17 games makes us this much money. So we really don’t care how safe they are, if you’re going to pay us this much money to play another game.’”
From the 1976 film All the President’s Men, the catchphrase “Follow the money” instantly became a part of the American lexicon. It simply means that when you follow a person or an organization’s money trail, you discover their priorities and intentions. With the additional game, it’s increasingly clear that the NFL will do just about anything to increase its profit margin, period.
For a league that recently settled with Colin Kaepernick, who was blackballed for kneeling during the national anthem, and with players routinely in the news for domestic violence allegations, the NFL has often found itself on the wrong side of history regarding social matters. Campaigns like “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” stenciled into end zones aside, and their amended code of conduct policy, the NFL’s image still needs to be rehabbed and gives the public plenty of reasons to be skeptical. In other words, we can’t just go with what the NFL says because we have witnessed their actions. If they believe that offering Kaepernick a sham of a tryout, being “tone-deaf” about domestic violence in the past, and now adding a game when the public is becoming more aware of the devastating effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy can repair their image, they are sadly mistaken.
One of the most violent professional sports leagues seems increasingly concerned about optics — but it clearly hasn’t gotten a handle on them. Lengthening the season is just not a good look.
Rashad Grove is a journalist, media personality, and pastor of First Baptist Church in Wayne. @thegroveness