The Sports Revolution: A Preseason that Counts

Only 8.5% of the way through its regular season, the NFL has already been battered by injuries. Several teams, specifically those that wear green, have already lost key players to season-ending maladies of the gruesome variety.*

*Pierre does not link to such grotesquerie as Leonard Weaver’s AHH!

The promptness of such injuries has again allowed people to make light of the NFL’s ridiculous strategy to expand its regular season to 18 games. Now, the NFL has contemplated the Preseason Question for some time now, attempting to balance its clear desire for more money with an equally clear lack of fan interest in games that don’t count in the standings — the equivalent of football “friendlies.”

There are two basic remedies to this issue. The first is to reduce the preseason by a game or two, therein reducing revenue since season-ticket holders pay as much to attend (or, in many cases, not attend) as regular-season games. The second idea alleviates the problems of the first: Cut down the preseason, and, in its place, extend the regular season.

Of course, this opens up the possibility — and indeed, probability — of even more injuries to key players and head trauma to everyone involved. These are not worth two extra games.

I, however, have struck upon a compromise that should keep all the parties happy: We eliminate the preseason, but not the games. Make it a 20-game regular season. But here’s the rub: The first four games must be played as if they were preseason games.

Say what?

Look, football coaches at ALL levels have extolled the value of preseason games. After all, you can’t replicate game speed in practice. That’s why it’s called “game” speed. Players need preseason games to transition from practice to the regular season in order to avoid injuries. Even college football teams follow this logic when scheduling cupcakes. For this reason, we can’t eliminate the preseason altogether: Too many players would get hurt.

But, the money comes back into play. To add an incentive to the games for the fans, we simply make them count. Starters would still play roughly the same amount of time: one quarter in the first game, a half in the second, three quarters in the third, and let’s make the final one a half again.* The rest of the game is played by second- and third-stringers. It is up to the individual coaches to decide which quarters are played by whom.

*I understand that regulation of who the “starters” are can be problematic. Well, let’s define starters simply as the highest-paid player(s) at each position. It doesn’t solve all the issues — a team might start a younger, better player over a more expensive veteran — but it does its best to approximate the actual depth chart.

You find this outlandish, I know. But football teams comprise 53 players in the regular season and upwards of 85 in the preseason. Why not use them all? Why should the Colts benefit from having the best quarterback situation in the league when their backup and third-stringer are far worse than ANY other team’s? Why is depth only rewarded when fickle luck interjects itself into the narrative of the season?

For instance, let’s look deeper at the Colts, a team predicated on its star quarterback, Peyton Manning. Without Manning, however, they instantly become a terrible team; this is because Curtis Painter is an odious football player. The Colts should be penalized for Painter’s ineptitude, more than in just an 0-4 preseason. The fact that they were routinely clobbered once Manning departed games should mean something. The fact that the Packers did not suffer the same kind of dropoff from their own star quarterback to backups Matt Flynn and Graham Harrell should be applauded and rewarded.

Indeed, why should the fortunes of 85 men be reduced to that of one? Why can’t we, for only four games or 20% of the season, reward quantity instead of quality?

In the process, the Preseason Question is answered. Fans will go to the games, learn the names of more heroes, purchase more iterations of jersey (Give me a Victor Cruz, will you?), and gladly pass along full price for a real football game. Even if it’s merely the preseason in sheep’s clothing.

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