What does a 17th regular season game really mean to players, fans?

  • The NFL is increasing the regular season to 17 games, as expected, and reducing the preseason to three games. Team owners on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, approved the 17th game, marking the first time in 43 years the regular season has been increased.

    The NFL is increasing the regular season to 17 games, as expected, and reducing the preseason to three games. Team owners on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, approved the 17th game, marking the first time in 43 years the regular season has been increased. Associated Press

 
 
Posted3/31/2021 5:30 AM

When ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Sunday the NFL would announce the switch to a 17-game schedule for the coming season, the worst-kept secret in sports was back on the front pages.

The 32 NFL team owners made the change official Tuesday. It was a key to their negotiation of the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with their players that kicks in this season and at least some aspects of it, possibly most are good for everyone, owners, players and fans alike.

 

I can't imagine we'll find any fans complaining but a number of high profile players have started wailing, loud and clear about the horrible injustice of it all.

We shouldn't be surprised by that either, but what is at least in part hard to understand is why.

The National Football League Players Association is often quite irascible as a group and that is easy to understand.

While the NFL is by far the most lucrative of the four major team sports in the United States with every owner earning dramatic riches each season, the league's average and median salaries are well below basketball and baseball and even just 17.5% above hockey.

Far more egregiously, NFL contracts are the only ones not fully guaranteed.

In other words they're contracts for ownership but just chains on the players.

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It is for that reason, with this concession to allowing a 17th game along with no give on guaranteeing deals being the biggest sticking points that players voted just 1,019-959 to pass the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows the owners to do this.

What isn't clear about the unpopularity of this move with players is why they are so against it, and it is absolutely untrue that is just the owners' greed being sated.

According to the new CBA the players receive 47% of total revenue and with the NFL's new TV deals estimated to total $100 billion over 10 years, and the addition of the 17th game the players share will go to 48.8%.

That 1.8% increase means an additional $180 million per season distributed to the players through the salary cap and their benefits.

The main complaint from players about playing more games is that their jobs are already dangerous enough and another game is a much greater risk to their health.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But after studying here for hours, I can't find a believable study that suggests more games create greater risks to player safety.

In November 2019 Dr. John York -- whose family owns the 49ers -- was quoted as saying "the engineers and statisticians ... (have looked at) what might happen in a number of different scenarios (including a schedule expansion by one game), the change in injury rates, either a little bit plus, a little bit minus, it was not particularly significant."

But I can find no record of him supplying that study or data to support that.

In February 2020 Cardinals owner Michael Bidwell old us, "The health/safety data plays out that we can do 17 games and it's not going to impact the safety and the health of the players. I am really proud of the work the league is doing in terms of the health and safety. A lot of big strides have been made. ..."

But again I can't find where he offered any proof.

What we do know is this: Every time a player steps on the field there is the risk of injuries and there is no predicting when, how or why they will happen.

It could very well work like lottery tickets with no greater or lesser chance of winning, or in this case getting hurt each time you step on the field no matter how often you step on the field.

While adding the 17th game the league will cut back to three preseason games ... and that's a joke.

Clearly no more than two are necessary and it would be a worthwhile bone to throw the players.

At the end of the day most fans will be thrilled to have an extra game, owners and players will all make more money, and we all just have to hope no players will end up the worse for wear.

• Twitter: @Hub_Arkush

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