The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

THIS AIN’T GOLF SO WHY SHOULD THEY PLAY 18?

With the Dolphins off until next Sunday, and the injuries continuing to mount, it seemed a good time to address the question: This ain’t golf so why should they play 18?  No, not talking about holes, talking about games. 

You see, the NFL owners’ are angling to extend the regular season from 16 to 18 games (while shortening the preseason from 4 games to 2).  Obviously, the sole motivation for doing so is $$$$$$$ (what else do the owner’s care about!).  They know that fans do not like preseason games (and why should they!).  They know that season ticket holders do not like getting roped into buying tickets to preseason games as part of “the package” (not to mention at full regular season prices).  They also know that the American public really likes football.  So they figure they can easily sell another 2 regular season games to the TV networks, a major supplier of cash to the NFL owners, who will then be required to pay them even more cash.  Well, if the fans want it and the owners can make more $$$$$$$ in the process, then what’s the problem?  

Well, what about the well-being of the players.  You see, being an NFL player is already about as risky of a job as there is (and OSHA has not yet been known to hang around NFL stadiums asking questions).  Not only are there fewer players who are able to make it through a season without missing playing time, but each year there are also a sizeable percentage of NFL players who sustain injuries that are serious enough to require surgery.  This is a problem that each NFL team faces; this is an issue which every NFL Coach must deal with on a weekly basis. 

Look what the Fins have been through thus far this season.  Their lengthy injured reserve list is as follows:  Chad Pennington, Will Allen, Jared Odrick, Cory Proctor, Nate Garner, A.J. Edds, Kory Sheets, Deon Anderson.    That does not include players like Channing Crowder, who missed a significant number of games, and Jake Long, who probably should be placed on injured reserve. The reality of the game is that everyone else on the roster is only one play away from the IR list, too. 

Through 10 games this year, all 32 NFL teams combined have placed 311 players on injured reserve.  That means that on average each team is placing one player on injured reserve each week.  As bad as the injury bug has hurt the Fins this year, they are still slightly below the league average of season-ending injuries.  The problem has gotten so bad that teams are having great difficulty finding decent players to sign to take the place of those going on IR.  If the NFL goes to an 18-game regular season schedule, it will only get worse. 

The reality is the IR numbers are not going to motivate the owners to vote down an 18-game schedule, the only numbers they care about are the ones which come after dollar signs.  The player’s agents likewise won’t be heard to complain because they want to get their percentage-based fees on the higher salaries that are anticipated to come with a longer season schedule.  The players, the one’s who will physically suffer from the increased number of injuries that will directly result from a longer season, will no doubt be motivated by larger salaries and overlook that they will pay for those larger salaries with their bodies.  Few if any players consider the long-term effect on their lives.  Few if any will consider the adverse effect a longer season will have on the overall length of their careers. 

The average career of an NFL player is already quite short, the NFL Players’ Association reporting it to be a mere 3½ years.  Extending the season to 18 games would likely further reduce that frighteningly small average.  If that’s the case, then the average player may simply not be around enough years to recoup the salary loss resulting from a career shortened by an extended season.  Stated otherwise, if the extended season cuts the average career by one year and increases the annual salary by 10%, then only players lasting over a decade (which is far below the average when playing only a 16-game season) would end up with more money when all was said and done. 

Notwithstanding the toll the extended season will take on the players, it is almost assuredly going to arrive for the 2011 season.  This is solely due to the dollars involved, which of course is the American way of things, thus proving that Pro Football really has become America’s Game.  Still, this ain’t golf, so the question remains:  Why should they play 18?

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