Eric weighs in on longer football seasons

It’s the idea that just won’t die, the concept that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been pushing for years and one that has caused serious uproar amongst NFL owners, coaches, players and fans around the nation: the 18 game regular season.

Goodell brought it up before the 2011 labor agreement, mentioned trying it out in 2012 (which, of course, didn’t happen) and chattered about “reevaluating” the NFL season structure all throughout 2013.

He’s tried to shovel it out in various different formats: adjusting the season to start earlier and adding two games to the regular season; adding more games to the playoffs; eliminating two preseason games; and creating a warm weather Super Bowl.

In fact, the NFL announced last May that it was planning to move its annual draft to May, a sign that many viewed that Goodell and company were really going to shake up the schedule structure.

Naturally, people on both sides are howling for Goodell’s blood: players have fought tooth and nail against a longer season. Football is a uniquely rough sport and injuries, including concussions, can end careers in a single play.

However, team owners are pushing for longer seasons and expanded postseasons as a way to bring in more revenue for the team, host cities, and to create more playoff opportunities.

So, where do I stand on this controversial issue? Anybody who has read my columns knows that I try to maintain a fair and balanced view, presenting both sides positives and negatives before making a decision.

Let’s start with the players concerns: safety and wear and tear on the body.

Old school fans constantly grunt about the “wussification” of the game brought about by increased safety rules. These rules have been added to cut down on injuries and eliminate concussions.

“Bart Starr didn’t worry ’bout no concussion!” many fans scream, unaware of the hundreds of ex-football players that suffered multiple concussions throughout their careers and the effects that it has had on their lives.

First, let’s define concussions. Concussions are literally brain damage that occurs when the head is rocked so hard that the brain literally slams against the side of the skull.

Anybody that has seen a power tackle in the NFL can imagine how easy it could be for a football player to sustain a concussion.

Concussions can cause a wide variety of problems including confusion, amnesia, headache, nausea, poor balance, slurred speech, sensitivity to light and even unconsciousness. These symptoms are temporary as the brain will heal after the concussion.

However, if a player continues to play with a concussion (or experiences multiple concussions in a career) it can cause permanent and irreversible brain damage.

Remember Paul Oliver, the former NFL player that committed suicide? Doctors believe that his behavior changed due to the serious concussions he suffered throughout his life.

Many NFL players are suffering from early onset of dementia-like symptoms, often as young as 40 years old. Stories of players literally writing down their address each time they leave the house to remember where they live have illustrated the real dangers of concussion.

Any football player worth his grain of salt understands these dangers. Football players must accept the occupational hazards of the sport, just like a electric lineman must accept the hazards of working near electrical wires.

However, few people would argue that lineman are “wusses” because they wear safety harness or strap themselves to the pole. Are they “wimps” because they avoid moving power lines with their bare hands?

Of course not: the argument that football players have become “wimps” because they want to avoid game ending, career ending or even life ending brain damage or other bodily injuries is a logical fallacy that holds no water with me and never will.

The statistics speak for themselves: in 2012, NFL players had 1,496 severe injuries. These are injuries that require at least eight days of recovery or surgery.

This is the highest ever number of severe injuries in the league and if you factor in minor injuries 2012’s total injuries jumps up to 3,126.

These numbers are staggering. There are 32 teams in the NFL and 53 players per team for a total of 1,696 players.

That means that serious injuries affected all but 200 players in the NFL. This number is flawed, due to the fact that players such as punters, kickers and offensive lineman rarely suffer serious injuries.

Yes, football comes with a set of built-in occupational hazards, but these kinds of injury numbers are simply unacceptable and I believe that more games would only exasperate the problem.

Then again, its hard to completely condemn extra seasons without looking at the financial boost that games can bring to a town.

Let’s take an especial look at the amount of money that NFL playoff games can bring to a state, a city and a team.

An article in the Baltimore Sun broke down the numbers on the money Maryland made hosting two playoff games in 2013.

This article estimated that these playoff games brought a minimum of $20 million to the state and may have brought as much as $40 million.

It’s hard to accurately estimate the total numbers, as its hard to measure how much tourism the games brought to the area.

Let’s stick with ticket prices. Each ticket sold was subject to an admissions and amusement tax. This money was funneled into the Maryland Stadium Authority and to the city hosting the game.

It is estimated that each regular season game brought Maryland $400,000 that season while each playoff game earned nearly a million.

Just imagine that kind of money coming in to a city for two more games every year. Naturally, the number will vary, but a city that brings in even an extra $500,000 in revenue every year has a wider and deeper purse.

And that’s just for two extra regular season games. Expanding the playoffs means more teams get to play. That means more cities get to host playoffs. And that could bring in, at least, an extra million dollars to the state stadium authorities and the host city.

This number doesn’t even touch the tourist cash that would roll in during each game. After all, visiting fans have to spend money at restaurants, gas stations, hotels and shopping malls during their visit.

All told, the extra economic boost extra games could bring to the city numbers in hundreds of millions of dollars per game.

It’s obvious why city officials and team owners want those extra games: they bring extra cash to a wide group of people and economically benefits everyone.

Clearly, adding extra games to a season makes economic sense. And many people will likely argue that players aren’t actually going to be playing more games: the NFL will just eliminate two preseason games to make up the difference.

Let me ask you this question: have you ever seen a preseason game? They’re not exactly taken seriously by the league. For example, the Lions were undefeated in the preseason the year they went 0-16 in the regular season.

Preseason games are designed to warm up a team and get them ready for real games. As a result, they aren’t high-impact or heavily competitive.

Adding two extra season games would eliminate warm-up time and create two more high-impact games for players. Do you know why doctors always suggest using lighter exercise to warm up before serious exercise? It gets your body ready for more strenuous behavior and avoids injury.

And there lies my nagging concern about the extension of the season: the increased risk of injury. Yes, I know, these are grown men that know the risks and are paid oodles of money to essentially “play a game.”

I know things were different back in the day and Joe Montana never got “coddled” the way this eras big name quarterbacks do.

But the demand for extra games runs counter to an era when the dangers of concussions are well known and well documented. It runs counter to Goodell’s stated dedication to a safer NFL with less injuries and longer careers.

Yes, increased revenue is important for the league, the teams and the host cities. But, is it worth the damage it causes and has caused to thousands of players over the years? This writer thinks not.