Note to owners: Don't sell out the integrity of the game for a few more bucks

Ron Borges

"For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows’’ – 1 Timothy, 6:10.

For many the Bible is the ultimate playbook. Not so those who run the business of professional football these days it seems.

That the blind quest for money is the root of all evil is a Biblical warning from Coach Tim that has proven more accurate than Tom Brady. It can lead you to abandon your principles, pervert your product and destroy your business and yourself.

Too often of late, it seems commissioner Roger Goodell’s quest to fulfill an unwise promise made to his bosses a few years back continues to hurtle the NFL in such a perilous direction.

From the day Goodell announced his goal was to drive yearly NFL revenues to an unheard-of $25 billion a season it seems more and more as if the keepers of America’s greatest game have lost their way. Ratings are down, attendance in some cities is down, participation by kids in the game -- which is the lifeblood of the sport’s future -- is down. Yet league leadership continues to make decisions or float ideas that cause the game to drift further and further away from what made it great in the first place.

The latest such talk is the owners’ efforts to get to an 18-game schedule, something the players don’t want and some polls indicate fans don’t either. Trading two pre-season games for two more regular season ones will never convince the players it’s not an added health risk because most of the real players seldom play in the pre-season.

It’s fake news to argue anything else.

Now word has leaked out that the owners have come up with a new “idea’’ to get those 18 games, and, frankly, it is as bad for the game as the rule changes that have strip-mined defense out of football.

The proposal is simple. The owners now say “How about 18 games, but you only have to play in 16 of them?’’ In a nutshell that means several times a year you will not do what coaches spend a lifetime dedicating their lives to. It means twice a year your team won’t be doing what’s in the best interest of winning.

No longer would your team put its best players on the field. If you’re a Patriots' fan, for example, do you really want to see a healthy Tom Brady in street clothes while Brian Hoyer takes the snaps?

If you live in Chicago, do you really want to see Khalil Mack sunning himself in Aruba instead of pursuing quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers with his usual relentless fanaticism because it’s his week off?

Worst of all, what are you telling your fans about the legitimacy of the competition if the best players are not on the field because it’s their time for a long weekend?

The financial reasons behind the owners’ obsession with 18 games was made clear in a recent Wall Street Journal piece that contended two more regular-season games are worth an estimated $2.5 BILLION in revenue, upping the get to $17.5 BILLION, if it were to be implemented next season (which, thankfully, it can not).

The players' union estimates that would mean an added $15 million per team to the salary cap, meaning higher pay for players. But at what cost does inching league revenues closer to the promise Goodell made that by 2027 it would hit $25 billion in yearly income?

The cost would be the very integrity of the games. Lose that and what do you have? Wrestling in shoulder pads.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has said, “I don’t see an 18-game schedule – under any circumstances – being in the best interest of our players,’’ and he is right. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t be put in a position to accept such a proposal. It just means that unless the owners are ready to give players completely guaranteed contracts as in baseball and basketball they won’t agree to a longer regular season.

They know that if there is one thing owners are never going to concede it is making sure they have to fully honor the contracts they hand out.

The players’ union estimates that if the league went to 18 games, even in some modified “16 for 18’’ scenario, the average career would be shortened from the present 3.3 years to 2.8. As things stand today, a player must play three full seasons to be eligible for pension and retirement health benefits.

Go to 18, and the owners not only make more in the short term, they spend less in the long term. That’s a double win for them but not for players or fans.

The “16 for 18” idea is being floated because adding games adds to the risk of an already inherently dangerous sport. When you are regularly pounding the drum about your concern for player safety adding to their risk is hard to sell. So should be the idea of watering down the on-field product.

One suggestion to avoid that latter perception is that quarterbacks be made exempt from the “16 for 18” rule, meaning guys like Patrick Mahomes would be asked to play two games without their regular left tackle watching their backs or their center snapping them the ball.

Good luck selling that to the most valuable commodity in the game, the quarterbacks.

Under Article 3 of the collective bargaining agreement between players and owners, games cannot be added without the approval of the NFLPA. The union may withhold its approval “at the NFLPA’s sole discretion.’’ Hopefully, the players will hold the line on this and not sell out the integrity of the game for money.

There may be a way to add two more additional regular-season games that makes sense, but that path should not be one that leads to phony and inferior competition. Once you agree to that, you’ve sold your soul and sold out the fans and the thousands of great players and coaches who came before you and made pro football the most popular game in America.

Coach Tim knows what follows once you do that


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