As part of an ongoing series from SI and Wired imagining the next 50 years of football, SI's experts predict how the NFL will change
We assembled six of our finest football minds for a roundtable—senior writers Greg Bishop, Michael Rosenberg and Jenny Vrentas, staff writer Emily Kaplan, deputy managing editor L. Jon Wertheim and SI.com special projects editor Ben Eagle.
SI: Let's start with this: Who will be playing football in 2066?
L. Jon Wertheim: The demographics are going to shift. Think of it like boxing. The sport still exists, but the athletes come from a much narrower band of the population than they did a half century ago.
January 25, 2016
Michael Rosenberg: I don't think the public is quite as addicted to the violence as people think. The most popular players are quarterbacks—the guys who never hit anybody. But through some combination of safer equipment and rule changes, the game has to become safer, if not actually safe.
Emily Kaplan: Just as the league eyes international expansion, scouts will broaden their scope. I think we are not far off from seeing the NFL tapping into South America, Asia, Africa—every continent—for talent.
Ben Eagle: If you're a top athlete in 2066, why would you play football? Basketball and soccer are considerably safer and, at present, more lucrative.
Greg Bishop: I think some of this comes down to how soon they can get a test for CTE for the living. Then the question is, Would players take that test? Would they want to know if they had brain damage? The more information they have, the more I think some of them—most?—will stop playing.
Jenny Vrentas: I think the physical attributes of football players 50 years down the line will depend on how the game evolves in terms of player safety. Rule changes may de-emphasize attributes like being able to plow through other players. In an unlikely, extreme case, we'd see the game morph into a seven-on-seven format that emphasizes skill and speed.
SI: Let's talk about the play on the field—I want predictions on weird little changes we may see.
Wertheim: Simply for the anachronistic value, I'd want to keep first-down chains and the coin toss. Innovations in media, technology, safety, etc., will be brought to bear. Official challenges will be resolved more quickly. And more pylon cams. Those are great.
Bishop: Players on the field will be able to see those yellow lines you see on TV, through holograms. The position of fullback will no longer exist. And reporters will be banned from the stadium, unless they work for Derek Jeter or for the team.
Rosenberg: I'm curious about the pace of the game. There is such a clear strategic advantage to speeding it up, and one could argue that would make for a more entertaining product, but the two biggest issues facing the game now are probably player safety and officiating, and speeding up the game is a detriment to both.
Vrentas: I'd assume fans will be watching games as if they were on the field, via virtual reality. Concussions will be diagnosed on the sideline with the speed and reliability of a rapid strep test. And there will be no judgment calls about whether a player made a first down or crossed the goal line—there will be technology for that.
Eagle: By 2066 we'll ensure that every halftime show will feature a monkey riding a dog.
You can see an expanded version of this roundtable and other articles exploring the future of football in our Super Bowl 100 series, presented by Gatorade and Microsoft Surface, at SI.com/sb100 and Wired.com/sb100