Scheduling …

The Super Bowl is over; the KC Chiefs have already held their championship parade; the 2019 season is history.  That does not mean, however, that the NFL has entered a dark zone in terms of sports news.  Two issues related to scheduling are simmering this morning demonstrating that the NFL is never “out-of-season”.  The first issue deals with reports that the NFL and the NFLPA are still wrestling with the idea of a 17-game season as part of the new CBA they will have to forge before the end of next season.

Some players – such as Richard Sherman – do not like the 17-game season idea at all and Sherman says it is merely a cover for the league because the owners really want an 18-game schedule but they know they can’t sell that idea in this round of bargaining.  The basis for the players’ objection is fundamental:

  • NFL games effect significant wear and tear on the bodies of the participants.

The competing argument is purely monetary:

  • An added week of games puts more product on the airwaves meaning an increase in league revenues which are then applied to the salary cap calculation meaning total player compensation goes up.

I think the league is being a tad disingenuous as it tries to frame this issue in this way because I think there is another wrinkle to this scheme that goes beyond “more money in exchange for morel wear and tear on players’ bodies”.  Maybe I am “seeing ghosts” here – as did Sam Darnold earlier this season.  I think the owners see a way to increase the value of their franchises which is a boon to them and of no value to the players.  And it is rooted in the unassailable fact that “17” is an odd number of games.  Hear me out…

There is a home field advantage for teams.  Last year, home teams were 132-123-1; that is not an overwhelming edge, but it is a small edge.  When the season has an even number of games, each team has the same number of home games as they do away games; that cannot happen with an odd number of games.  Therefore, the league had to come up with a way to balance the schedule if they wanted to pursue a 17-game season and here is the solution:

  • Each team would play 8 home games and 8 away games and 1 game at a neutral site.

That “neutral site game” is not a plus for the players; in fact, from their perspective, a neutral site game is an away game where they are away from home and family. However, the “neutral site game” has value for the owners:

  • Attendance is likely to be strong if only for the novelty of the spectacle.
  • Strong attendance MIGHT lead to local efforts to try to acquire a franchise by offering a new stadium at taxpayer expense with an attractive lease offer.
  • Creating demand for franchises outside the geographical limits of the current footprint would increase franchise value.

I have exactly no evidence that this sort of thought process is in motion inside those CBA negotiations, but I’d be surprised if none of the billionaires who own the NFL teams hasn’t had that concept float through his/her mind.

Tangentially related to that scheduling issue is a league announcement yesterday that the Jacksonville Jaguars would be playing two home games on consecutive weeks at Wembley stadium in London.  That would be the first time that any NFL team has played two games – of any designation – outside the “lower 48” in a single season.  But it is more than that; these are two of the Jags’ home games that will take place in London.

It is not a secret that the Jags do not draw huge crowds at home; last year, the Jags ranked 22nd in the league in home attendance.  Now before someone points out that the Jags were not a good team in 2019 and that could explain the relatively poor attendance, consider that three of the top five teams in home attendance had less than sterling records in 2019:

  • Jets – – 2nd in home attendance (78,523 per game) – – record was 7-9
  • Broncos – – 4th in home attendance (75,937 peer game) – – record was 7-9
  • Giants – – 5th in home attendance (74,664 per game) – – record was 4-12
  • Jaguars – – 22nd in home attendance (63,085 per game) – – record was 6-10

The Jags’ owners proclaim loudly that they are committed to keeping the team In Jax and have no intention of moving the team anywhere – – let alone London.  The fact that the Jags’ owner also owns the Fulham Football Club that plays in the English Championship League (one level below the Premier League and currently in position for promotion to the Premier League next year) has to make some fans in Jax “slightly on edge”.  Petitions to protest this scheduling decision have already begun – not that they are going to change any already made-up minds – and I think that poses a danger to the league.  Jax may not have tons of fans or the most passionate fans in the league, but this decision is a slap in the face to the fanbase that the team does enjoy.

Recall what I said above regarding games played on neutral sites – such as London Games.  They are actually “away games” for players on both teams.  In 2020, the Jags will play 6 real home games and 10 real away games including a two-week road trip where the team does not come home for family time during the intervening week.  Does that sound like a great selling point for free agents?

Finally, after Ben Simmons criticized the team as “soft” after a recent loss, this is the headline on the story in The Onion:

“Embarrassed Ben Simmons Retracts Criticism Of Sixers After Remembering He On Team”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………