Picture perfect: Why preseason football needs face lift

09/06/14 by Mike Catania

It seems like the NFL product is just about perfect.  It's the model professional sports league in the world. The model for modern era player free agency.  The first of the "big four" North American professional sports to install a salary cap to level the playing field between small market and big market teams and give every team a competitive chance each season.
And of course there's the pure marketing genius that is the NFL. The league pretty much writes it's own checks to the tune of billions of dollars through beyond lucrative television deals and marketing the brand world-wide to continue expanding the league's merchandise sales.  
Can the NFL do anything wrong?  In the eyes of many the one thing it does wrong is the preseason.

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In recent years making changes to the preseason has been a hot topic with those involved in the NFL and it's fans.  Commissioner Roger Goodell has suggested cutting the preseason down to two games and adding two games to the regular season schedule.  Some players don't like the preseason because technically they don't get paid for playing in preseason games and are risking injury.  Season ticket holders don't like the preseason because they have to buy games that have no meaning. 
Coaches really are the only ones who like preseason because it gives them the opportunity to scout their lesser known, back ups, which is what the preseason really is: glorified practice.
 In response to those who feel cutting the preseason in half would reduce injuries, I say this.  First that argument has no validity if the NFL adds on to the regular season schedule.  Starters may play four full quarters the entire preseason.  Most teams don't even dress their star players in the fourth preseason game.  But if you cut the preseason to add to the regular season, the entire "player safety" card is trumped. 
Taking away 2 games that starting players barely play in and adding two regular season games would greatly increase the risk of injury.  It would also increase the wear and tear on a players body and more than likely shorten careers.  In the preseason, if Peyton Manning has a sore elbow he can sit out.  But if his elbow is sore in a Week 17 division matchup, that option is gone.  The longer the season, the worse the beating a player takes.
Plus with preseason being mostly a dress rehearsal for starting players, cutting it in half takes that easiness, if you will, away.  With only 2 games, starting players will be playing the same or more preseason minutes in less games, hence increasing the wear and tear on their bodies, and increasing the risk for injury.  While major injuries do happen in preseason games, more of those injuries occur early on in training camp or practices before the actual season starts. 
Players could actually be more susceptible to injury with less preseason games because not easing their way into that "game action" is what leads to serious injury.  Players need to get their bodies ready and up to game speed...taking away those two "dress rehearsals" and throwing guys right into game action would put players more at risk to injury in my opinion. 
Look at some of the big names who were injured during  the 2014 preseason.  Rams QB Sam Bradford, who could probably tear his ACL getting off the toilet, was lost for the season in a preseason game.  Falcons LT Sam Baker (Sam must be a cursed name this preseason) was also lost for the season in an exhibition game.  But Cowboys LB Sean Lee and Cardinals DE Darnell Dockett both sustained season ending injuries in practices.  And every year it seems a handful of players sustain serious injuries the opening week of the season.  I would expect that number to increase if the preseason is cut to two games, again, due to the lack of prep time for players getting their bodies up to game speed.
So what's the solution?  
Obviously it's not that there needs to be more exhibition games.  I think the NFL would be best with three preseason games.  One at home.  One away.  And one at a neutral site.  By doing it this way the players still get enough preseason action so the starters are ready for the season.  There is still enough time for rookies, undrafted free agents, and veterans battling for jobs and roster spots to show their worth.  And the fans win too because now they only have to pay for one exhibition game instead of two.
 But it also would be good to spread the NFL to cities in the USA that would never get to have an NFL team.  Play the games in small college stadiums.  Let cities bid on the games to make it a big deal in a smaller town.  When areas are struck by a natural disaster or a city has a cause, use the game to be a fundraiser.  More fans in more places get to see the NFL live.  And even if it is just preseason football, it would be a big deal and a big draw in places that would never have an NFL team of their own. 
That's my suggestion NFL.  But whether we like it or not, no matter what the NFL does with the preseason or regular season, let's be honest football fans, we're going to watch it anyway.  We're addicted to it.  We love professional football and the NFL knows it. 

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