09 August 2009

End Exhibitionism

Once again, the most wonderful time of the year is on the verge of arriving for fans of the National Football League. The NFL's exhibition games, euphemistically named "pre-season", have commenced with the annual kickoff at the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. Fans know that their teams' weekly contests and all the days pre-game speculation and post-game dissection are just around the corner. The sensation for football aficionados resembles that of children when the Christmas merchandise appears in stores. Unfortunately, the anticipation has been needlessly extended just like the retail outlets do by decorating immediately after Labor Day instead of after Thanksgiving Day.

Honestly, does anyone still cling to the antiquated notion that professional football players need four meaningless games in order to prepare themselves for the regular season slate of sixteen? Teams engage in mini-camps throughout the off-season. Plus, players voluntarily participate in drills with teammates during the spring and summer before the official opening of training camps. The days when most, if not all, players showed up to training camp in mid-summer noticeably overweight, stiff or, in any other way, indifferent of any football related matter since their teams' final game of the previous season have gone the way of the phonograph and black/white televisions.

Granted, most fans enjoy watching the first and possibly the second exhibition games. Those two provide an opportunity to view rookies selected in the draft and new additions to the team acquired via free agency or off-season trades. Few fans have access to the scrimmages conducted during training camp so the first exhibition game remains the initial viewing of the newcomers in their new uniforms. However, the novelty soon dissipates in the knowledge that any outstanding performances must be weighed against the half-hearted level of effort of veterans in the games and the irrelevancy of the final scores. The only drama for those fans who watch the final two exhibition games lies in the holding of their collective breath in hope that none of the starting players of his/her teams sustain any injuries preventing them from playing the the games that actually count in the standings.

Therefore, this writer proposes the elimination of the last two exhibition games. Undoubtedly, the owners and others who benefit financially from the staging of these meaningless contests will object. After all, NFL teams charge hefty prices for tickets to these glorified scrimmages which season-ticket holders cannot avoid since these exhibition games are included in their season ticket packages. Those who make their living based on attendance at the games such as vendors, employees at parking lots and others would hate to see two of their ten opportunities for sales to vanish. Obviously, some recompense must be offered to assuage the pain of withdrawal.

The solution will prevent the loss of revenue by those with a stake in upholding the number of games played at an NFL venue yet give the fans more of what they deserve: games that count in the standings. The final two exhibition games should be replaced with two more regular season non-conference games. Just as college football teams typically play two or more non-conference opponents at the start of a season, the NFL would benefit by such a structure of scheduling. The number of games a team would host would not change so there would be no loss of revenue. Fans would not feel cheated by paying to see as many inconsequential games as they do currently.

To further bolster the appeal of these two additional non-conference games, each team would have a list of annual opponents that would spark much interest among the fans to see the teams play every season despite not being in the same conference. Several match-ups of teams in the same state or otherwise within close proximity to each other stand out as obviously interesting contests. The high level of anticipation would exist regardless of the records of the teams entering the contests. Opponents in the same media markets such the Jets and the Giants in addition to the Raiders and the Forty-Niners would provide an outlet for the antipathy between both sets of fans on the field during a relevant game of the regular season. Intrastate matches such the Cowboys versus the Texans, the Buccaneers versus the Dolphins, the Redskins versus the Ravens, the Eagles versus the Steelers and the Rams versus the Chiefs certainly hold more allure in a regular season game even though these teams often play their in-state counterpart in exhibition contests. Even annual meetings between teams of states bordering each other like the Colts versus the Bears, the Lions versus the Browns, the Chargers versus the Cardinals and the Falcons versus the Jaguars could develop into heated rivalries with a traditional early season date against each other.

An extra financial benefit of scheduling these games with teams within a close distance of each other should appeal to owners as well as fans. The shorter distance between the city of visiting team and the home team's stadium will reduce travel costs. For some of these proposed annual contests, the visiting team could easily take buses to their opponent's stadium. A person does not need a Ph.D. in economics or management to realize the tremendous savings in the substitution of one or two short bus trips for several dozen adults instead of flying across timezones for a handful of trivial exhibition games. Also, visiting fans will be more likely to attend games if they can drive to the opponents' stadium and return home the day of the game.

So when will Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners of NFL franchises adjust to the current situation and abolish some of its needless games in favor of some that will draw much more attention from the fans? Hopefully, the change will occur sooner than the decades that passed before the NFL acknowledged the utility of the two-point conversion and implemented it.


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