Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Keep the NFL Regular Season the Way It Is

By Anthony Brancato

There is more to the debate over whether to lengthen the NFL regular season from the current 16 games to 18 — while commensurately shortening the exhibition; excuse me, preseason, from four games to two — than meets the eye.

What needs to be focused on is not the number games in a season — but rather, the number of plays in a season. This key distinction debunks the myth that the 18-game schedule will lead to more injuries — the main argument of those opposed to the change.

Anyone who regularly clicks on a link to the play-by-play of any game at the NFL's website will see notes like "GB-12-A. Rodgers was injured during the play." But one will never see "GB-12-A. Rodgers was injured on the sideline."

During the 2016 regular season, there were 32,733 scrimmage plays. That comes out to an average of 1,023 per team, rounded to the nearest whole number, which doubled, yields a total of 2,046, representing both offensive and defensive plays for each team.

During the 2015 regular season, there were 32,973 scrimmage plays, or 2,061 per team, while in 2014 there were 32,779 scrimmage plays, or 2,049 per team, and in 2013, 33,302, or 2,081 per team.

What if the number of plays in a season did not increase, even if the number of games did? And how would you bring that situation about?

The simplest way, of course, is to shorten the quarters, currently of 15 minutes duration. In order to shorten them by the right amount to cancel out the two additional games, the periods would need to become something like 13 minutes and 20 seconds long. Besides, everyone would see right through that.

A far more practical way would be to keep the clock running following incomplete passes, and during point-after-touchdown tries.

And it's not as if the NFL hasn't revised its timing rules before: One of Paul Tagliabue's first acts as commissioner was to lobby the owners for, and obtain, a change that kept the clock running after a player ran out of bounds following a completed pass or running play, when the clock had heretofore been stopped in these situations until the ball was next snapped, except in the last two minutes of the first half, and the last five minutes of the game, so as not to make it any more difficult for an offense to score at these times than it had been before (the same exception would presumably apply under this proposal for incomplete passes and PATs).

In addition to the desired effect of reducing the number of plays per game, this means that a late-time-slot game would generally start at 4:00 PM (Eastern time), as opposed to the awkward starting time of 4:25 PM (pushed back again, from 4:15 PM, beginning in 2011), and the late game would nearly always be over by 7:00 PM, eliminating the dilemma FOX and CBS face of whether to push back their regularly-scheduled Sunday evening programming, or join their first such program "in progress, except on the West Coast" (indeed, this is why Tagliabue, no doubt at the urging of the networks, sought the aforementioned change; but since then the game has evolved in ways that have made games take even longer to complete).

No one wants to see NFL players get injured any more often than they already do — and that doesn't have to happen, even with two more regular-season games, if the parties involved are creative enough.

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