COMMENTARY: NFL Preseason Should Be Shortened
Charles E. Sutton | 7/27/2014, 9:31 p.m.
It's that time of year again. All 32 NFL teams have officially begun training camp and the Hall of Fame Game, the league's first preseason contest, is less than a week away.
Over the next month, teams will be practicing and scrimmaging in midsummer heat. They will test the physical limitations of their bodies while experiencing heat indices that may exceed 100 degrees. Most practices are held outdoors, and it is not uncommon for afternoon sessions to take place in scorching heat.
I understand the importance of NFL players being physically fit. But, when the thermometer reaches triple digits, I believe practice should be moved indoors or postponed. Instilling toughness and grit into players should not come at the expense of putting the players' health at risk.
But that's an issue for another day. My current safety gripe with the league is the number of preseason games. Is four an appropriate amount? Should there be more? Fewer?
Most NFL executives will tell you that four games are needed to properly evaluate a team's talent. Many players believe that talent evaluation can be done in three games, while some fans say as few as two.
In my humble opinion, the magic number is three. Every NFL team has front office brass and a coaching staff that is supposedly full of individuals who recognize quality talent. A good talent evaluator should need no more than three preseason games to get his team ready for the regular season.
Within the context of the preseason, the first game is designed for staff to get a look at rookies, including low-round draft picks and undrafted players. The objective of Game 2 is to evaluate recent free-agent signings and backup players. Game 3 is when you take a long look at your veterans and projected starters. And then there's Game 4, which, quite frankly, is unnecessary.
Let's tell it like it is: The fourth preseason contest is played for one reason and one reason only, and that's to make more money for the league. The NFL is a business. Whenever there's an opportunity for the league to earn money, it doesn't hesitate to capitalize on it.
Preseason games generate millions of dollars for America's most popular professional sport, and there's simply no way the NFL will shut down such a lucrative profit source. The fourth preseason game has little, if any, effect on team preparation for the regular season.
But fans certainly aren't going to complain about the number of games. If anything, America's sports-crazed culture is asking for even more football. Currently, each team is playing a total of 20 games per year. Playing more games per year would be irresponsible because it would disproportionately increase the players' risk of injury.
But I'm not suggesting that we not play the fourth preseason game. I'm saying that we should convert it to a regular season game. That would give us 3 preseason games and 17 regular season games which would still keep us at the current number of 20 total games. That way, we would have one more meaningful game and one less preseason game.
I've been following the NFL for decades. It's a violent sport with high-impact collisions. The last thing the league needs is more games. The wise course of action is to make the games that are played actually mean something. Turn Preseason Game No. 4 into Regular Season Game No. 1. No additional wear and tear on the players and the fans get one more regular season contest. Issue resolved, and everyone's happy.