Commentary: NFL monetary gains net traditional pains

The NFL I know and love made a return this past Sunday in the Super Bowl. Defense ruled supreme over offense, and smashmouth football took control against the best statistical attack in league history. Traditional football won, and it won big.

But all of that is likely going to come to an end and as usual, the culprit resides in the pockets of some of the richest people in the entire country-NFL owners.

This past week, the NFL signed a deal with CBS to broadcast more Thursday night games in 2014, as well as a new production: Saturday night football. The shift to Saturday night is another move in a laundry list of questionable decisions the NFL has made in the name of financial gain.

I’m not naive. I’m aware that the point of running a business is to make money. But the NFL has so many billions of dollars that the pursuit of more dinero at the expense of the on-field product is rather ridiculous. The NFL has already run the record books ragged by changing the way defenses can play so that offenses have more free space. The move to Saturday night-which, by the way, is reserved for college football, a sport that is even more popular than the NFL in many parts of the country- further dilutes the product by offering what was once a bi-weekly occurence a mind-boggling four and sometimes five days per week. The money will flow from the TV deal to be sure, but at what cost to the fans and to the integrity of the most popular sport in America?

There’s a reason scouts tout college football players as guys who “could play on Sundays down the road.” Sunday is a sacred day in the eyes of football fans. It’s the one day a week where you can sit down and enjoy some good, oldfashioned football. It’s tradition. It’s how it’s always been. If my Redskins play on Saturday night, I’m going to really be missing out on that feeling of being able to watch on a nice Sunday afternoon.

Saturday night games are the most recent change, but there are more changes coming that could radically alter the NFL and ruin the product even more.

For one, the NFL is considering ending kickoffs and extra points. Special teams always seems to take a backseat to offense and defense but it’s an incredibly important part of the game. Kickoffs can be returned for touchdowns and always determine field position, an often forgotten part of the game. Extra points, while almost automatic, keep the idea of a two-point conversion in play and change the game completely if missed.

That’s not even the worst change. According to seemingly every report that is coming out, the NFL will be playing an 18-game season within a few years. Worse still is the very likely possibility of playoff expansion.

In its recent power play, the NFL is telling fans that money is more important than tradition. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is the face of these changes, so he’s the man who almost always gets the brunt of the backlash from fans. But it’s not Goodell’s fault; the owners run the league, not him. He does what the owners tell him to do. But it’s still up to Goodell to try and stymie some of the change. If the NFL goes through with any of the proposed changes, it could lose fans.

The league operates under the illusion that there will always be people who watch football. But this simply is not true. Football is special for a very specific reason: there’s never too much of a good thing. There are 16 games per team, per year, compared to the 82 games in the NBA or NHL and the 162 in MLB. This “lack” of games means every week is an event because every week is important. The difference between 45 and 40 wins in basketball is miniscule compared to the difference between 11 and six wins in football.

Expanding to 18 games makes each game mean less, and expanding the playoff bracket makes it even worse. If there are more games, and it’s easier to make the playoffs in addition, there’s no reason to think the NFL will remain special.

The NFL has the advantage of knowing that money will come no matter what. Being the most popular sport in America is a dangerous privilege, and the NFL is starting to abuse that privilege by taking the fans for granted. There may be no way to stop it, so learn to love the NFL as it is because there’s a chance you’ll never experience it like this again.