Column: The expanded playoffs isn’t even the worst part of the proposed new NFL CBA

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The new expansion has received a lot of mixed reactions from players and fans. But overall the feelings revolving around a playoff expansion and 17-game season have been negative from both.  Photo by Bebeto Matthews/AP.

The new expansion has received a lot of mixed reactions from players and fans. But overall the feelings revolving around a playoff expansion and 17-game season have been negative from both. Photo by Bebeto Matthews/AP.

In November, I wrote a column on how the NBA should make their playoffs smaller. A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about how the rumored MLB playoffs expansion was a terrible idea for the sport. Now, with the NFL in the voting process for a new collective bargaining agreement that would include an expanded playoff, I bet you can guess where I stand. 

I firmly believe that across all sports, larger playoffs will do far more harm than good. We see it in the NBA right now where, at the time of writing, the Memphis Grizzlies are the No. 8 seed in the West at 28-28 and are not being seriously challenged by anyone. 

It’s even worse in the East, where after the top six teams the drop-off is drastic, with the 26-29 Brooklyn Nets having the No. 7 seed and the 24-32 Orlando Magic having the No. 8 seed. The fact that a team is eight games under .500 and currently in playoff positioning is absurd. 

In the MLB, when the rumored playoffs expansion hit the public, people immediately revealed that if that system was in effect, .500 and below .500 teams would have made the playoffs in recent years more often than not. 

Essentially, I believe not all good teams have to make the playoffs if that means some average or even flat out bad teams will as well. If the NBA cut their playoffs down to six teams in each conference, it would (if the playoffs ended today) exclude the Nets and Magic in the east – two teams that are under .500 – and the Grizzlies and the Mavericks in the West.  

Sure, the Mavs would be missing the playoffs despite being 11 games over .500, but frankly, oh well, because they still had a worse season than six of the 14 other teams in their conference. You shouldn’t just have to be good, you should have to be one of the best, and you certainly shouldn’t have to just be average. 

The regular season should matter, and that goes for the NFL as well. If the playoff expansion was in place last season, it would have put the 9-7 Los Angeles Rams and the 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs.  

The Rams had a season filled with mediocre quarterback play from a top-paid signal-caller and a defense that after being one of the top units in 2018 regressed to be nothing more than average – like their quarterback. As for the Steelers, they burned through three quarterbacks and finished the season on a three-game losing skid that included losses to the New York Jets and second-string Baltimore Ravens. But go ahead, keep trying to tell me both of those teams are playoff-worthy. 

But that’s not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this proposed CBA. 

There’s the issue of the 17-game season. With all the talk about player safety, how does adding an extra game to the season do anything to protect them? The only thing it does is line the owners’ pockets by exploiting the players for another game. 

NFL stars have already taken to Twitter to express their opinions on the proposal, with Houston Texans star and former Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner J.J. Watt tweeting “Hard no on that proposed CBA,” and San Francisco 49ers veteran cornerback Richard Sherman quoting Watt, tweeting “Leadership! I am with you!  Please communicate with your team rep.” 

Current and former stars like Tyler Lockett, David Bakhtiari, Eric Weddle, Michael Thomas and others also spoke out on Twitter against it. The most adamant though was nine-year NFL veteran and current Los Angeles Chargers offensive lineman Russell Okung. 

Like Sherman, Okung is a representative of the NFLPA executive committee, and he hasn’t held back with his opinions on the proposal. 

“While the @NFL is laughably trying to sell 17 games for a profit, how about we discuss how 16 and less games played out for generations of players?” Okung tweeted to start a thread referencing the large issue of concussions and their everlasting effects on players long after they’ve retired.  

“We’re talking about the NFL ignoring, downplaying and gaslighting families about the risks of brain trauma, even with clear scientific evidence, up until ’09,” Okung tweeted. “Context: In 1937, the AFCA already asked players to be removed from games post-concussion!” 

He attached a link to an article detailing the history of the NFL’s history in dealing with concussions and head injuries and followed it up with one last tweet to conclude the 10-tweet thread.  

“We are talking about justice that has been delayed for a long time. And we are still waiting… now let’s parade about 17 games,” Okung posted. 

Now, in case you’re thinking that the players will at least get compensated by the form of an increased salary, well you’re right! Sort of. I’ll let former NFL offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger explain: 

“NFL promotes ‘player safety’ … but players should risk brain & body for a max of $250K for a 17th game?” Ohrnberger tweeted. “Ok … sure … owners should only make $250K as well, the rest of the profits should go toward lifetime health care for the players and the of funding post career benefits.” 

That’s right, a max of $250,000 for the extra game. Why would anyone making more than that amount per game agree to that? Oh, and if you make fewer than $250,000 per game, you’ll get that for game No. 17 as well, not the full total. 

Why should they have to risk their health and safety at a minimal benefit to them and significant benefit to the owners? 

I can already read the emails now. 

“$250,000 is a lot of money!” 

“What’s one more game going to do?” 

“The players CHOOSE to play football, if they get hurt, it’s their fault!” 

Well, sure, it is a lot of money. But some of these athletes are averaging millions of dollars per game, so for them it’s not. Now, if you want to argue the economics of sports and that player’s contracts are way too inflated go right ahead, but I disagree. Sports is a lucrative business, and the players deserve to be compensated proportionally to what they earn by playing. 

$250,000 is not a lot of money to a lot of professional athletes, and it’s certainly not worth risking injury over when they get paid significantly more every other time they step on the field. 

All it takes is one play, one hit or one blow, to change someone’s life forever. One play ended the careers of stars like Bo Jackson, Joe Theismann, Gale Sayers and so many others. If the regular season expands, it’s inevitable that multiple such injuries occur in and because of game No. 17. 

And yes, NFL players do choose to play the sport. But that doesn’t mean we should treat them like gladiators for our own personal amusement. 

From the fans’ perspective, sure, it would be fun to have an extra game on the regular-season schedule and two extra ones on Wild Card weekend, but not if it comes at the price of the players’ safety. Football is probably the most grueling and intense major sport in the world. We’ve seen superstars like Andrew Luck, Rob Gronkowski and Luke Kuechly retire in their prime because of the toll the game has taken on their bodies. The extra game is simply not worth it. 

What are 17 games going to tell you about a team that 16 can’t? 

The NFL needs to be doing more to protect its players, not less. You could make a legitimate argument that they shouldn’t be making the regular season longer, they should be making it shorter, and I honestly would be just fine with that. 

The expanded playoffs part of the proposal is dumb, but the 17 game season is irresponsible. It shows a complete lack of care for the players that make the sport possible, proving that the people in charge only view them as money-making machines and not human beings. 

To quote the oldest of the three Watt brothers, hard no on that proposed CBA. 


Jorge Eckardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at Jorge.eckardt@uconn.edu. He tweets @jorge_eckardt31.

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