Former Bears coach Mike Ditka is never one to hold back his opinions on football, and the current NFL owners proposal to have an 18-game season is no exception. Here's what "Da Coach" said on the topic:
"I’m not for an 18-game season," Ditka said on ESPN’s Outside the Lines. "If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. And the only thing it’s about is money."
Ditka was appearing on a panel discussing the suicide of his former player, Dave Duerson, and whether it could have been tied to depression stemming from brain damage suffered on the field. Ditka said that he can’t square NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s desire for two more regular season weeks with the league’s claims that it’s serious about player safety.
"It doesn’t make any sense," Ditka said. "You’re going to have to increase the roster, you’re going to have to account for injuries."
Of course, Ditka is right. What else would it be about besides money? That's always been what's driven NFL football to be the most popular professional sport in America, whether it be TV money, the dollars the players get, the dollars the advertisers spend, or the dollars legally wagered on it. Adding two regular season games would also please season ticket holders, who now have to pay regular season prices for what amount to scrimmages. That's really not fair to those people, either.
Especially in the wake of the suicide of Dave Duerson, which has called further attention to brain injuries in the NFL, Ditka is also correct in stating that you'd wind up with more injuries with more games played at full speed, and that the league would have to do something in return to help assure player safety.
There is one thing that might work, and Ditka hinted at it in his ESPN comments. "Increase the roster," he said. Well, why not do that -- say, add 8-10 players who could be active, and make a rule that you'd have an 18-game season, but no player could be active for more than 16 games?
That way, the league would be stating that it isn't asking its players to take any risks further than they take now by playing in 16 games that count. It would create more NFL jobs, as you'd have to have many more players who would play in actual games. Players now signed to practice squads would have to train as if they'd be playing, because they actually would. It would require teams to have a legitimate backup quarterback who would start a minimum of two games -- no more stashing a Todd Collins, for example, a guy you really don't want in games anyway. It would require strategy on the part of coaches to decide which games star players would be inactive for. It would vastly increase discussion among football fans about who should be inactive and when.
Sounds like a huge win-win to me. Roger Goodell appears adamant about his 18-game demand; under the current rules there's no way the players are going to accept that and that's one of the factors (obviously, not the only one) that could lead to a lockout and a zero-game season in 2011.
Why not try it? It might make football more fun to dissect and follow; it wouldn't increase risk for any individual player, and it would create more NFL jobs. It's a bit off-the-wall... but it just might work.