Many years ago, the NFL, with the blessing of the NFLPA, implemented a six-game preseason schedule. At the time, most, if not all NFL teams viewed preseason games as both a necessary evil and as an ancillary means of generating more revenue.
The six-game preseason schedule was short-lived for two primary reasons. First and foremost, it was too long for players who accrued no games played under the NFLPA pension fund system for preseason games despite the increased risk of injury from playing additional minutes.
The six-game preseason was also far too long for increasingly anxious fans who were forced to endure the agony not only of watching sub-par players battle for jobs during much of the preseason but also of watching the money slowly drain from their pocket books. For, as owners looked to improve already generous revenue flows, they increasingly turned to the preseason to pad this cash flow, forcing fans to pay for preseason games as part of their season ticket packages--all with the NFL's blessing.
After several rounds of negotiation with the NFLPA, the NFL agreed to reduce the preseason schedule back to the theretofore established standard of four preseason games in exchange for what ultimately became the current seventeen-week format.
The NFL has long endeavored to make the NFL season longer to cash in on what has been a league-wide cash cow--game day revenue generated from ticket sales, concessions, parking, and, of course, the additional money that the league can ask in television and radio rights for additional weeks of play.
Everything has worked well for NFL owners and players, if less so for the players. For the owners, the money continues to pour in. Likewise for the players, though at the cost of playing games, while simultaneously enduring shorter rosters.
While owners and players make out, however, fans continue to be left in the lurch. Though fans truly have only themselves to blame for continuing to pony up for season tickets, thereby being forced to pay for preseason games for which most fans have little to no interest, the pilfering of fans on this front is not even the greatest of the larceny charges against the NFL regarding the preseason.
NFL patrons have the most right to feel aggrieved not for being required to pay for four meaningless games as part of their season-ticket package, but for having to pay for games that NFL teams have made even more irrelevant by refusing to play their starters for most of the game in any of the games. The final indignity is that most NFL teams now routinely use the final preseason game to play the fourth- and fifth-string players, resting the starters for the entire game.
That final indignity presumption assumes, of course, that there are no further indignities, which there are. In Minnesota, the further indignity includes having a head coach holding out all of his team's starters in the final preseason game under the guise of keeping to his vest his regular season plays.
The problem for the Minnesota Vikings, a problem evident in each of head coach Brad Childress' first two season in Minnesota, is not that opponents know the Vikings' best kept plays prior to the regular season, but that the Vikings' opponents have the book on a predictable offense. This year, the Vikings can add to that difficulty the fact that their offense is wholly out of sync in the preseason.
Old dogs, it is said, cannot be taught new tricks. As an old dog, the NFL has adapted reasonably well to a changing environment, often leading the change rather than being led by change. For all of its success, however, the NFL, like most institutions, needs an occasional face lift. For its part, the NFL usually recognizes its warts and takes action either to remove or hide the warts. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of all of the NFL's constituent parts.
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