This would be a no-brainer if it weren't for the fact that this a physically brutal sport played by human beings. From the NY Times:
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said Tuesday that he had pondered the idea of curtailing the preseason because of the injuries players sustain in meaningless games, but that he did not want to see them replaced by regular-season games.
“We’re not automobiles; we’re not machines; we’re humans,” Lewis said in Baltimore. “After the first three, four months, your body feels a certain way. You’ve got to ask yourself how many people are truly healthy in 18 games. I just think it’s a lot of football. I think if fans understood what we actually go through to play in December and January, I think a lot more people would fight with us. I don’t think it’s knowledgeable to make us play 18 games. It’s rough.”I understand; my joints hurt just thinking about it.
Pre-season football is sometimes called exhibition football. To me, every game is an exhibition, whether it has some sort of competitive meaning or not. After all, I have no stake in who wins (unless I have a wager that depends on it). Why else would the owners want to extend the season by 2 games or, for that matter, play a "regular" season at all. Just start with the playoffs; every team is in. The primary purpose of professional sports is entertainment, period. Who could argue with that? And the demand for that entertainment is higher than the current supply. 18 games, 20 games, 24 games? The public wants more. The owners want more. So how will the players survive?
Let me propose more games but less actual playing. There is so little game playing already that it certainly could be reduced even further without affecting fan interest. The game, in and of itself, no longer seems to matter a whole lot anyway except as a catalyst for hype, analysis, and melodrama. There just needs to be enough of a sports kernel to fuel the process, like a few ounces of enriched uranium to fuel a nuclear power plant.
According to the Wall Street Journal, only 9.4 percent of an NFL game, excluding commercials, is actual playing time. What if that were reduced to compensate for the longer season? Would that be a fair compromise? Make up for extending the season by 2 games, or 12.5%, by extending the play clock from 40 seconds to 50 seconds, or 25%. The networks will have no problem filling that gap. A shot of Brett Favre breathing should be satisfactory.