On the Contrary: In Defense of the NFL Preseason
“I love the preseason. Give me more!” –Mike Tomlin, Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers
Far be it for me to disagree with the youngest Head Coach to ever win a Super Bowl. The NFL Preseason is unfairly maligned. It’s a great system that eases both the players and the fans into what is by far the most intense sporting season in North America. People argue that the long August of “meaningless” games is wasteful, but I find myself taking the old man stance of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
For football outsiders (a classification I would have used to describe myself a few years ago), the NFL runs a regular season of 16 weekly games. Before that season starts, however, the teams play a month of 4 preseason exhibition games that have no meaning to a team’s record and are strictly to get the teams ready for the games that matter. They’re like the previews for a Broadway show—they get the production on its feet in front of a crowd but leave room for changes and improvements before things get real.
Now many football fans complain that 4 preseason games are far too many, and the suggestion has been made (and probably will soon be carried out) to swap two preseason games for regular season games (shortening the preseason to 2 games and extending the regular season to 18). This is all about money, since regular season games almost always sell out and attract huge television audiences while only slavish fans tune in to the preseason games (which usually only feature the superstar players in the game for a few minutes).
I suppose I understand the money, but really it’s the only reason that makes sense for changing the system. Despite all arguments to the contrary, the preseason is beneficial to the players. Going back to the Broadway analogy, imagine if a major show only had a handful of previews before it premiered for critics. Or if a rock band that hadn’t played together for months added new members and then just launched into a tour with only two rehearsals. These professional athletes need these games to get ready for what is the most brutal and dangerous of professional team sports. Some argue that players are just as likely to be injured in the preseason as the regular, but this doesn’t make much sense. It’s true that players are often hurt and sometimes miss an entire year of playing. But preseason is only played at about half speed and intensity, so players that are injured then would almost certainly be injured far worse in a regular season game.
People just don’t want to wait for anything anymore. We’ve become a bunch of children who want our candy now. Right NOW! We’re an instant gratification society. We get inaccurate news because we can’t wait for the reporters to do the necessary research to verify sources and facts. We get salmonella from our eggs because we don’t want to wait for them to cook fully. We want the NFL to put out an inferior product of teams that are not yet ready to play just so we have an interesting sport to watch during the Dog Days of summer (sorry baseball). Football should not start before Labor Day. People are still going on vacation in August, the temperatures are too high, and kids are still out of school. Big games in August would draw crowds, but they wouldn’t have the focus that they do when vacation is over and the kids are back in class. People can wait, and if television ratings are any indication, the waiting doesn’t dilute their excitement for the real season when it does start. The powers that be haven’t yet moved up the date for Christmas, and people still seem to enjoy it. We can wait through one measly month of exhibition football before the big, brutal games begin.
Of course, for now the waiting is over.
Happy Football Season Everybody!
Photo Credit: betizuka