As the 2011 lockout was coming to a conclusion, the owners made a series of concessions that cost them no money, at least not directly. Five years later, a real question has emerged regarding whether diminished practice time is resulting in a diminished product on Sundays (and Mondays, and now every Thursday) and, in turn, diminished ratings.
Plenty of coaches and General Managers insist that the reduction in practice time and intensity has harmed the sport, resulting in subpar offensive line play, poor fundamentals (like tackling), and bodies that aren’t “hardened” by fully-padded two-a-days and are more in-season practices in pads.
Others disagree, pointing to the immediate impact of a player like Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa as proof that full participation in the offseason program, training camp, and the preseason is overrated. Still, it’s one thing for a guy like Bosa to rush the quarterback; it’s another for a player to move in concert with other players, like offensive lineman and quarterbacks/pass-catchers do.
Last week, Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that the practice rules should be re-evaluated in conjunction with the next round of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. But Goodell prefaced those remarks but suggesting that everything is fine as it is.
“I just spoke to John Madden on Monday night for an hour,” Goodell said last Wednesday regarding the perception of reduced quality of offensive line play. “I had this conversation with him and actually made exactly the opposite point: That offensive line play looks better, and he agreed. And so I don’t see that. When you have either injuries or inconsistency on the front line, that’s a cohesive group, and when one person is missing that’s a difficult thing, and so that group does need time to gel. That often gets better as the season goes along.”
That wagon-circling/all-is-well mindset won’t help the NFL solve its current problems. The league needs to be honest with itself and everyone else (more importantly with itself) about the fact that fewer people are watching, or that the same people are watching less fervently.
Instead, the league seems to be tempted to adopt a position of inaction, hunkering down and treating the lost ratings points the same way Homer Simpson reacted to the first globs of hair that fell out of his head — by shrugging and saying, “Well, there’s still plenty more where those came from.”