For better or worse, a 17-game season is likely coming to the NFL sooner rather than later. As the NFL and the Players Association begin negotiations towards a new collective bargaining agreement, one of the main things NFL owners are going to want is a 17-game season.
While the players will surely be against it due to safety concerns, if they want more money and health insurance during retirement, they will have to concede something in negotiations. Giving the owners their 17-game season will make them all the more likely to give in to what the players want.
This would put the NFL in a unique spot. They would be the only league out of the four major professional sports to have an odd number of games during the regular season. How do you handle that? Alternating between nine and eight home games each year is an option. What is this though, college football?
Here's what a new 19 week schedule should feature:
- Two bye weeks for every team
- Any Thursday game played follows a bye week
- Eight home games, eight road games, one neutral site game
- Two preseason games
The solution is still playing eight home games and eight road games each year and playing the extra game on a neutral site. The NFL loves to throw games in London and Mexico City. However, playing a game there every single week is a bad idea. The NFL can sell out games in foreign countries when they play a few games a year, but each week would be a tough sell.
So where else can you play these neutral site games? Under the construction of this 17-game schedule, with each team's extra game being on a neutral surface, there would need to be one every single week. As mentioned, holding one in either Mexico City or London every week is a mistake. So, the solution: college campuses.
If there is one distinct area that college football beats the NFL, it's definitely in atmosphere. Certain college stadiums create some of the coolest atmospheres in sports. Drop an NFL game on a college campus and watch the locals go nuts.
A change in schedule offers the NFL the unique opportunity to do something new and exciting. Holding these games on various different locations across America is just that. Imagine the NFL at Notre Dame, the Rose Bowl, or the Big House in Ann Arbor.
The NHL is still rolling out outdoor games each year. They have held games at venues like Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Notre Dame Stadium and Michigan Stadium. This has been going on since 2008 and still draws sellout crowds. The NFL is a much bigger draw than the NHL, so they would have no problem whatsoever selling tickets.
Now, some of these college stadiums may need upgrades to house NFL teams, but the NFL could foot some of the bills as a way to get the NCAA to agree to allow the NFL to use their stadiums. There would surely be a lot to figure out, but it would be well worth it.
The NFL should take these games and put regional twists on them. Build rivalries by proxemics and watch your sport take the next step. Divisional rivalries already exist, but you can build new ones. For instance, the New York Jets and New York Giants share a stadium but are in two different conferences. Throw them in one of these games. The same can be said for the Rams and Chargers. Let's go through some possible matchups and locations.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Pittsburgh Steelers @ Penn State
Make the battle of Pennsylvania one where every fan is required to wear white. The Penn State white-out is one of the cooler venues in sports. Now, take the blue-collared people of Pittsburgh and face them off with the world's rudest fanbase in Philadelphia and you have quite the game.
LA Rams vs. LA Chargers @ The Rose Bowl
While it may make more sense for these two teams to face off in their brand new stadium, how does one say no to the Rose Bowl? We need the overhead picture of Chargers fans creating their sea of powder blue juxtaposed with the sea of yellow from Rams fans.
Chicago Bears vs. Indianapolis Colts @ Notre Dame
The Chicago Bears have a great rivalry with the Green Bay Packers and smaller rivalries with division opponents in the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions. However, no team is located closer to the Bears than the Indianapolis Colts. A good number of Chicagoans are Notre Dame fans. Much of the same could be said for Colts fans. Throw these two fanbases in one of the most iconic venues in all of sports.
New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons @ Death Valley
Calling college football "big" in the South would be the understatement of the year. "Death Valley" at LSU holds 92,000 strong. Throw some avid NFL fans in there and mix them in with the resident LSU students and you'll create quite the atmosphere. Former Alabama head coach Bear Bryant said that being in LSU's Stadium is “like being inside a drum." Speaking of drums, the LSU band needs to be in attendance for the game. If they're going to be there, might as well have them play "Neck."
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns @ Ohio State
Well, the matchup blows, as these are two of the worst-run franchises in the NFL. However, the venue would make up for it. Columbus is one hell of a college town, and they'd play a great host to the NFL in the battle of Ohio.
Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers @ The Big House
There's just something about throwing 100,000-plus people into the same place. The "Big House" is, well, big. The entire state of Michigan will make the trip to Ann Arbor for this one. Oh, and the people of Green Bay will probably come too. Pray for the people of Michigan, as they have to insufferably listen to "Go Pack Go."
Dallas Cowboys vs. Houston Texans @ Texas A&M
For as big as football is in the state of Texas, not enough attention is paid to Dallas vs. Houston. You have two rather large cities and fanbases fairly close to one another. The NFL needs to build this interstate rivalry up by putting the two teams at Texas A&M for a game. They do everything bigger in Texas, and this place can hold over 102,000 people for the battle of Texas.
Miami Dolphins vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ The Swamp
You could pretty much just take the paragraph from the Browns vs. Bengals section and paste it here. The teams suck, but again, you have a great atmosphere. Bring Tim Tebow back and have a little fun. The game would probably be brutal, but that's what beer is for.
New York Jets vs. New York Giants @ Army
For the last one, let's play tribute to the armed forces. Play this game around Veterans Day, and fill the stands at Army with those who have served or currently are serving in the armed forces. Located in New York, this game plays on local ties with the Jets and Giants. Also, the stadium is quite beautiful. This venue allows the NFL to gain some needed positive public relations.
As big as football in general and the NFL are, there is nothing wrong with introducing something new and exciting. In doing this, the NFL can also bridge the gap between the NCAA and itself a bit. You'll likely get players in these games sometimes going back to their colleges to play an NFL game. Imagine the storylines, ticket sales, TV deals, concession sales, and so on. This could be a win for the NFL, fans, the NCAA and the college town locals. The ball is in the NFL's court.