Hub Arkush: Who doesn’t want more NFL? Apparently, the players

What does a 17th regular-season game really mean to players and fans alike?

LAKE FOREST – When ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Sunday the NFL will announce the switch to a 17-game schedule for the 2021 season, the worst kept secret in sports was back on the front pages once again.

Of course the 32 NFL team owners are going to make the move. It was a key to their negotiation of the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with their players that kicks in this season and at least some aspects of it, possibly most, are good for everyone – owners, players and fans alike.

I can’t imagine we’ll find any fans complaining, but a number of high-profile players already have begun wailing, loud and clear about the horrible injustice of it all.

We shouldn’t be surprised by that, either, but what is at least in part hard to understand is why.

The National Football League Players Association often is quite irascible as a group, and that is easy to understand.

Although the NFL is by far the most lucrative of the four major team sports in the U.S, with every one of its 32 owners earning dramatic riches each season, the league’s average and median salaries are well below basketball and baseball and only 17.5% above hockey.

Far more egregiously, NFL contracts are the only ones of the four major North American sports that aren’t fully guaranteed.

In other words, they’re contracts for ownership but just chains on the players.

It is for that reason, with this concession to allowing a 17th game along with no give on guaranteeing deals being the biggest sticking points, that players voted only 1,019-959 to pass the new collective bargaining agreement that allows the owners to do this.

What isn’t clear about the unpopularity of this move with players, however, is why they are so against it, and it is absolutely untrue that is just the owners’ greed being sated.

According to the new CBA, the players receive 47% of total revenue, and with the NFL’s new TV deals estimated to total $100 billion over 10 years, on average $10 billion a year and the addition of the 17th game, the players’ share will go to 48.8%.

That 1.8% increase people means an additional $180 million a season distributed to the players through the salary cap and their benefits.

The main complaint from players about playing more games is that their jobs already are dangerous enough, and another game is a much greater risk to their health.

But after studying here for hours, I can’t find a single statistically believable study that suggests more games create greater risks to player safety one way or the other.

In November 2019, Dr. John York, whose family owns the 49ers, was quoted as saying, “The engineers and statisticians … [have looked at] what might happen in a number of different scenarios [including a schedule expansion by one game], the change in injury rates, either a little bit plus, a little bit minus, it was not particularly significant.”

But I can find no record of him supplying that study or data to support that.

In February of last year, Cardinals owner Michael Bidwell said, “The health/safety data plays out that we can do 17 games and it’s not going to impact the safety and the health of the players. I am really proud of the work the league is doing in terms of the health and safety. A lot of big strides have been made. ...”

But again, I can’t find where he offered any proof.

What we do know is this.

Every time a player steps on the field, there is the risk of injury, and there is no predicting when, how or why they will happen.

It could very well work like lottery tickets with no greater or lesser chance of winning, or in this case getting hurt each time you step on the field no matter how often you step on the field.

Although it is not official yet, it is believed in correlation with adding the 17th game the league will cut back to three preseason games, and that’s a joke.

Clearly no more than two are necessary, and it would be a worthwhile bone to throw the players.

At the end of the day, most fans will be thrilled to have an extra game, owners and players all will make more money, and we all just have to hope no players will end up the worse for wear.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media