One consequence of the coronavirus may turn out to be a positive for players and other critics of meaningless football games. The N.F.L. wants to halve its preseason schedule to two games per team, from four.
Many fans tend to dislike preseason games, in which star players often play only briefly, if at all, and coaches send out humdrum plays so as to disguise their regular-season plans. The preseason is not even a good indicator of performance in the coming season. Notably, the 2008 Detroit Lions swept through the preseason, outscoring their four opponents by 80-32. The team then put up the league’s first 0-16 record in the regular season.
Despite the dubious quality of the action, teams often require season-ticket holders to buy the games, and happily collect parking and concessions money, as well.
Players have also objected to the extended preseason for years. And even with the stakes low, the brutal nature of football means some players every year are lost for the season with injuries suffered in exhibition games.
The reduction of the preseason would allow teams more time to prepare for the regular season, given that many players have struggled to stay fit during the pandemic.
The players’ association would have to approve the move, and the NFL Network reported that was not a sure thing, given that the players prefer to drop the preseason entirely.
The preseason had been scheduled to start on Aug. 13, and run through Sept. 3. The traditional opener, the Hall of Fame Game, scheduled for Aug. 6, has already been canceled. The regular season would begin on Thursday night, Sept. 10, with the Super Bowl champion Chiefs hosting the Texans, followed by a full slate of games on Sunday, Sept. 13.
The N.F.L. went to four preseason games in 1978, when it expanded the regular season to 16 games from 14. Before that, teams played six preseason games.
Players are expected to arrive for training camps from July 25 to 28. Over the last few months, they have been working out and meeting with position coaches mostly remotely.
When camps do open, and games start to be played, the league is planning to have coronavirus testing and safety protocols in place, but it has not settled on specifics. A number of high-profile N.F.L. figures have tested positive for the virus, including Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys’ star running back; Von Miller of the Denver Broncos; and New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton.
The league and the union did not immediately respond to requests for comment.