With 17 Video games, the N.F.L. Evolves for Streaming Technology

We come to reward the 16-game N.F.L. schedule, but in addition to bury it.

The 16-game common season was the Platonic splendid {of professional} sports activities scheduling for 43 years, partly as a result of the quantity 16 itself is a neatly divisible, good sq. of virtually fearful symmetry. Every staff’s schedule may very well be simply subdivided into even numbers of divisional video games and interconference matchups. With the addition of a bye week in 1990, the 16-game schedule occupied virtually exactly one-third of the calendar 12 months, making soccer season really feel complete but brisk and intense, in contrast to the sprawling 82-game N.B.A. and N.H.L. seasons that almost overlap themselves.

Sadly, the 16-game schedule goes the way in which of the leather-based helmet. The N.F.L. formally introduced Tuesday that its common season would develop to 17 video games, rubber stamping a transfer team owners have been preparing for over a year. Farewell, even numbers and acquainted statistical benchmarks! Say good day as a substitute to Tremendous Bowls that happen on Presidents’ Day weekend and mediocre playoff groups that boast profitable percentages of 52.941176.

The expanded schedule means expanded revenues for the league, in fact. The brand new 17-game season dovetails with the just lately introduced 11-year, $110 billion media rights agreements with broadcasters and streaming providers that take impact in 2023.

However the N.F.L. isn’t merely including every week of video games. The league is evolving so it might probably turn out to be a fair bigger a part of a altering tradition and multimedia ecosystem, simply because it was doing when it expanded the common season from 14 video games to 16 in 1978.

That 12 months, the N.F.L. did way more than add two video games to its schedule. It launched wild card groups so it might add an extra spherical to the playoffs. League homeowners additionally enacted sweeping rule adjustments designed to extend passing and scoring, which might turn out to be one thing of a behavior for them over the subsequent 4 a long time. The brand new guidelines permitted blockers to open their fingers to push defenders with out incurring holding penalties and prohibited defenders from dragging large receivers across the area behind bikes. (Extra exactly, the rampant and sometimes vicious downfield contact that made defenses like Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain” so efficient turned unlawful.)

Because of relaxed guidelines and the 14 % longer schedule, pre-1978 statistics seemed quaint only a few seasons later. The All-Professional Miami Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese threw for two,252 yards and led the league with 22 touchdowns in 1977. By 1984, Dan Marino shattered current data with 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns whereas taking part in beside a few of Griese’s former teammates.

Earlier than the arrival of the 16-game schedule, the N.F.L. preseason lasted six grueling weeks. The common season didn’t start till the third week of September and led to mid-December, adopted by two quick weeks of playoffs. Even Tremendous Bowls have been held on Sunday afternoons, as in the event that they have been simply one other recreation, till the top of the 1977 season. Beginning in 1978, the common season and playoffs basically took their trendy footprints and culminated in a prime-time tv spectacular.

Professional soccer’s adjustments have been so pronounced and swift that the arrival of the 16-game season appears to be like looking back like Dorothy’s arrival in Oz. The sport’s historical past earlier than 1978 is sepia-toned, with followers in parkas and fedoras huddled on icy bleachers watching grizzled, hung over quarterbacks who smoked cigarettes throughout pregame warm-ups (as John Facenda narrated the scene). Every thing after 1978 is in vivid coloration, faster-paced and poised for the period of cable tv, satellite tv for pc packages, video video games and fantasy sports activities.

The 16-game schedule supplied a sturdy framework because the N.F.L. expanded from 28 to 32 groups and 6 to eight divisions, elevated the variety of playoff members from 10 to (as of final 12 months) 16, added bye weeks, launched Sunday and Thursday evening tv packages and conditioned soccer followers to observe reside protection of low season occasions just like the draft and scouting mix. The schedule was so well-structured in later years that followers knew which opponents their favourite staff would face subsequent season the second the earlier one ended. But droves of followers tuned in to observe schedule announcement reveals anyway.

The brand new 17-game schedule arrives at one other time of fast change. The N.F.L. has lengthy embraced fantasy soccer and is now welcoming legalized playing partnerships. Media rights have been awarded to streaming providers along with conventional TV broadcasters, and the league is predicted to make use of among the further video games to develop its worldwide presence. Simply because it ditched bell-bottoms and deserted midcentury trappings in 1978, the N.F.L. in 2021 is placing away its cargo pants, downloading TikTok and on the brink of enchantment to zoomers.

Traditionalists howled within the first years after the N.F.L.’s 16-game growth, when previous data have been simply eclipsed and males with nicknames like “Hacksaw” and “The Assassin” ceded the stage to golden boys like Joe Montana. Purists may also fret within the weeks and months to return a couple of supposedly diluted product with too many video games and playoff groups.

Come winter, those self same naysayers will certainly find yourself speeding to finalize their fantasy lineups earlier than plopping on a bar stool or couch for that further week of video games. Inside a couple of years, we are going to all develop accustomed to wild card groups with 9-Eight data, commonplace 5,000-yard passing seasons and play-by-play announcers on 5K-resolution broadcasts updating the purpose unfold after halftime. The 16-game period will then really feel grainy and fusty by comparability.

On a associated notice, the N.F.L. additionally shortened its preseason by one recreation. Nobody will complain about that change.

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