Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

IPPOLITO: Hunt for Ratings Hurts NFL

From the Ray Rice fiasco to the bizarre and purely incompetent way the Minnesota Vikings handled Adrian Peterson’s child abuse charges, the National Football League and its 32 member teams are desperate to shift the public and media attention to actual football. Unfortunately, I fear that the on-field product of the NFL is beginning to decline, largely because one of the NFL’s relatively new money-making schemes — season-long Thursday Night Football.

TNF is merely the NFL’s latest hubristic act that demonstrates a lack of respect for its players, fans and society as a whole, while also hurting the game’s fairness. These games should be discontinued after this season.

It is clear why the NFL wished to expand TNF to include every week of the regular season. The NFL began TNF in 2006 because the potential to score big ratings on three days of the week was simply too good to pass up, since Saturday Night Football was drawing a comparatively weak audience due to its competition with college football and the social attractions of a weekend night.

Although previously broadcasted exclusively by the NFL Network, CBS Sports recently purchased the rights to the program for this season, ensuring that the NFL makes a handsome profit on its switch to Thursday.

Despite Bill Barnwell of Grantland’s excellent Oct. 17, 2013, piece disputing the notion that Thursday games were sloppier than regularly scheduled Sunday games, there is still an undeniable deterioration of competitive balance, if not a drop in play quality.

Since 2006, NFL road teams have had a 43.2 winning percentage. However, on Thursday night, road teams are victorious just 36.4 percent of the time. Naturally, part of this differential can be attributed to the quick turnaround teams face, having only three days — including a mandatory off day — to prepare. Additionally, the teams that hosted a TNF game last year will also host one this year, giving them a major arbitrary advantage. Of these seven teams, six (sorry, Jacksonville) are widely thought to be playoff contenders, so parity within the league is further diminished.

As much as I would love to argue that the fans of the TNF away teams are the largest victims of primetime Thursday football, that would be a lie; it is undoubtedly the players.

It is no secret that football is a physical and violent sport in which a large amount of injuries occur. Perhaps former All-Pro Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Jason Taylor put it best. “Everybody’s hurt. The day you play football will be the last day you’re pain-free,” Taylor told National Public Radio. Eliminating pain entirely is impossible, so limiting pain and maximizing safe and effective treatments should be the goal.

Unfortunately, Thursday Night Football forces teams to play two games in a five-day span, with only one full day of rest. On top of not allowing the players an extra three days to heal from the previous Sunday’s injuries, they are required to experience a fresh round of pain three days earlier than normal. Some may argue that the longer gap occurring between a team’s Thursday game and its next Sunday game supplements the quick turnaround, but that is false. The whole of pain and nagging injuries is greater than the sum of its parts.

The NFL needs to focus on a short-term mindset in this regard because there are no long-term health guarantees for participants in such a violent sport. A day to heal is now worth far more than an extra two or three days after increasing the amount of pain and possibility of injury.

No, eliminating football on Thursday evenings is not a panacea, but it is a small step that would be in the best interest of the teams involved, as veteran players who may need the normal rest period are often forced to miss Thursday games with minor ailments. For example, Atlanta Falcons 32-year-old starting receiver Roddy White missed the game against Tampa Bay last Thursday with a mild hamstring injury, but Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith hinted that White would have been healthy enough to play if the game were Sunday. The fact that White was not needed in Atlanta’s 56-14 lopsided win does not discredit this point because the Atlanta Falcons were done an unnecessary disservice by the scheduling. Fortunately, there is a glimmer of hope to ending TNF. While last Thursday’s game drew 25 percent more viewers compared to 2013’s Week 3 game, most likely due to TNF’s switch to CBS and basic cable, the ratings actually declined 38 percent from Week 2’s TNF game between Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Atlanta and Tampa Bay feature similarly sized markets, so perhaps the decline is because of a growing sense of fan disgruntlement over watching football games showing the tired legs of players competing on only one day of rest as well as the lack of many banged-up veterans who would have been able to play if the game had been on Sunday afternoon.

Hopefully, as the season continues and many of the matchups become less appealing, ratings fall further and provide the necessary incentive for the NFL to act. These days, trusting the league to act virtuously for the sake of its players and fans, and not for money, requires a good deal of naivete.

The next TNF game is right here, with Washington hosting the Giants. If these two big-market teams and divisional rivals fail to deliver a much larger television audience, Thursday football’s future could be in trouble. Maybe that is not such a bad thing.

Michael Ippolito is a sophomore in the College. The Water Cooler appears every Tuesday.

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