Could Joint Practices Replace Preseason Games

Ravens-Jaguars Joint Practice 2019

Could replacing preseason games with joint practices be a way to get everything done a team wants, give the fans a good product, reduce injury concerns and keep the owners happy? Ron Rivera, coach of the Carolina Panthers, expressed why he believes this may be a good idea. 

“Training camp used to be where you had to bring everybody [together] and get them into shape. Now they’re in shape and it’s about managing [Injuries and the practice pace].”

“I’m not sure that playing as many [preseason] games is as important as it used to be. But things like [joint practices] are invaluable, as far as coaching tools.”

With the new CBA now on the forefront, preseason games will be one of those hot seat issues the NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) will be pushing to reduce or eliminate. Though Rivera is expressing a coach’s perspective, the owners, fans and players also have an opinion on that. Each one of those have their own agenda when it comes to preseason games.

I believe, as a player, Aaron Rodgers has already made his opinion on joint practices well-known. “I wouldn’t mind if they didn’t do it for another 14 years”. And though I don’t believe he expressed all his complaints about the joint practices, the ones he did may be resolved if they replaced preseason games with joint practices. “…I don’t think doing live special teams drills are very smart.” He even pulled out the big guns, “I think the PA (Players Association) will look at that for sure. To do a live kickoff drill, I don’t think is the best use of inter-squad practices.” But, will eliminating two of the dreaded preseason games (and all the special teams play that goes with it) and replacing them with joint practices address Rodgers, and players, concerns. With the thoughts I lay out below, I believe the PA, which represents “all” players, will definitely show interest.

The owners have an interest in maintaining preseason games even though they are not usually sold out, they do bring revenue in with tickets, concessions, jersey sales and other things. Throwing away the preseason to the owners is like throwing away money, something we know that our owners would rather be hazed like rookies, have their heads shaved and sing their college fight song than do. But if they still made their money, protected their players and engaged the fans, they would have to agree.

However, is there money in putting on the joint practices in stadiums? I think so. With selling tickets, allowing fans freer access to roam the stadium to watch different drills, concessions, sales, and perhaps even selling higher priced tickets for field level access could be done. (Something fans wouldn’t get to do during a preseason game.) Make it an enjoyable environment for everyone with a kids area outside, several vendors, autograph area, etc… Then a ticket inside allows greater access to players and field activities. (All controlled for the safest environment). The teams get their joint practice and towards the end, play one quarter of legit football which will address situational football, two minute drill, live pressure, kickoffs and punts, coaches calling plays live, and working out game kinks. It will give fans real football and gets film out for players trying to make it in the league. Even the networks, which provide big dollars to broadcast preseason games, could broadcast the majority of practice and the 15 minute game sessions and, of course, they would still have 2 preseason games to air.

I believe, based on the Ravens fan reaction to preseason access, the fans would be on board.  A lot of teams have open preseason practices and I believe that should continue. The Ravens sold out their preseason practices in 45 minutes. But, I am addressing only 2 joint practices spread throughout the preseason that would take the place of 2 preseason games and be held at a stadium (1 home, 1 away). As a fan, I would have no problem with that at all. Actually I would embrace it because, as of now, the best players usually participate during joint practices before the preseason game and the fans at the free training camp get to see them play. But when they play the preseason game that fans pay to see, they only get to see the second, third and worse strings. As long as there is one quarter, fifteen minutes of actual game play during the joint practice, played like a real game, and the fans would get to see football, they would love it. 

The NFLPA, as well, will embrace the new format. They have succeeded in reducing 2 of the preseason games to basically one quarter of football and some drills, autographs and photoshots. The owners get a better turnout which means more money spent (not to mention their cut on the activities outside the stadium). The Ravens had almost 30,000 at an open practice at the stadium, I’m not sure the first preseason game was attended as well. Fans are more interested, more involved, everyone wins.

I believe in the next CBA, we will see the preseason games either eliminated or drastically neutered. This is a way to try to salvage some of the preseason we used to know, make it more interesting, more exciting and eliminate a lot of boring play. The game is about the fans, the preseason is about honing players and coaches skills, let’s put them together and make something everyone can get on board with and enjoy again.

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