As a fan, I love watching my favorite teams compete. And the more games they play, and the more competitions they enter, the greater the chance I get to watch them win. But we are approaching a breaking point, where the demands on the players threatens their ability to stay healthy and actually play in those games and tournaments. I thought I would discuss the idea for my latest newspaper column.
Soccer shows the dangers of adding games and tournaments
As NFL owners push for a new collective bargaining agreement that adds a 17th regular season game, and as the NBA ponders a new tournament during the regular season, these leagues need to look to soccer to see the risks of ever-increasing demands on the players.
As a lifelong Liverpool fan, I’ve joyously watched my team experience one of its greatest seasons ever, winning the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and Club World Cup in the last nine months. While still in contention to win this season’s FA Cup and Champions League, Liverpool continues to pursue a Premier League title.
Premier League teams face the injury bug during the congested festive period
It’s great for fans but maybe not so great for the players. According to The Athletic, Premier League teams suffered 66 injuries over the two-week festive period alone, when most clubs played four league games and an FA Cup third round tie, leaving as little as 48 hours between some games.
Soccer’s governing bodies act independently
Soccer’s challenge is that its many competitions are run by different governing bodies. Liverpool plays in its domestic league – the English Premier League. It competes in the FA Cup run by The Football Association, the League Cup run by the English Football League, and the Champions League, Super Cup, and Club World Cup run by UEFA.
International duty takes away much needed rest from the players
Additionally, most top players compete for their national teams during what should be their offseason.
Liverpool’s prolific scorer Sadio Mané played in the Champions League final June 1 before playing in the Africa Cup of Nations. His Senegal team made the final of that tournament July 19. After only 16 days off, he arrived at Liverpool’s preseason training and appeared in the opening Premier League match four days later. In total, Mané played 70 matches over 14 months.
Soccer organizations want to increase games and tournaments
Instead of cutting their schedules to ease the risk of injuries, these groups want to increase the games and tournaments.
FIFA has already expanded the Club World Cup from 7 to 24 teams for 2021. It added the Nations League in 2018 and wants to increase the number of nations vying for the World Cup every four years from 32 to 48 teams.
UEFA wants to expand the number of games played by teams in the Champions League. And the FA Cup and League Cup have resisted calls to decrease games or end their competitions altogether.
Jürgen Klopp opposes the added demands on the players
“FIFA decide things without talking to UEFA. UEFA decide things without talking to FIFA, making the Champions League bigger, and then no one talks to each other,” Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp argued recently. “The welfare of the players, no one thinks about.”
Player health versus increased revenue
It’s all about money. More games and more tournaments mean increased broadcast and marketing revenues.
NFL owners seek to add a 17th regular season game
This week, NFL owners and the Players’ Association will discuss a new CBA. Among the changes proposed by the owners, players resist the addition of a 17th regular season game due to the additional toll on their bodies.
Many players want not only higher minimum salaries and a higher percentage of revenue but also health-related concessions from owners, including an added bye week, shorter offseason training camps, and longer post-career healthcare in exchange for the extra game.
Injuries from an 82-game NBA regular season schedule
The NBA recognizes the demands of its 82-game schedule. Before the 2017-18 season, the league extended the schedule to decrease the number of back-to-back games and lengthened the All-Star break. But injuries have not decreased.
According to athletic trainer Jeff Stotts, who tracks and analyzes injuries at InStreetClothes.com, NBA teams lost 5236 games and $537.9 million in salary due to injuries in the 2018-19 season. It was the second consecutive season in which the total games lost due to injury exceeded 5000.
Salaries lost to NFL injuries in 2019
Analysis by the Associated Press found that in 2019, NFL teams paid roughly $521 million to Week 1 starters who missed games because of injury and players who ended the season on injured reserve.
International play adds more stress to NBA players
And like the World Cup in soccer, international competitions add stress on the players who do compete. This summer, Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo could play in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, only to take the court two days later in the Olympic qualifier for Greece.
Leagues shouldn’t keep adding games and tournaments without focusing on the players’ health
Klopp supports expanding some tournaments, like the Club World Cup, but only if the health of the players is considered. “I like the idea in general, but then you have to cancel another tournament. You cannot just add on another tournament and another and another. That cannot work.”
Whether it’s additional games or tournaments, his message is one the NBA and NFL should keep in mind as the owners look to make more money.
Note: A modified version of this article appears as my sports medicine column in the February 28, 2020 issue of The Post and Courier.
NFL owners, players’ union set for critical CBA meeting Tuesday. By Dan Graziano. ESPN.com. February 24, 2020.
Next Big Thing: Tensions between clubs, players and countries to explode over playing time. The Athletic. By Oliver Kay. February 9, 2020.
NFL injuries: How much the league paid to starters who missed games in 2019. By Frank Miles. FOX News. January 28, 2020.
NFL Pro Bowlers cite safety issues as deterrent to 17th regular-season game. By Michael DiRocco and Jenna Laine. ESPN.com. January 25, 2020.
NBA and the Premier League: two leagues, one big injury crisis. By John Hollinger and Dominic Fifield. The Athletic. January 10, 2020.
Reviewing the 2018-19 NBA Injury Totals. By Jeff Stotts. InStreetClothes.com. October 21, 2019.