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Art Rooney II On NFL’s New 17-Game Schedule: ‘We Have Learned We Can Live Without Four Preseason Games’

Steelers owner Art Rooney

As expected, the NFL owners formally approved a new 17-game regular-season format at the virtual owners’ meetings on Tuesday and it will begin in 2021 and thus ending the 16-game schedule platform that the league has had in place since 1978. On the heels of that becoming official, Bob Labriola of steelers.com talked with Steelers team president Art Rooney II at the conclusion of the two-day virtual owners meeting and asked him to weigh in on their change from 16 to 17 games.

“On the football side of things, we have learned we can live without four preseason games,” Rooney told Labriola. “As you know there was a time when we had six preseason games, and then we went to four. It’s still a 20-game season basically, but we’re converting one of the preseason games into a regular season game. For fans, they would rather see a regular season game than a preseason game, so that makes sense. And from a football standpoint we can learn to live with three preseason games rather than four.”

In addition to the NFL adding an extra game to the regular season, it came at the cost of a preseason game to appease the NFLPA, who were strongly against the original proposal of an 18-game schedule.

“At one point there was discussion about 18 games, and there was resistance to that on the ownership level,” said Rooney. “We didn’t have a consensus on that front, and we didn’t have a consensus from the Players Association on that either. So, 17 games is a good step, and I think it can work and there are a lot of pieces to it that will work better. It’s good to evolve from 16-and-4. It’s time to create another regular season game, and this is a good way to do it.”

With the expanding 17-game schedule, each team would play an extra interconference matchup — AFC vs. NFC — based on divisional standings from the preceding season and on a rotating divisional basis. All the AFC teams will be home in 2021 for the extra interconference game and then the NFC teams will be home in 2022.

This rotation plan means the Steelers will play the Seattle Seahawks at Heinz Field in 2021. The Steelers and Seahawks both finished the regular season 12-4 in 2020 and they both won their respective divisions. The rest of the AFC North teams will face teams in the NFC West as well.

With the NFL now having one less week of preseason play, two teams, the Steelers, and the Dallas Cowboys, will each have four in 2021 due to the two being scheduled to play in the annual Hall of Fame game later this summer.

Along with the 17-game schedule and shorter preseason, the NFL announced on Tuesday that every team will be required to play an international game once every eight years.
A 17-game schedule for 2021 was expected to happen as the NFLPA agreed to it last year and the NFL announced a new mega-deal on March 18 with media partners Amazon, CBS, ESPN/ABC, FOX, and NBC for the distribution of NFL games, as well as additional media rights.

The new media and platform agreements will begin with the 2023 season and run through the 2033 season. According to Joe Reedy of the Associated Press, the NFL will nearly double its media revenue to more than $10 billion a season under the new broadcasting rights agreements.

NFL players will reportedly receive at least 48.8 percent of the league’s revenue as well as part of the new 17-game schedule agreement and with there being one less preseason game, it’s a win-win for both the players and the owners. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was excited on Tuesday when the vote on the 17-game schedule proposal passed.

“This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” Goodell said in a statement. “The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans. And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world.”

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