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Vision 2020: The NFL's Strategic Plan

Murphy Takes 5 is a monthly column written by President and CEO Mark Murphy


On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at: ***.*

Last week, the NFL held its Annual Meeting in Boca Raton, Florida. The focus of the meeting was on the League's five-year strategic plan. 2020 will be a significant year for the League. The NFL will celebrate its 100th Anniversary in 2020, and 2020 is also the last year of our current Collective Bargaining Agreement, so it makes sense that the League has put together a strategic plan for the next five years.

The four-day meeting focused on the major issues facing the League, as well as important initiatives planned for the next five years. There is no question that the most important issue facing the League is concern about the safety of the game, particularly related to concussions. These concerns can impact the participation levels in football at the youth and high school levels (and the pipeline of future players and fans), as well as the public's interest in the NFL. It is the biggest risk to the future of the game and League. The League has taken several steps (i.e. rules changes, improved equipment) aimed at reducing concussions. So, it was disappointing to learn that concussions sustained in regular season games last year rose by 58 percent over 2014. The Competition Committee has spent a lot of time over the last two months studying the concussion statistics, and trying to determine why the number of concussions increased, and determining what we can do to reduce them. It may just be that 2015 was a bad year, and that we will go back to a lower number this year. We all think there are other factors in play now, though. With some of the medical changes we've instituted, we have many more people looking for possible concussed players. In 2015, there were twice as many players screened for concussions as in 2014. I also think that we've seen a culture change among our players. Given concerns about the long term impact of concussions, more players are self-reporting potential concussions. Also, teammates and coaches are more likely to go to a team physician with concerns about a possibly concussed player.

Given the concerns about player safety, it is no surprise that a number of safety-related player rules were passed, including elimination of the chop block and expansion of the horse collar penalty. We also passed a rule, for one year, bringing the touchback out to the 25-yard line rather than the 20. The hope is that the extra 5 yards will give returners an incentive to stay in the end zone. Although the kickoff return is an exciting play, it is also, by far, the most dangerous play in the game. I think anything we can do to reduce the number of kickoff returns is good for the game. We've discussed eliminating the kickoff (and giving the offense the ball on the 20- or 25-yard line), but the concern is that not being able to onside kick (surprise or regular) will affect the competitiveness of the game.

With regards to initiatives, the League Staff has no shortage of ideas (in areas such as T.V., technology and events) that will improve the game and fan experience, as well as generate additional revenue for the League. I anticipate that the one place where you will see tremendous growth in the future is in the international area. There is great, untapped potential with both international games and international broadcast opportunities. The League is now playing three games on a regular basis in London, and will play a regular season game in Mexico City this year. Also, the League announced that it will play a regular season game in China in 2018. Last year, the NFL experimented with an over-the-top (OTT) broadcast (streamed live on the internet by Yahoo) of a London game. The experiment was very successful, with over 15 million people watching, many from outside of the U.S. The League just announced an 18-game package for Thursday Night Football on NBC, CBS and NFL Network. The League reserved the OTT rights to these games (to create tricast broadcasts with broadcast networks, cable and the internet). The League will finalize the OTT rights to these games soon, which will be a big help to the League in terms of growing the game internationally.

Although the League is in a very strong position now, things can change quickly, and it's vitally important for the League to address key issues and successfully plan for the future.

Now, on to your questions:

A question from Ethan

If the international games get popular enough, would the league consider scheduling international games for all teams and requiring each team to give up a home game every year or two? And would the current agreements allow the league to do that?

Ethan, as I mentioned above, growing the game internationally is a top priority for the League. With the number of international games increasing (four this year), it is challenging to find enough teams willing to give up home games. The League can require teams that are playing in temporary stadiums (i.e. the Rams), or who host a Super Bowl to play international games, but it still is difficult. I anticipate that we will continue to see increases in the number of games played internationally. The NFL is behind other professional sports in the popularity of the game internationally, and this presents a great opportunity for the League in the future.

A question from Parth

Hello Mr. Murphy, My name is Parth Patel and I am an aspiring physician. I was recently accepted to the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine and am looking forward to starting medical school this July/August. One day, I hope to enter the field of sports medicine and serve as a team physician for an NFL team. Considering I have been a fan since I learned about football, I would love to serve as a team physician for the greatest team in NFL history, the Green Bay Packers. I was wondering if you can explain to me the path I would need to take in order to achieve this goal? For example, can you explain to me what medical specialties are essential to the team physician staff and how new physicians are hired to become part of the team physician staff? If you can, possibly, elaborate on the exact procedure to become a team physician. Thank you for your time.

Interesting question, Parth. We have two physicians who work for us on a regular basis, Dr. Pat McKenzie, an orthopedist, and Dr. John Gray, an internist. We also have a number of specialists that will work with us on an as-needed basis. Orthopedic medicine is probably the field that does the most sports-related work. If you want to become an NFL physician, I would suggest that you start with a medical practice that works with an NFL team. It is like anything else in terms of a career, if you do a good job, people will notice and you will have numerous opportunities. Interestingly, a former teammate of mine at Colgate (and a very good quarterback), John Marzo, has been the Bills orthopedist for many years.

A question from Ken

Dear Mr. Murphy: I wish to suggest that the owners increase the active player roster to 55. I think this will help each team survive the pounding of a long season. Just a thought.

We considered a number of similar proposals this year, Ken. We presently have a total roster of 53, and teams can have 46 players on the active roster on game day. Several teams proposed increases to the active roster. The thought is that increasing the active roster has no real cost implications, so why not let teams suit up more players. The issue, though, is that the inactive list of seven has traditionally been connected to the average number of players on the injury list each week. So, any increase in the 46 would have to be tied in with an increase in the 53-man roster, or you could have one team playing with 48 players, and the other with 46. All of these proposals were referred to the Management Council Executive (Bargaining) Committee, as this is something that will have to be negotiated with the NFLPA.

Michael from Milwaukee, WI

Was there a time when only seniors were eligible to declare for the draft and juniors had to prove hardship to be considered? Or was it sophomores who had to prove hardship? I have asked this question in several places, including ASK VIC, & I think I have asked you before, maybe last year, but I never got an answer, anywhere! Please correct me if I am wrong so I can have it straight in my mind & get a good night's sleep!! THANK YOU!

Sorry that Vic and I haven't answered your question sooner, Michael. You are correct, and can now sleep well, because there was a time when only seniors were eligible for the draft. In the early 1970s, there were a few lawsuits challenging, on anti-trust grounds, the legality of the drafts in professional sports. Spencer Haywood's lawsuit against the NBA was probably the most famous. He prevailed, and forced the NBA to establish a hardship exception to the draft. In the NFL, the current rule (which is collectively bargained), states that a player cannot declare for the draft until three years after his high school class graduates. I think the current rule has worked well for both the NFL and the colleges, and is fair to the players. The NBA rule (one and done), though, is awful, and many basketball programs have made a mockery of college basketball (most players who leave after one year have no interest in academics, and would have been better off going to the NBA out of high school or to stay in school three years).

Kent from Appleton, WI

For the sake of player safety, is there more the league could do to reduce the number of short weeks to give players more time to recover? The task would get tougher for the scheduler but as often as possible couldn't teams paired up for a Thursday game both have their byes the prior Sunday?

Great question, Kent. This is something that the League tracks very carefully, for both safety and competitive reasons. With the expansion of Thursday Night Football, this has become an especially important issue. For competitive reasons, all teams will play one Thursday night game and will only have one short week game. We played two Thursday games last year, but they were back to back, so we only had a short week for the first one. Your suggestion of having the bye prior to the Thursday game makes sense, but, as you suggest, the more conditions you put on the schedule, it makes it very challenging for the League scheduler. Also, there are no byes in the first three weeks or last six weeks of the season. We monitor closely the injuries that are sustained during Thursday night games, and have not seen an increase in injuries in short week games. Finally, although it is tough for coaches and players to get ready for short week Thursday games, the 10 days before the next game can be beneficial. Mike McCarthy likes to call this a mini-bye.

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