The End Zone: Is Thursday Night Football Too Much Football?

There comes a point right around this time of the season where a thought runs through my brain that I would never dare utter out loud: “This is too much football.” We just wrapped Week 5, are close to being midway through the season, and even though I just spent the entire summer lamenting the lack of exciting sports to watch (sorry, baseball, until October, you’re a distant third to “Law & Order: SVU” reruns), between Thursday Night Football, games all day Sunday, and Monday Night Football on top of that – it all gets a little overwhelming.

As it turns out, Texans running back Arian Foster feels the same. When asked this week about how he felt with having a truncated practice week, going from a Sunday game to a Thursday game, Foster replied:

“Thursday Night Football is pretty annoying for players. I don’t know one player that likes it. I really don’t know a fan that likes it, either. I think it’s just the league’s way to try to generate more revenue but that’s what they are here for … Thursday Night Football is putting every player on the football field in danger. Nobody is ready to play physically after a Sunday game but you have to go out there and do it.”

And he’s hardly the first player to feel that way. Back in 2012, then-fullback for the Seattle Seahawks Michael Robinson echoed the same, saying, “Go get in a car accident and then try to play two days later. That’s how it feels.” Foster and Robinson aren’t the first players to share these worries about Thursday Night Football, and certainly won’t be the last, but are their concerns for player safety founded?

Thursday Night Football was added to the professional football docket in 2006, and the league has paid close attention to the impact the truncated practice week has on its players. According to league-commissioned studies, the injury rate on Thursday nights is lower than that of Sunday and Monday games. And the league makes sure that no team has more than one Thursday game per season.

Since league-funded studies can often be met with suspicion, Boston.com reporter Andrew Mooney also investigated injury occurrence rates on Thursday night games back in 2012, and found that while there was a slight increase in injury, it was not in a way that was statistically significant. He wrote:

My results indicated nothing exceptional about games played with less than a week of rest. Injuries occurred at almost exactly the same rate in Thursday night games and post-Monday night games (31 injuries in 30 team-games, for a rate of 1.03 per team-game) as they did on regular Sunday games (204 in 202 team-games, 1.01 per team-game). When I limited the sample to just Thursday games, which have two fewer days of rest than post-Monday night games, the injury rate did increase slightly to 20 in 16 team-games. However, a binomial test revealed that this rate is still not significantly different from the proportion of injuries that occur on Sundays. It appears that Thursday night games pose no added danger to players after all.

But I’m not a player, nor am I a statistician, so I can’t tell Arian Foster that he’s wrong – but I can say that as a fan, it’s all starting to feel like too much football. At the start of each season, I’m agog that there are “only” 13 weeks of football – as someone who grew up on basketball and it’s 82-game schedules, endurance was never an issue for me as a sports fan. But when we reach this point of the season, and I’ve spent weeks debating whether Shonda Rhimes’ takeover of ABC’s Thursday night wins over a non-exciting Falcons-Buccaneers blowout, the sheer number of snaps I can tolerate in a short period wanes drastically.

Maybe it’s the fact that Thursday is so close to Sunday is so close to Monday — mathematically, I get that it’s five days out of a seven-day week, but given that it all feels like a weekend, it just seems like a lot of football jammed into a small period of time each week. Then there’s the whole living in New York of it all, and having to stay up late for at least three games a week — Thursday, the last Sunday game, and Monday. At least on the west coast, sleep was not sacrificed in the name of snaps, and it was possible to still have a life even after the games end each night. And as Bleacher Report pointed out last year: with that much football on TV, the quality of games seems to be going down. Too much of a good thing is, after all, a bad thing.

So will the league scale back their Thursday Night Football offerings? Probably not. The revenue is great, and viewership remains ever-increasing. Will I let Olivia Pope and her band of bespoke gladiators lure me away from the gridiron as the season wears on? It’s already been handled.

The End Zone, The Frisky’s new weekly football column by Beejoli Shah, is sponsored by Smirnoff Ice. Smirnoff Ice is not a sponsor of the NFL.

[Photos: Getty Images and Shutterstock]