As highlighted in an article posted on the league’s website, there are eight teams this season that are not protected against being featured on the NFL’s “Hard Knocks” reality television show on HBO. The Pittsburgh Steelers are among “The Vulnerable Eight”.
The league implemented new rules last season that would provide exemptions from being featured on the program for teams that meet one of three criteria. Given that the Steelers are among those eight vulnerable teams, it follows that they don’t meet the criteria for exemption. The procedure, which might result in the Steelers being on HBO this summer, is explained below.
The first available exemption is what I call “The Cleveland Browns Method of Madness”—erm, “Management”. That would include a perennial head coaching search, which seems to be the modus operandi of this storied Ohio franchise.
Teams with first-year head coaches receive exemption from being volunteered for the program. Head coach Mike Tomlin, of course, is in his eighth season as the head coach of the Steelers, and is, by this point, one of the longest-tenured coaches league-wide. And as the article author, Dan Hanzus, notes, Tomlin “has always deserved his own reality show. Opportunity knocks”.
Let’s hope not.
The second exemption includes teams that have had a playoff berth within the past two seasons. The Steelers currently find themselves in the uncommon predicament of missing the playoffs for the past two years, which has been rare for them of late. They are, in fact, one of eight teams that have missed the playoffs for at least two years running.
This exemption would seem counterintuitive to the parity spiel lauded by the league. Why expose struggling teams to the potential distractions of being featured on a reality television show, which is more likely to contribute to prolonging, rather than ending, their shortcomings on the field?
I do not follow the show, and thus could be mistaken, but I’m assuming that it has yet to follow a Super Bowl championship team. And if they have, or ever do, it will almost certainly have been, or will be, in spite of the show.
The rule will also make it more difficult in the future for the league to find available teams, as they seek to add more seeds to the playoffs. Thus, there will presumably be less teams missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons to choose from.
And teams that miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons—especially with more playoff spots to go around—are more likely to play the next season under a new head coach.
Finally, there is one last possible exemption, and that is the freedom to opt out if the team has been featured on the program within the past 10 years. Should the current front office and coaching staff have their way, they will never have to invoke this exemption.
But they will be happy to know that they have a free decade off after the fact, should they ultimately get chosen.
It seems the best strategy for teams to avoid the distraction of “Hard Knocks” is simply to win. Still, with the way things are going, a time may come soon that every team falls under one of these three exemptions in a given year, and you can be sure that the league would much rather have the show than maintain the integrity of their rules.