The Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger have accepted Big Ben’s suspension and will move forward. Luckily for them, the NFL has set them up to still be very successful next year and they aren’t afraid to capitalize on Big Ben’s transgressions for which they were so quick to punish him.
By reminded that Roethlisberger’s ban is six games long with the option of being reduced to four with good behavior. Now let the following just sink in for a second:
The Steelers’ first six games: one 2009 playoff team (Baltimore), zero games in primetime
The Steelers’ final ten games: six 2009 playoff teams (Cincinnati twice, Baltimore, New Orleans, New England, New York Jets), five games in primetime
Did the NFL expect the sports world to read the above with anything but a puzzled look?
Two things are clear:
1) The league wants to protect the Steelers to allow them to have a fighting chance at making the playoffs.
2) The league wants to capitalize on Big Ben’s return by putting him in primetime. (By the way, if Roethlisberger’s suspension does go the full six games, the first three games he plays in upon returning are all in primetime).
Unfortunately for the league, the schedule was released a day before the suspension was handed down to Pittsburgh’s quarterback. That meant that when Roethlisberger’s ban was unveiled, fans immediately looked to see what games he’d miss, when and where he’d return and how the schedule would shake out for the pride of western Pennsylvania.
What they found when looking down the schedule was six winnable games while Ben is on the sidelines. If he misses all six, his first game back then comes in Week 8 at New Orleans on Sunday Night Football. Ironically, the game is on Halloween Night. Hopefully, fans in the Crescent City will come to the Superdome dressed as everyone’s favorite sexual assaulting quarterback.
The more realistic option is that Ben misses four games, meaning his return comes in Week 6 at home when the Browns come to town. That means Roethlisberger would have two “tune-up” games against Cleveland and Miami before getting into the real teeth of the Steelers’ schedule starting with that big game in New Orleans against the Super Bowl champs.
If one looks deeper, the NFL continued to have the Steelers’ best interests in mind when make the 2010 schedule, seeing as they conveniently gave Pittsburgh their bye in Week 5. If Big Ben is reinstated after the four games, head coach Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh offense would have two weeks to reacclimate and get themselves straight in practice before they take the field with their starting quarterback in the lineup again.
Surely, these situations can’t all be coincidental, right? The NFL wouldn’t be trying to protect one of the league’s most prominent franchises? They aren’t looking out for the Rooney family? Ask a Bengals fan those questions and see what they say. Can we honestly say that if this happened to a team with an owner who has been a thorn in the side of the league (say, Jerry Jones), that things would be fair and equal?
(I bet that if Tony Romo were suspended for the first four games of the year that the Cowboys schedule would go Eagles, Giants, Saints, Vikings.)
The most nauseating part of all of this is the way the NFL is capitalizing on something that they have professed as being abhorrent and irresponsible. To put the Steelers on national television for what could potentially be Roethlisberger’s first three games back and to have them in primetime for five of the final ten weeks of the year reeks of foul play.
After sitting him down for his discretions, the league is not afraid to capitalize on the publicity and viewership that can be had with Pittsburgh’s high-profile position in the NFL’s primetime lineup. Surely, Roger Goodell cannot think that Big Ben is the right face to have on the NFL’s product moving forward, at least not until Big Ben stops exposing himself to college students in bathrooms.
But Goodell’s advisers must not have been moved by the commissioner’s suspension and stand against sexual assault. Or maybe they were just too focused on the financial windfall that could come from Big Ben’s return to the league in primetime, in the home of the Super Bowl champs, on Halloween no less. Cash is king.
Anyway you look at it, the NFL dropped the ball with this one. They effectively served their fans a cow pie sandwich, with the Big Ben suspension sandwiched between the schedule release and the NFL Draft. Now that we have it digested (yummy), the real aftertaste of what the NFL did for the Rooney family and the Pittsburgh Steelers is far more sour than sweet.
Most teams need to pay millions of dollars to get offensive lineman to provide that kind of protection. The Steelers got a little for free for the 2010-11 NFL season.