I'd hate to be the guy who has to tell Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke about the NFL's latest rule change. Today in Washington, D.C., league owners voted to compel one team each year to appear on HBO's Hard Knocks, which follows - sometimes in intimate and embarrassing ways - a team's training camp and its preparation for the regular season. In previous years, teams have been reluctant to appear on the show, causing last-minute scrambling by the network and the league.
As any true fan knows by now, Harbaugh and Baalke barely can tolerate even the slightest media intrusion. Practices are, for all intents and purposes, closed. Injury information is guarded like KGB files. Getting to within 300 yards of team headquarters requires a badge and a retinal scan.
Yes, Harbaugh has the ability to ham it up and would make for extremely compelling television (and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has so much personalty, HBO would craft a spinoff for him, "Tomsula Tonight"). But Baalke is very serious and very reclusive. Baalke is filmed less often than the endangered snow leopard of the Himalayas.
There's one way the two men can avoid the root-canal that would be appearing on Hard Knocks. And that's to make the playoffs. Today's rule change came with several loopholes. Every team will be eligible to be picked except: teams that have made the playoffs in at least one of the last two seasons; teams that have a first-year head coach; and teams that have participated in the previous 10 seasons. (Chiefs, Cowboys, Jets, Dolphins, Bengals).
It also helps that HBO's formula calls for lesser-known players on lesser-known teams. That is, the Cardinals and Raiders might be more compelling to them than the 49ers.
I wonder if Jed York also would be willing to work out a deal with the league. That is, have a handshake agreement that the 49ers will play in London again after this season if they are kept off of Hard Knocks. Owners today also approved three London games in 2014 to be hosted by the Raiders, Falcons and Jaguars.
The 49ers are in line to visit the Raiders next year, and it's possible the league could play that game overseas to avoid the violence that ended the teams' annual preseason meeting two years ago.
- Matt Barrows