Sunday, March 29, 2009

NFL should abandon idea of longer season

By Tim Cowlishaw
The Dallas Morning News
09:34 PM CDT on Saturday, March 28, 2009

Getty Images

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 02: NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media during the Post Super Bowl XLIII Coach's Press Conference on February 2, 2009 in Tampa, Florida.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell favors expanding the league's regular season. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones likes the idea of an 18-game schedule.

I think it's a big mistake.

NFL owners discussed shortening the preseason and lengthening the regular season at owners' meetings last week and are expected to discuss the topic again in May. It's a popular concept.

As salaries have increased through the years, teams have grown increasingly reluctant to play their starters any meaningful number of plays in the exhibition games. As a result, fans have grown bored by the contests and are angered that 20 percent of the cost of their season tickets goes to games that don't count.

Switching to two preseason and 18 regular-season games sounds like a win-win scenario for everyone. It isn't.

The NFL should be wary of adding games to the schedule.

As it is, the NFL is the one sport that leaves its fans wanting more when the season is over.

Major League Baseball plays too many games. It already seems as if spring training has gone on forever, and this year's World Series won't end until November.

The NBA and the NHL? Too many games.

For that matter, 36 Sprint Cup races in a NASCAR season that runs from February through November?

The NFL went from 12 to 14 games in 1961, from 14 to 16 in 1978. It doesn't need to go up again.

First of all, there are some owners, including the Pittsburgh Steelers' Art Rooney II, who think a 17-game season would be fine. That won't work at all.

How do you have some teams getting nine home games and others getting eight? In the NFC East last year, the teams were 23-9 at home. Tell me how fair it is one season that the Giants and Redskins get nine home games and the Cowboys and Eagles get eight.

So then you have to talk about reducing the pre-season to two games and creating the 18-game regular season that Jones wants.

That's simply too many regular-season games.

Attrition already is a huge factor in the NFL. Put two more weeks of wear and tear on linemen's bodies.

You won't need much beyond injury reports to pick the champions.

Running backs' careers already are becoming shorter and shorter. You want to ask Marion Barber to play 18 to 19 games a year? You really think that's a good idea for anybody?

An expanded schedule also means playing regular-season games in August (not likely) or finishing the regular season in the middle of January and playing the Super Bowl in mid-February. Super Bowl aside, the league just can't have that many cold weather games determining playoff winners.

A 16-game schedule has a perfect balance, breaking the season up into four quarters, much like a game. Teams play their division opponents twice (six games) plus two other divisions (eight games) plus two more based on the previous season's standings.

There's a fairness to that.

I know owners and players both see big dollar signs when they think about an 18-game schedule. Obviously the NFLPA would have to sign off on it and salaries would be increased. Both sides need to study the trouble signs as well.

Players' bodies are broken down at the end of the season as it stands.

Another eight quarters of collisions for each team is going to shorten careers and has a chance to dilute America's favorite sporting product.

NFL owners just spent a week voting in favor of four new rules designed to promote safety and reduce injuries.

Adding two regular-season games to the schedule will do far more to increase the length of the league's injury list than those rules can ever do to reduce it.

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