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News » Expanding regular season could hurt product

Expanding regular season could hurt product

Expanding regular season could hurt product
There can be too much of a good thing.

Even football.

Not that this will keep NFL owners from extending the regular season to 17 or 18 games. Expansion seems inevitable as early as 2011 (pending endorsement from the NFL Players Association).

Teams are desperate for additional revenue in tough economic times and because of what they claim is a lopsided labor contract. Selling television rights for more regular-season games with a reduced preseason package is a panacea.

But before such a radical change is made, NFL owners should look at another kind of green besides the added cash in their bank accounts. The league's landscape would drastically change — and not necessarily for the better.

Casual viewers may begin to tune out. The NFL risks more overexposure than Law & Order with 17 or 18 weeks of games followed by three rounds of conference playoffs, the Pro Bowl and then (finally) the Super Bowl sandwiched between early September and mid-February.

The league's regular season would flood into the thick of college bowl season, potentially lessening the crossover audience for both. Nineteen NCAA bowls were held between the NFL's 2008 season finale and first playoff game. Toss in January weekends with another 16 NFL games rather than a more palpable slate of four postseason matchups — like what may happen this year with the NFL regular-season schedule extending into 2010 — and even diehard fans may have their eyes glaze over.

I worry about the quality of football the NFL can provide over a greater period of time. Losing NFL clubs are the biggest concern. Think an 0-16 campaign felt long enough for the Detroit Lions and their supporters? Try adding more games to that misery. The same goes for any squad that has faded from postseason contention by Week 12.

Preseason schlock — where at least hope abounds — may not seem so bad after all.

The NFL could add spice to the end of the season by expanding its playoff field from 12 to 14 teams. But at last month's league meeting, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he didn't believe a majority of owners are interested in doing so. They should reconsider.

Injuries and player safety are two other sensitive topics. The 10-player average each team had on injured reserve in 2008 would grow with more games. Even if more bodies are added through increased rosters, franchises already are struggling to find enough quality players under the current system. The lack of an NFL developmental league compounds the problem.

I also wonder whether some of the league's stars will be cutting their careers short in an elongated regular season, especially those whose teams make the playoffs on a consistent basis. A generation of players would be forced to serve as guinea pigs for the NFL to learn whether that bears out.

That leads us to the touchy subject of player compensation. Current contracts are structured for a 16-game season. The NFLPA would have to approve a salary proration for additional contests. The same for changes to potentially lucrative incentives like yardage and play-time percentage. Such alterations could face strong resistance from players and agents who negotiated with different parameters in place. That would further slow efforts to extend the current labor agreement before a potential work stoppage in 2011.

This isn't to say the NFL schedule is copacetic. Goodell stated the obvious when proclaiming that preseason games don't live up to "our standards."

Note to the commish: They haven't for decades. That hasn't deterred NFL owners from continuing to charge full price for tickets to such watered-down fare.

Ideally, I'd love to see the NFL stage two preseason games and stick with the current schedule. Players would inherently be fresher and less prone to injury, leading to a higher quality regular-season product. Season-ticket holders would get a long overdue break by not having to pay for two home preseason contests to keep their seats. And the NFL record book wouldn't become antiquated as hallowed 16-game benchmarks like a 5,084-yard passing season become commonplace.

But I also can't see owners surrendering the bounty that a four-game preseason provides, let alone the opportunity to make more money with an expanded regular season. That's why the 16-game schedule won't stay sweet for much longer.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 2, 2009

Jared DeVries Name: Jared DeVries
Position: DE
Age: 32
Experience: 10 years
College: Iowa
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