Door ajar for 18-game season, now shut it for good

by | Senior Writer

Before we move on to free-agent signings and the trade of quarterback Kevin Kolb, there's one overlooked aspect of the new collective bargaining agreement that should be addressed, and that's the 18-game schedule. In case you missed it, the door is still open.

Yeah, I know, we're not going to have an 18-game schedule for the next two seasons. But you could in 2013, provided the NFLPA agrees to it.

Now, that's a big deal for both sides. First of all, gaining the players' consent means the NFL cannot bull-rush an 18-game schedule through them where once it seemed it might. In fact, it was last year that Colts' vice chairman Bill Polian called an 18-game schedule "a fait accompli," suggesting that its time had come.

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Well, it hasn't. Not yet. But it might, and this is where owners scored points. When I attended the annual NFLPA meetings in Florida in March, players insisted they never, ever, ever would sign off on an 18-game schedule; that it was an issue that wouldn't be bargained.

Reason: Nobody but the league wanted it.

OK, so it's a non-negotiable item, right? Not so fast. By leaving the door ajar, players left open the possibility of an 18-game season in 2013. Granted, they probably kept it in there as a possible bargaining chip, figuring they could gain something substantial in return. But what happened to that idea that they never, ever, ever would swallow it?

I'll tell you what: It went the way of financial transparency.

It was at that same NFLPA meeting that players insisted they wouldn't agree to a new deal without complete financial disclosure from each of the league's 32 teams. In fact, that was a rallying cry for much of the first few months of negotiations. Then, it just went away ... just as the ironclad opposition to an 18-game schedule went away.

Hey, it happens. Players weren't going to get financial disclosure, so they dropped it and moved on. But they could get an 18-game season, and here's where I'd like to offer a piece of advice to both parties -- don't. You heard me: Don't do it.

The NFL is on a player safety kick that is long overdue, with the latest advancements in practice habits and fewer offseason workouts. For a league that should be sensitive to injury issues -- particularly dementia stemming from recurring concussions -- that is more than a smart idea; it's a pre-emptive strike against future criticism, lawsuits and tragedies like the death of former Bears star Dave Duerson.

But how does a league that expresses concern about the safety of its players also express support for more regular-season games? The two are mutually exclusive. Either you're for the safety of the players, or you're for cashing more checks, and former coach Mike Ditka nailed it when he told ESPN that "the only thing [an 18-game schedule] is about is money." Trading two regular-season games for two preseason games would make the game more attractive to networks, which, in turn, would generate more profits for everyone.

Naturally, that includes players, and more money sounds great until you realize how you get there: By punishing your head and your body another two weeks. There is too much evidence out there that suggests football contributes to shortened lives, and you'd think the NFL would be doing more not less to point the arrow in the other direction.

With some of its moves in the latest CBA, it has -- and it should be applauded. But I'll be honest: I don't like the idea of leaving the door open on an 18-game schedule. It wasn't a good idea when it was proposed, it's not a good idea now and it won't be a good idea in 2013.

Don't tempt players by offering increased revenue in exchange for two more regular-season games. The NFL generates plenty of money as it is. So don't get greedy. The game is fine. Leave it alone.

And leave the schedule alone with it.


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