League, players differ greatly on 18 game schedule
By MARK CONCANNON
Feb. 3, 2011
Its biggest game will be played Sunday in the 21st century version of the Roman Colosseum, a contest that will be covered by 5,000 members of the media and adorned with signage from multi-national corporations who spend fortunes for the privilege.
Despite the party atmosphere at the Super Bowl, the NFL is avoiding the disaster that is lurking around the corner.
There may not be a season in 2011. The league's collective bargaining agreement with the players expires on March 3rd. And by all indications, the two sides are currently not close to reaching a new deal.
What follows here is not an analysis of where players and management stand on who gets what percentage of revenue from which sources. It is instead a look at one particular issue that the league has proposed and about which the players I've spoken to here in Dallas have very strong opinions.
There is talk of expanding the regular season from 16 to 18 games. From a business standpoint, the economics of two more games are clear. Two more weeks of network television revenue would greatly enhance the NFL's bottom line.
NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash appeared at a news conference this week in Dallas to address the expiring CBA. Pash said an 18 game schedule could be part of the new business model but "doesn't have to be." Pash said that while the financial benefits of two extra games are attractive, he feels there is another, more significant factor for the change.
"The best reason for an 18 game season, it is responsive to fan interest," Pash said. "And if fans have been clear on anything it is that they have little use for four preseason games. They don't like them. They don't want to pay for them. They don't get much value out of them."
"So in an environment where you have challenges anyway, giving your fans more value for their dollar would be a positive thing. So I think I've said that is easier to accomplish that with an 18-game regular season."
Under one proposal, teams would play 18 regular season games and just two in the preseason, the "18 and 2" plan, replacing the current "16 and 4" set up. Both equations add up to 20, but in the minds of every player I spoke with, the numbers are decidedly different.
Their argument is that all players would be expected to participate for the entirety of all of the "18" as opposed to now when very few play more than a half in all of the "4."
"You already know it's a violent game as it is," said Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. "And you're going to add two more games to it? So why would you do that?"
"No player wants to play 18 games. It may be one or two, but the majority of players don't want to play but they (the NFL) want to do it for money, for revenues. They're not thinking about the players safety if you're trying to add two more games."
"I don't think it's ethical," said Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop. "But there are no ethics in business. It is what it is."
"Whatever the statistics of injury rates is, adding two more games to it every year, I think that's a problem."
"It's a long season as it is and guys get beat up," said Packer offensive tackle Chad Clifton.
The Packers began preparing for this season last March. They will play their final game on Feb. 6.
"It seems long already," said wide receiver Jordy Nelson. "I just can't imagine having another two weeks after this week. That's what it would be. It seems like a long year already and two more games would be rough."
"If this was an 18 game season, we'd only be in week two of the playoffs," said linebacker Clay Matthews who has battled a nagging hamstring injury for most of the season. "I know a lot of these guys. We're being held together by some duct tape and whatnot. It's difficult but we'll see where they'll go with that. I know I'd like to think 16 games is enough."
Ward feels adding two extra games would greatly decrease career longevity.
"Very depleted," Ward said. "Very depleted. You won't see any more ten-year careers, only the quarterbacks. The running backs probably go down in two years. Wide receivers, you would knock years off a lot of players if you played two more games."
Matthews says that judging by history, the longer regular season is probably going to happen.
"It will be interesting to see where the CBA will go," Matthews said. "I know as years have progressed, they've gone with a 12, 14, 16 game season so that looks to be the case. So we'll take it in stride if that's case. But I know most of these guys, 16 games is definitely enough. This is a very demanding and difficult sport. Guys are playing injured and playing hurt right now."
And some players feel that with myriads of sold out stadiums across America and TV ratings consistently high, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
"It's great as it is," Ward said. "It don't need to get any better. Playoff situation is good. Add two more games? Extra check? Those extra checks are not worth it. Having more stuff (surgery) done to me, later on in life? I don't want it."
"I think everything's working good right now," Nelson said. "You might as well keep it the same."
But the economy is certainly less favorable than it was in 2006 when the existing collective bargaining agreement was signed. And there have been reports that between 8 and 10 NFL teams are losing money, an unthinkable scenario four years ago.
Adolfo Birch, the NFL senior vice president of law and labor policy, has been part of the negotiating team. Birch says he is confident a deal can get done but is aware of the players' feelings about a longer season.
"I think what the players have said, they're entitled to their opinions," Birch said. "They've made it very public. We've made our position public. At the end of the day we'll get to whatever agreement we can get to on that."
Green Bay has made a remarkable run and will play in a Super Bowl featuring two of the league's most storied franchises. But as this iconic game is celebrated this week, the Packers, Steelers and the rest of their football brethren wonder how many games they will play next season. Zero? Eighteen? Or somewhere in between?
"I think it's a little bit of give and take," Bishop said. "If they're willing to give something, then it's give and take. I'll let the NFLPA (NFL Players Association) people handle that and I'm sure they'll make the right decision for all of us and my faith is in them so we'll see how it plays out."