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fordfixer
04-05-2009, 01:36 AM
On the Steelers: An 18-game season could hurt a lot if you're a player
The question: How much is added risk and pain worth?
Sunday, April 05, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09095/960685-66.stm

The NFL is determined to kill its golden goose and apparently will stop at nothing to do so.

The latest evidence is the league's eagerness to extend the regular season to 18 games, which would push the Super Bowl into mid-February. The public reasons given, of course, are for the enjoyment and fairness of the "fans" but the real intent is to milk it for all the money it can get.

If they extend the regular season to 18 games they will shorten the exhibition season from four games to two. They'll get two more real games at the expense of two practice games. And since teams charge the same price for tickets to exhibition games as they do real games, fans should love it. And what's wrong with extending the season of the most popular sport in America? Not to mention, playoff games now will extend into television's February sweeps month. The networks -- and local TV stations that have programs and pepper local news around football -- can't wait (although there is a disadvantage for local TV stations, such as KDKA, which make money producing and broadcasting most preseason games).

The networks will provide more money for the rights fees to the season. Thus, extending the season is really for the money, not the fans.

There's nothing wrong with making money; that's why they call it professionalfootball. But let's examine the downside of the 18-game schedule.

NFL owners approved more rules at their meetings last month to continue to promote player safety. That issue has been at the forefront of many rules, fines and emphasis by the league office for quite some time. Yet, extending the season by two more real games will put the players in more danger on many levels.

The reasoning by proponents of the expanded schedule is that they really are not expanding the schedule. They call it a 20-game schedule now, with 16 regular-season games and four exhibition games. All they are doing, they note, is making an adjustment by taking two exhibition games and turning them into regular-season games.

Again, that looks good on paper but starters play only a fraction of four preseason games. They play maybe two series in the first game, a little more in the second, a little more than half a game in the third and hardly at all in the fourth.

In an 18-game schedule, starters would play 18 full games. And with only two exhibition games to prepare for the bloated regular season, coaches will want to play their starters more often to get their team ready in the shorter preseason for the start of the regular season.

So, for the average starter who plays 16 games and perhaps one full preseason game, he now must play nearly 20 full games. Not only does that add to the players' risk -- think Ben Roethlisberger as a sack target for two or three more full games -- it adds to their wear and tear as the season drones on.

The reduced preseason also will limit the playing time of younger players and thus fewer chances to display their wares in game situations because starters will play deeper into them.

There's talk that the extended schedule would mean expanded rosters and perhaps even a developmental league for that very reason, because more players will be hurt. But if they expand the schedule to bring in more money, why would NFL owners want to dilute that by expanding their rosters? And the idea of a developmental league failed miserably with the collapse of NFL Europe.

There also remains the danger of more late-season games rendered meaningless as teams either run away with their division titles or fall hopelessly behind. What now has some teams playing two or three games at the end of the season that mean nothing could turn into four or five meaningless games -- with all the accompanying empty seats.

Dan Rooney always opposed attempts to lengthen the NFL schedule beyond 16 games. He believed that each NFL game holds a significance no other pro league can attach to one game. But now, he and Steelers president Art Rooney II are willing to compromise on the issue. The Rooneys favor a 17-game season because they sense the rising tide among their colleagues who favor an expanded schedule and want to limit the damage.

There remains one hope to prevent the expansion of the NFL's regular season -- the players. Any expansion of the regular season must be negotiated with the NFL Players Association. But the idea of more money in the players' pockets will provide an intoxicating reason for them to vote for it. And if they do, they then deserve what they get.
Going to school on NFL's forked tongue

The hypocrisy throughout the NFL continues this spring as each team is permitted to schedule up to 30 college prospects for visits to their facilities, and each player is permitted to visit all 32 teams if invited.

These occur after the weeklong NFL combine tests in February in Indianapolis, attended annually by more than 300 college prospects. Players fly all over the country in April for these visits.

As the NFL continues to publicly take a stand that it wants players to stay in college and get an education, what kind of education does anyone think the players are getting in the spring? None.

The reality is that any pro prospect must drop out of school in the spring of his senior -- or junior -- year and turn himself into a test dummy for the NFL for months on hand. There is no way a college student can continue his studies this semester if he wants to play in the NFL.

That's all OK, because these guys are preparing and auditioning for what they hope will be their profession. But the NFL should stop the hypocrisy of promoting education while at the same time impeding the chances of college players to graduate.

To add to that ludicrous stance, the league has a rule that, except for one short minicamp, no drafted player can participate in his pro team's workouts until his school's term ends this semester. Santonio Holmes, for example, missed almost all of his rookie spring drills with the Steelers in 2006 because Ohio State's term did not end until June.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.
First published on April 5, 2009 at 12:00 am