An 18-game schedule good for football, even if bad for players

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NFL owners gave wide support to the concept of increasing the league’s regular season schedule from 16 to 18 games during a meeting on Wednesday. The change would also reduce the number of preseason games from four to two.

“We want to do it the right way for everyone, including the players, the fans and the game in general,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. “There’s a tremendous amount of momentum for it. We think it’s the right step.”

The owners did not vote on a specific proposal as they continue to iron out details. With a looming lockout possible for the 2011 season if the owners and players union cannot agree on a new collective bargaining agreement, the owners are holding off on such a vote.

As expected, players around the league have voiced their concern about the possibility of having to play two extra games.

“I would vote to eliminate two preseason games and then keep it at a 16-game season because the longer you’re out there playing, the more your body breaks down,” Bears tight end Desmond Clark said. “When you get into December, you’re like walking zombies. You can’t feel your joints.”

Other players shared Clark’s sentiment about the physical demands the longer season will place on their bodies and their futures after football.

“They are asking you to play more games and put yourself at more risk, and they are also asking us to take a pay cut,” Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said.

Some players, like Bears running back Chester Taylor, wouldn’t mind it as much because it’ll mean two extra paychecks. Other players, feel that reducing the number of preseason games won’t allow coaches to get a good enough look at fringe players.

“If it was a two-game preseason, then the starters are going to see most of that time because they’ve got to get ready for the season, so if you’re third string, good luck,” said Colts linebacker Gary Brackett. “When I was a rookie, I needed every bit of those four games.”

To me, it all sounds like whining from overpaid players, anyway, who simply want to get as much money as possible for as little work as necessary.

One thing players have to realize is that they’re not entitled to play professional football. Playing in the National Football League is a privilege, not a right. If they don’t want to play two extra games, then step aside and someone else will gladly take their jobs.

A situation like this reminds me of the movie A League of their Own. After the lady ballplayers were shown the skirts that they’d be wearing during games, none seemed very pleased. Ira Lowenstein interrupts them and flatly states, “If you can’t play ball in this, you can’t play ball with us. There are 38 girls getting train tickets home who will play in a bathing suit if we asked them to.” (I might be paraphrasing; I’m not sure of the exact quote)

What that quote essentially means is that the players have no power because somebody else will take their place. That’s one of the reasons I don’t fear a player lockout next year. Would I like to see the best players in the world playing in the NFL next year? Of course. Would I stop watching football if inferior players were on the field? Hell no. My allegiance is to the NFL and to the Chicago Bears, not to the players wearing the uniforms. I love football and can’t get enough of it.

The bottom line is that the majority of fans in this country want to see more football because America loves football. And the more football that is played, the more revenue the league will generate.

“I really think going to an 18-game season is critical to us getting a labor deal,” said Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots. “There’s not a lot of ways in this economic environment we can generate incremental revenues. That’s the best way. … I think it’s a win-win all around.”

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Matt Wilhelm would like players to get a piece of that pie. “Obviously the players want to be compensated for two more games. That’s the one thing the players have to get met.”

Assuming the players do get compensated, they have no reason to complain, nor do they have the leverage to do so.

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