Preseason Ideas: Cheaper Tickets, Fewer Games

August 14, 2009|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Let's start with a mini-rant on a favorite subject: preseason football.

Watching the Ravens against the Washington Redskins on Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium, all I could think of was: How does the NFL get away with it?

How does it get away with charging full ticket prices to games in which the starters play a few series and disappear for the rest of the night?

How does it get away with mandating that season-ticket holders pony up for these meaningless games at all?

This is the biggest rip-off in major sports today. And the fans know it.

Worse, the NFL knows it, too. Which makes the whole thing even more infuriating.

So basically what we saw in the Ravens-'Skins game was another predictable preseason game that wasn't worth your hard-earned money if you saw it in person.

The stars did not exactly shine for long in this one.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco played a little over a quarter (although he played well, 9-for-15 passing for 103 yards.) Wide receiver Derrick Mason played slightly less. The other wide receiver, Mark Clayton, sat out with a torn hamstring.

It was the same for the defense. All-world linebacker Ray Lewis played one series and was excused for the evening. Same for safety Ed Reed.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs sat out with a heel injury. Samari Rolle was sidelined, too, still recovering from neck surgery.

And, of course, it was pretty much the same with the Redskins.

Clinton Portis, their star running back, sat this one out. So did Albert Haynesworth, the defensive tackle signed to a monster seven-year, $100 million contract in March.

After the starters were lifted, the game turned into the usual slog, with reserves and fringe players smacking into each other with varying degrees of enthusiasm and effectiveness.

On full display was the conundrum the preseason is to NFL coaches.

Sure, they worry about injuries - we get that.

The Ravens obviously don't want to see a Lewis or a Flacco go down, done in by some wild-eyed rookie or free agent looking to make a name for himself and earn a roster spot.

The Redskins don't want to see players like Portis or Haynesworth crumpling to the turf, either. Especially when they had to practically back up a Wells Fargo truck to Haynesworth's house just to sign him.

On the other hand, NFL coaches still need to evaluate their talent in game situations and figure out their rosters.

Sure, they pretty much know who their starters will be even before the preseason.

But they need to know how the backup guys, draft picks and undrafted free agents look in real games, too, before the real season starts in September.

Now there's word the NFL finally realizes fan anger over preseason ticket prices is reaching the breaking point.

The league is even considering cutting back the preseason schedule by one or two games, which would be a great move. Two preseason games is plenty of time for coaches to discern who they've got.

Unfortunately, the NFL is also considering adding a game or two to the regular season, which would be another act of insanity.

Think there are already too many injuries in the NFL?

Wait until you see what happens when they make the season longer. Players will be dropping like extras in a George Romero movie.

Look, it's a violent game. Players are big and fast. And when big, fast players collide with each other, some get hurt.

Adding two games to the schedule just increases the odds of a player getting banged up and maybe having his season end.

Besides, they would have to pay the players a ton of extra money to get them to agree to a 17- or 18-game regular schedule anyway.

No, if the NFL wants to make the players and fans happy, here's what it should do:

* Cut out a couple of these meaningless preseason games.

* Trim preseason ticket prices in half. (I know, I know, like that'll ever happen.)

* And leave the regular season at 16 games so we're not watching a steady parade of star players being carted off the field on stretchers.

That's something no one would want to see.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM.

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