NFL sees gold in adding games, but at what cost?

'Sixteen games are enough,' Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis says

August 24, 2010|Peter Schmuck

If the NFL owners and television executives get their way — and they usually do — the league could soon move to an 18-game regular season and there would be no third preseason games like the one the Ravens will play on Saturday night against the New York Giants at M&T Bank Stadium.

While the prospect of a longer season and a shorter preseason certainly appeals to the fans, the football money men, the networks and the bookmakers, the players have some very legitimate reservations, which were outlined again on Tuesday by superstar linebacker Ray Lewis.

"Sixteen games are enough,'' Lewis said. "I mean, you're talking to someone who has been in this business for 15 years. The things that have to go into just keeping your body [in shape]. We're not automobiles. We're not machines. We're humans."

This isn't the first time that Lewis has weighed in on the strong possibility of an expanded schedule. Soon after it became apparent that the NFL was preparing to move in that direction, the players union pushed Lewis and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady out front to represent the concerns of the players.

Maybe that was simply a negotiating ploy to assure that the union gets a decent tradeoff for the extra games, but Lewis and Brady made a lot of sense then and it's obvious that Lewis still has sincere concerns about the well-being of both the game and the people who put their bodies on the line every Sunday to make it so popular.

"After the first three or four months, your body feels a certain way,'' Lewis said. "I don't care what type of shape you're in, I don't care what you're trying to do treatment-wise. You get to a certain point where you get to Week 15 or Week 16, you're saying 'OK, I've got to get my mind set for the playoffs' and you're talking about 18 games?

"Eighteen games, you got to ask yourself, how many people are truly healthy for 18 games, so will you get your true football, will you get your real football? Yeah, you're going to get the real football for whoever's protected, but I think it's a lot of football and I think if fans understood what we actually go through to play in December and January, I think a lot more people would fight with us that, I don't think it's knowlegdable to make us play 18 games. It's rough."

There's no question that there would be more injuries, and it's fair to ask just what some playoff teams might look like after two extra games. The NFL obviously figures it's going to be an even tradeoff for the season-damaging injuries that occur during the second half of the preseason schedule.

The way the owners, who are expectred to disuss the issue Wednesday in Atlanta, see it, each team is still going to play 20 times before the postseason. There will just be two more games that count in the standings and two fewer games that don't. But it's not quite that simple, since the two remaining preseason games for each team would take on much more importance and — presumably — there would be additional scrimmaging to get ready for the real games.

There are a lot of details that would have to be worked out, like when the season starts and ends. Since it's considered likely that the NFL would add a second bye week to ease the physical toll on the players, we're probably talking about a regular season that is three weeks longer, and you can't assume that it will start any earlier than the first weekend of September. In other words, get ready to watch the Super Bowl in late February.

It's not final, but it's a foregone conclusion. There's gold in those future former preseason games and the NFL is not known for leaving money on the table, but it remains to be seen whether the expanded schedule will be worth the unintended consequences.

If the extra games do lead to some high-profile injuries and water down the postseason, it's possible the expanded schedule could create more incentive for the game's older players to get out of the game earlier.

"It could,'' said Kelly Gregg. "Sixteen is a lot right now. You want to have good health when you retire. I can see how that might play on some players' minds, going from 16-plus to 18-plus."

Lewis isn't ready to go quite that far.

"I think the owners and everybody should take a step back and see how much if we just sat down and really tried to work together, we could work something out, but as far as my coming back or not, I've got too much football left in me and Monday night [opening night against the Jets] to worry about next year."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and with Brett Hollander on Tuesday and Thursday at six. Also, check out his blog "The Schmuck Stops Here" at http://www.baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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