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Eller: Schedule expansion a mistake for NFL


Say it with me, National Football League.

I will not adopt an 18-game schedule. Once more. I will not adopt an 18-game schedule.

Good. Now find the nearest blackboard and write that sentence 100 times, because that's how important it is to get this message into the minds of those flirting with the idea of tinkering with the current NFL season.

The gist of the plan from the boys at NFL headquarters is simple. Rather than have four preseason games and a 16-game regular season, commissioner Roger Goodell and others have proposed the notion of converting two of those preseason games into regular season matchups, staying within the ideal 20-game full season (not including playoffs.)

I will not adopt an 18-game schedule.

At first thought, the idea of an 18-game schedule sounds great, particularly to the casual fan. Wow, two more games to watch my team (sorry, St. Louis fans). Another two weeks to sit at work and talk fantasy football and enjoy those always-relatable Monday Night Football commercials. Who wouldn't want that?

For starters, that's exactly who wouldn't want that. The starters for most teams are fortunate enough to withstand even a current schedule without suffering some sort of injury, let alone a season-ending one. Running backs in particular are the biggest target.

Take Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis, for example. Portis enters his ninth season in a few weeks and will once again be expected to carry the load in the backfield. But of his previous eight years in the NFL, Portis has appeared in each of his team's games only four times and just three seasons has he been the starting running back for each game. In those eight seasons, Portis has already rushed more than 2,000 times, while LaDanian Tomlinson has close to 3,000 carries in just nine seasons. Compare that to someone like Eric Dickerson, who played for 12 years and accumulated just over 2,900 attempts or Franco Harris, who needed 13 seasons to reach the 2,900 mark.

I will not adopt an 18-game schedule.

It's a different era, physically. Of course, football has always been a physical sport. I'm not going to even suggest the idea that football players are tougher in 2010 than they were 50 years ago, because that's simply not true. What has changed, however, is the level of physicality. Fifty years ago, a 230-pound linebacker hitting you was just that, a 230-pound linebacker. Today, that same linebacker sports massive pads, can run a 4.6 40-yard dash and could potentially bench press my car.

And while the NFL has become more physical over the years, it's nothing compared to the physical difference between the college game. Currently, the college football season is somewhere between 10 and 13 games, depending on bowl games and conference schedules. Already there's a three-game increase for rookies, not including pre- and postseason games. Adding to that could be potentially damaging.

I will not adopt an 18-game schedule.

The biggest incentive for an 18-game schedule is obvious, however -- money, the one thing everybody loves, especially the NFL, which would undoubtedly see a substantial increase in revenue with two more games added, with profits from ticket sales, advertising and sponsors for another two weeks.

But the thought behind that wrinkle only spells out one word in my mind -- greed. The NFL is easily the highest-earning professional sport in the world today, earning $8 billion each year. It's tough to make those pennies stretch, I'm sure.

And to trap you, the consumer, into believing this new schedule is a good idea, the NFL will usually remind you of the outrageous ticket prices fans pay for preseason games, so why not make those games regular season ones?

But here's the long-term thought on that. Let's say you have two options. Door No. 1 lets you purchase a ticket for a preseason game, where you watch the starting offense and defense play for about a quarter, then watch as second- and third-string players try their hardest to make the squad.

Door No. 2 allows you to purchase that same ticket to a game in Week 16, where your team has fortunately already clinched its division three weeks ago, thanks to those two extra games in August. Now, you get to watch the starting offense and defense play for, oh, about a quarter, then watch as second- and third-string players try ... well, just try not to get hurt so they're ready for the playoffs.

To me, I'll take door No. 1. Are preseason tickets expensive? Yes. Should those prices be as high as a regular season game? Of course not, but that's a different argument altogether. The point here is even when the NFL attempts to serenade you with the idea of two more regular-season games to watch your team, what you are more likely to see is two more weeks of starters resting on the sidelines, either because they need their rest for the playoffs, or they've twisted their ankle for the ninth time.

I will not adopt an 18-game schedule.

There's a reason greed is considered one of the seven deadly sins. Let's just hope it doesn't end up killing what is currently a successful NFL product.

Thank you, NFL. Now finish clapping the erasers and you may go.



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