NFL owners looking at extending season

By Mike Reiss
Updated: September 15, 2008

NFL BOSTON — The NFL adopted the 16-game regular season in 1978, but a combination of factors is likely to lead to a change — and it could be coming quicker than many are anticipating.

“The bottom line,” New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said, “is that I think you’ll see us going to 17 or 18 regular-season games in the future.”

The drumbeat on the issue has been growing louder.

In May, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell first floated the idea of extending the regular season.

Earlier this month, he mentioned it again to reporters in Cincinnati, this time laying out a reason for his thinking: He believes preseason football is a poor reflection on the NFL product.

That’s probably music to the ears of fans who don’t enjoy seeing second- and third-string players toil in the preseason, while paying regular-season ticket and parking prices to do so.

Yet it’s not just the poor quality of the preseason that has Goodell and NFL owners discussing expansion of the regular season.

The uncertain labor forecast with players is also driving the discussion.

In short, owners feel that too much of their profits go to players. The players don’t agree.

Expanding the regular season, which would be the fastest way for owners to generate more revenue, is one possibility to help the sides resolve the tug-of-war.

“We have to grow the pie; the biggest way of quickly growing the pie is in the media area,” Kraft said. “The feeling is that we would get greater revenue for media if we had more regular-season games.

“Now, you’d have to balance that with the need that coaches have to develop and get a team ready to play. Could it be two preseason games, or three? I personally wouldn’t be adverse to either one.”

A 17-game regular season would create some scheduling issues. Which teams would get the extra home games? Or would neutral sites be chosen so there was no advantage?

Even an 18-game regular season, which would eliminate those issues, comes with some questions. Are two preseason games enough to prepare a team for such a long season? Would it lead to more injuries?

While Goodell and owners explore such expansion, not to be overshadowed is the players’ role in such a discussion.

Linebacker Mike Vrabel, the Patriots’ player representative, believes that any agreement to lengthen the season must include added benefits for players.

“It’s always negotiable, but certainly they’d have to pay us more for 18 regular-season games,” Vrabel said.

Vrabel’s thoughts are tied to the fact that players don’t receive their full salaries until the regular season starts.

Veteran players make $1,225 per week during the preseason, plus $200 per preseason game.

Rookies make $800 per week, with no additional pay for games.

As Vrabel pointed out, that’s a nice arrangement for owners, because “they can pay us less for the preseason and they’re making the same as the regular season.”

So from Vrabel’s perspective, if owners elect to expand the regular season, the players’ salaries must expand with it.

It’s hard to argue with that logic, although it could be a point of contention with owners.

In his visit to Cincinnati a few weeks ago, Goodell made a few other points that indicated how strongly owners are considering expanding the season.

The commissioner said owners aren’t concerned with the season running deeper into February, because they “find a longer season to be attractive” and that “we’ve made accommodations with our Super Bowl dates that we can move them later in the year.”

Furthermore, Goodell said that the two-week window between conference championship games and the Super Bowl is preferred. He also noted that if the preseason were indeed shortened, a two-week window between the final preseason game and the first regular-season game could be adopted.