<
>

Players should fight 18-game schedule

Adding two more games to the regular-season schedule would mean more pain for the players. Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire

People are clamoring? Really? Who, exactly, is begging for an 18-game NFL regular season?

It's not the players. It's not the educated fans who care about the product on the field. Roger Goodell must have been talking about the folks who stand to make even more obscene amounts of money off the labor of their employees. You know those people. They are the ones who recently approved a new contract for Goodell, a handsome deal that, while certainly not undeserved, reportedly will pay the commissioner $20 million in the final year.

The owners might want an 18-game regular-season schedule with just two preseason games, but no one who is directly affected by what transpires on the field does because an 18-game schedule would be lunacy. It would be reckless. It would be dangerous, medically and otherwise.

This sport is violent enough. Studies have shown it causes life-long issues for some of its warriors. It causes brain trauma and early arthritis and a host of other real problems for the men who choose to make it their profession. In more cases than we probably know, it has caused sane men to go crazy.

Last week during an interview with Ryan Ruocco and Robin Lundberg of ESPN Radio 1050 in New York, Goodell was asked about the possibility of the NFL moving to an 18-game regular season, something that was on the table last offseason when the league and the players were hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement.

The players didn't want to go to an 18-game format then. They stood strong on that issue. They refused to set a date for expanding to 18 games but agreed to reconsider, if asked, in 2013, which basically was the equivalent of agreeing to nothing.

Their stance hasn't changed in eight months. It likely never will.

"I appreciate the enthusiasm for it, and I hear it from the fans consistently," Goodell said. "People want more football. I think they want less preseason and more regular season, and that's the concept we are talking about here. We wouldn't add an extra two games without reducing the preseason, and we are not going to do it without the players' support, so we did that in the collective bargaining agreement instead of having the unilateral right, which we had.

"We determined that we were going to do this together. We are going to make changes in the offseason and during the preseason and during regular season to make the game safer. If we can accomplish that, we'll look at the idea of restructuring the season and taking two preseason games away and the potential of adding regular-season games, but I don't think that will happen until at least '13 or '14."

Despite the fact that Goodell keeps floating the possibility, I don't think it will happen -- ever.

Fans don't necessarily want more football. They want less preseason football slammed down their throats. They don't want to be forced to pay regular-season prices for exhibition games between third-string scrubs who won't even be on a roster in September. That's what they don't want. There is a difference.

Adding two regular-games and subtracting two preseason games does not equal a wash where the players are concerned. This isn't an apples-to-apples exchange. If anything, fringe players would rather have two more preseason games to prove themselves. The regulars? They would be exchanging essentially two quarters of less rigorous preseason action for eight quarters of regular-season madness. Definitely not an equal swap.

The players do not support expanding the regular season. They didn't in March, April, May, June or July, when they were fighting for the new CBA. That is why an 18-game regular season is not in there.

Article 31 of the CBA reads as follows: "The League and/or Clubs may increase the number of regular season games per Team above the standard of sixteen (16) only with NFLPA approval, which may be withheld at the NFLPA's sole discretion."

In other words, don't count on it.

Goodell has done a remarkable job making the game safer, but it will never be a "safe" sport to play. Safer in 2012 hopefully will mean fewer players will go through the decline that Dave Duerson and others experienced. Safer hopefully will mean fewer concussions, fewer hits on defenseless receivers, fewer helmet-to-helmet hits, fewer injuries due to horse collar tackles and fewer significant injuries suffered on practice fields.

Goodell should make the game safer because that is the right thing to do, not because he wants to add more games to the schedule. Playing 18 instead of 16 is not making the game safer. It is adding 120 more minutes of risk to an already risky slate.

Goodell and the owners will continue to push for two more regular-season games because there is more money to be made. They are the ones clamoring for a longer regular season, not the players, who will -- and should -- continue to push back.

Ashley Fox is an NFL columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @AshleyMFox.