Looking at the 18-game regular season

For years, NFL owners have been forcing their fans to pay regular-season prices for worthless preseason games and have never lost a moment of sleep over this despicable practice. Their explanation was, "Well, if we reduced the price of preseason games, we’d have to raise it regular-season games to make up the difference in our revenue.’’

In other words, they weren’t going to take a penny less for their product.

Now, all of a sudden, Roger Goodell and his band of silver-spooned billionaires are trying to tell us their concern for you, Joe Season Ticket Holder, is behind their desire to go to an 18-game regular-season, or, as Goodell and the NFL PR machine are calling it, an ``enhanced’’ schedule.

``We need to improve the quality of what we’re offering our fans and what we’re asking our fans to pay for,’’ said Goodell.

As we have learned during his first four years as commish, what Goodell wants, he usually gets. Especially when there’s another extra buck in it for the owners. An 18-game regular season will be a reality in 2012.

It will be a big hit with the league’s fanatical fans, who can’t get enough football. But let’s be very clear about something. It’s going to cost you. If you don’t think teams are going to jack up season-ticket prices when they go to a longer regular season, I have an ocean-front condo in Omaha I’d like to show you.

While I personally am looking forward to the idea of covering two more meaningful games and two fewer preseason scrimmages, I have two problems with the idea.

* For starters, the motivation behind it. I like Goodell, but he’s lying through his teeth when he tells you an ``enhanced season’’ is all about improving the quality of the product for the fans. What it’s about is increasing the owners’ pot of gold. By adding two more weeks of games to the schedule, the league is going to be able to get a whole bunch more money from their network partners.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But please, be honest about your motives. Don’t throw us a load of crap about how you’re doing something for the fans when you’re doing it to increase your profit margin.

* The big problem I have with going to an 18-game regular season is the toll it’s going to take on the league’s players. To their credit, Goodell and the owners have put a major emphasis on increasing player safety the last couple of years. They’ve changed some of the rules to protect players from career-threatening hits. They finally are attacking the concussion issue.

Yet, they don’t seem to have any problem with increasing the wear and tear on players by adding two more regular-season games. The league says it still would be a 20-game season. Technically, that’s true.

But the fact of the matter is most starters play no more than six quarters in the preseason. A quarter in the first game, two in the second game and three in the third. They might make a cameo appearance in the final preseason game, but that’s it.

With a two-game preseason, starters likely still will play at least 4 or 5 quarters in those games, plus eight more meaningful quarters at the end of the regular-season when players’ bodies are worn down and more susceptible to injury.

The league is trying to quiet the players’ objections to a longer regular season with talk of an additional bye week that would come right before the start of the regular-season, enlarging rosters, possibly cutting back offseason camps, and even reducing the amount of hitting in training camp. And of course, by pointing out to them that an ``enhanced’’ schedule will put more money in their pockets.

Basically, they’re telling the players, ``Hey, isn’t a bigger paycheck well worth the risk of needing that joint replacement surgery a couple of years earlier?’’

``Don’t get me wrong,’’ Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis told reporters recently. ``I love the game of football. If fans want to show their love, they should let everyone know that we are not machines. I’ve been blessed to play this game for so long, but it’s time to start thinking about what legacy and impact changes like this will leave for the players of tomorrow and us after we retire.’’

The players are caught between a rock and a hard place. The owners want to cut the players’ share of the revenue pie. An 18-game schedule provides a way for the league to enlarge that revenue pie, increase their percentage of the pie, and at the same time, not cut into the overall dollar amount the players receive.

Ultimately, the issue is about money for both sides. And even though the players know a longer regular-season will shorten their careers and cut further into their post-football quality of life, they’ll eventually give their blessing to it.

To read our earlier post about Cornelius Ingram, click here.