Friday, September 5, 2003
Updated: September 6, 8:41 AM ET
ESPN.com news services
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is considering authorizing the league to study the feasibility of adding two games to the current 16-game schedule and reducing the number of preseason games, the Washington Post reported in its Saturday editions.
The proposal would be made at a league meeting in Chicago in late October, with the 2005 season the earliest target for change.
The league has drawn criticism this summer for the length of its preseason after injuries to some key players, including quarterbacks Mike Vick of the Atlanta Falcons and Chad Pennington of the New York Jets.
But during an interview in his Washington office, Tagliabue said the proposal would be considered by the owners for competitive reasons and not in response to the loss of key players.
"We need to focus on whether or not two games are sufficient to get a team ready for the season," Tagliabue said. "Some of these clubs are concluding that for many players, including the top players, the second and third preseason games are critical while the first and fourth games are merely complementary."
Starting players generally get most of their work in the first half of the second and third preseason games, with younger players trying to make the club playing in the first and fourth games.
Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said he was aware of the possible proposal. "The game has changed so much a player does not need four games to get ready for the regular season. You're not going to get any complaints from the players if they shorten the preseason," he said.
The NFL has had a 16-game regular season for 25 years, with teams playing four and five preseason games. Also, each team has one week off during the season.
"There have been tremendous changes in our football operations over the past 25 years," Tagliabue said. "Everything today is at an incredibly high level, with great team practice facilities, great medical care and tremendous athletes preparing to play at least 11 months a year in most cases."
The economics of adding games to the regular season would have to be worked out. The players, under the current labor agreement, receive 64 percent of revenues, including the preseason gate. Upshaw said players are paid over 17 weeks of the regular season, by the game, and earn additional preseason pay. Additional regular-season work would have to be negotiated, Upshaw said. The NFL estimates the preseason generates $350 million in revenues.
New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi is opposed to any change in the schedule.
"You have to have contact," he said. "Look at how many injuries happen in practice. It's football. You cannot approach football trying to avoid injuries. Playing 18 games scares me. Year in and year out we have more teams in contention for playoff spots. What would two more games do to that?"