Frantz: Answers must be found to NFL schedule issue

How much football is too much football? There are no easy answers to the question of whether or not the NFL should expand its regular season from 16 to 18 games, thereby eliminating two of the standard four preseason games, but an answer must be found nonetheless. 

With the NFL’s preseason underway, the annual moaning and complaining about meaningless games is in full force. Fans don’t like preseason games because they get to watch star players and starters for only a fraction of the contests, yet they are forced to pay full regular-season prices for tickets.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says the players have been very vocal with him on their disapproval of the four preseason game schedule as well. They feel it’s a waste of their time, and that they can get their bodies, and their skills, ready for the season with just two weeks of exhibition games.

The owners, however, are never going to agree to slash two weeks of football, along with two weeks worth of ticket, parking, merchandise and television revenues from their books. If the players and fans want two less games of preseason, they argue, then they’ll add two more games of regular-season action. While the fans would certainly applaud such a move, the players are certain to resist.

The players believe their physical well-being — and by extension their playing careers — will be compromised by adding to the already rigorous 16-game schedule.

Indianapolis Colts offensive tackle Ryan Diem told The Indianapolis Star that playoff teams are already “pretty beaten up” by the time the regular season is over, and that “the whole month of December, you’re kind of taping yourself together.”

The man has a point. The physical toll on even the most well-conditioned bodies in sports is immense, and to add two more games of full contact could indeed have serious long-term effects on the health of the players.

Indianapolis cornerback Deshea Townsend agreed, telling the Star, “I don’t want 18. If you look at some of the issues … some of the brain issues that a lot of older players are going through … that makes us think about our futures.”

It’s possible that offering players additional compensation for a heavier schedule, and perhaps a larger slice of the revenue pie, will change their minds about the 18 games, but the issue of two preseason games remains. While the exhibitions are as unpopular as ever for players and fans, many coaches find the full preseason schedule invaluable in making roster decisions and preparing rookies and young free agent acquisitions for life in the NFL.

Take Thursday night’s Raiders-Cowboys preseason opener as an example. The Oakland defense acquitted itself quite nicely in Dallas, but the Jason Campbell-led offense was virtually lifeless. Would Tom Cable feel comfortable having just one more week to prepare that offense before playing games that count?

Will Mike Singletary be able to effectively evaluate and negotiate an 80-player roster down to 53 with just two weeks of live preseason action?

It’s certainly tempting to simply rid the sport of the unpopular four-game preseason, but to put players at risk with an 18-game schedule, before even considering the playoffs, would be a mistake. Leave the game alone.

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

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