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Is an NFL 18-Game Schedule Inevitable?

Talk of an upcoming labor impasse and NFL player lockout by the owners has increased this offseason.  Both sides are doing a lot of posturing, finger-pointing, and media games.  Of course, money is at the center of everything sports related these days.  The union wants a bigger piece of the pie; the owners love it & loathe to give up more of it.  John Lopez of writes about an 18-game season being the solution for both parties. 

More regular season games = more revenue...what could go wrong (or right)?

So what's the problem? Why isn't everyone hopping onboard, celebrating an easy agreement and counting up the billions of reasons the NFL is the best sports league on the planet? Three issues, of course, continue to simmer as stumbling blocks.

• The potential for more injuries.

• A watered down product.

• Less time to develop young talent -- specifically quarterbacks.

Obviously when you play more games, it will take a toll on players' bodies.  Many a season has been lost to injuries to star players.  Would the Bears have repeated in '86 if McMahon stayed healthy?  Would the Bears have won in '06 with a healthy Tommie Harris

To expand on the last point about quarterbacks: the 4 preseason games allow for a Caleb Hanie and a Dan LeFevour to get live action against real defenses looking to knock their heads off instead of pulling up 'cause the QB has the red jersey on.  QB's can only develop so much when they KNOW they won't get hit or hurt in practice.  By taking away preseason games, they won't see that development. 

This argument can also be applied to all young players, mid to late round draftees, and unsigned players looking to crack an NFL roster.  If they can't see live action, how can you evaluate them properly?

Step one: Instead of eliminating just two preseason games, eliminate all of them. Play 18 games in 19 weeks, beginning on Labor Day weekend.

Step two: Replace Organized Team Activities with a short-season, eight-team developmental league for young players and backups, similar to the NBA's Developmental League.

Whoa...spring football?  Now you're talking!

But a spring-league TV deal would more than make up for lost preseason revenue. Young players would make a little extra scratch. Coaches could better evaluate players. And it would be more interesting, too, particularly if the eight teams' rosters are divided by divisions.

That is, over a four- or five-week spring season, the AFC East would play the AFC West, AFC South and AFC North D-league teams. Likewise, in the NFC. The season would be capped by a one- or two-week playoff among some of the young NFL hopefuls and developing quarterbacks.

I don't think this spring football proposal is even remotely on the owners' or unions' minds right now, but I like it.  NFL Europe was a nice way for teams to develop players, but it was not all.  Having spring football in 8 markets that don't have NFL football now, would also expand the fan base.  Think of teams in Milwaukee for the NFC North squad, Memphis for the AFC South, Las Vegas, Orlando, LA, Anaheim, Portland, Hartford, San Antonio, etc. 

Obviously, an 18-game schedule is gaining momentum.  There would be more money for everyone involved.  Complaints about the meaningless 4 preseason games are getting louder.  How will it all shake out?  I'll keep my fingers crossed that cooler heads will prevail and all of us will see NFL football in 2011 & beyond.