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18? NFL commissioner wants longer regular season

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DANA POINT, Calif. (AP) — Roger Goodell is ready to trade one or two meaningless August games for an equal number of games that count.

In favor of expanding the regular season from 16 to 17 or 18 games, the NFL commissioner hopes to present a proposal to the owners in May after the matter was discussed at length this week at the owners meetings.

"It's possible that we could vote in May, but we want to have core discussions on this," Goodell said Wednesday. "Anytime you have change, there is some reluctance. But it's clear we don't need four preseason games anymore."

 There are several hurdles before the league can expand its regular season, including reaching a new collective bargaining agreement with the players' union.

Goodell said the league has not seriously discussed the subject with its broadcast partners. He couldn't imagine them not being interested in more meaningful games.

"I think the quality of NFL programming, that every one of our network partners would say, if they have the chance to have more regular-season programming, they'd be interested in it," Goodell said. "A key point is the fans also recognize players they want to see are not in those preseason games; that's why they are not attractive. They want to see those players play."

As for those players and their union, Goodell recognizes an expanded schedule will be part of CBA negotiations. Owners opted out of the current deal last year, and it expires after the 2010 schedule, which would be an uncapped season.

"Under the current agreement, additional regular-season games would not be covered," Goodell said. "I think our most important priority after we get done with our internal analysis is talking to our key partners, and that includes the players. I think we want to make sure that the right dialogue takes place before we make any final votes."

DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA's incoming executive director, wants any decision that affects the players to happen collaboratively.

"His hope is that the concerns and interests of the players will be seriously considered," said George Atallah, a director at the public relations firm Qorvis Communications and a spokesman for Smith during his transition. "He was elected by the players to be their advocate on such issues and is more than ready to serve them."

Among the issues team owners must discuss is when the regular season would begin; how many bye weeks would be scheduled; how deep into February the playoffs and Super Bowl would go; and when the offseason programs — including the combine and the draft — would be held.

And, to make up for the snaps that young players get in exhibition games that otherwise don't mean anything, Goodell would like to bring back a developmental league. Although he didn't have specifics, he said an offseason development league would focus on just that — developing players, rather than promoting the game internationally and trying being a financial success, which NFL Europe attempted.

With 17 extra regular-season games, officials would need to decide where they'll be played.

Goodell and Mark Waller, the NFL's senior vice president of sales and marketing, first suggested several years ago holding 17 neutral-site games, including some abroad. That would enable the league to step up its efforts internationally, a particular goal of Goodell's.

"There's been some discussion about that," Goodell said. "That's been one of the appealing features of converting preseason games into regular-season games is it gives you more inventory, more games that you can take to neutral sites, either internationally or domestically. So that is a compelling feature."

Another option would be having one conference play nine home games during a season, and the other conference do so the next year.

An 18-game schedule, obviously, would eliminate such concerns. It also would mean dropping two preseason contests.

"Fans don't believe preseason games are up to our standards," Goodell said.

Clearly, neither does he.

Goodell also opposes expanding the playoffs from 12 teams to 14.

"Some clubs believe we should expand the playoffs," Goodell said. "I don't think it's required as part of the restructuring of the season to expand the playoffs. The opposing view is, let's not water down something that's tremendous. We still have 32 teams. We should keep it to 12 teams and it should be special to be able make that. It makes the regular season special, that you have to qualify to get into that postseason."

 Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

 

 

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