Tagliabue may have league study change, cutting preseason
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said yesterday he is seriously considering authorizing the league to study the feasibility of adding two regular season games to the current 16-game schedule and reducing the number of preseason games.
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 Michael 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. Tagliabue began talking about such a study last spring to the league’s Competition Committee co-chair, Tampa Bay General Manager Rich McKay.
“We need to focus on whether or not two games are sufficient to get a team ready for the season,” Tagliabue said. “Many clubs feel that just in the past five years the offseason training and preparation has changed dramatically for the better. Some clubs feel that their coaching staffs are as intensively involved in preparing to play football in April and May and June as they are in September and November. 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.”
Tagliabue noted that schedule changes have been discussed by teams over the years and arguments made against such revisions. But, he added, “some clubs are urging that we should restudy these issues in light of the current realities: year-round preparation, quality of the athletes, improvements and playing fields and other factors.”
Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said yesterday 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 (each team now 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.”
Most clubs, including the Redskins, require season ticket holders to purchase tickets to two preseason games with their regular season package. Starting players 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.
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 preseaon gate. Upshaw said players are paid over 17 weeks of the regular season, by the game, earning additional preseason pay. Additional regular season work would have to be negotiated, Upshaw said. The NFL estimates the preseason generates $350 million in revenues.
“If you go the two [preseason] games, it still doesn’t mean teams won’t scrimmage and practice together, or that injuries will necessarily go away,” McKay said. “I think it’s more of a football issue than financial.”
“If you’re going to develop players, you have to be in camp for a certain period of time,” said Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney.
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?”