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Is the NFL Quietly Setting the Stage for an 18-Game Regular Season?

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Is the NFL Quietly Setting the Stage for an 18-Game Regular Season?
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Who wouldn’t be excited to see two fewer preseason games coupled with two more weeks of NFL football that actually matter?

As fans and writers, I am pretty sure none of us would have a problem with this.

It sure beats the heck out of a Friday night game between fifth-string players from the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers. 

This is what the NFL might be planning in the not-so-distant future. 

It has completely rearranged its offseason schedule in order to cater to both an increased interest in the draft and the necessity to spotlight future stars at the combine in Indianapolis.

By pushing the start of the new league year up and the three-day draft event back, the NFL has made it possible to eliminate two preseason games, add two weeks to the regular season and still have time between the end of the Super Bowl and the annual draft in May for teams to scout the hundreds of prospects they need to in order to be prepared to make their picks.

Make no mistake about it, however, commissioner Roger Goodell is after the big bucks here. He knows that teams will make extra cash with one more home game, which will end up helping the NFL reach his ultimate goal of $25 billion in annual revenue, according to ESPN.

In reality, all of these offseason changes needed to take place before the NFL could seriously consider moving from a 16-game schedule to an 18-game schedule. The possible move to a longer regular season affords the league the ability to reach its growth potential.

If you honestly believe that these three things are not linked, you seriously need to go back to school and take a class on economics in the open-market system.

Getty Images/Getty Images
In 1978, Cowboys won the NFC before losing to the Steelers in the Super Bowl. First year of 16-game schedule

In 1978, the NFL moved its regular-season slate from 14 games in 14 weeks to 16 games in as many weeks. Preseason schedules moved from six, or even seven, games to just four in most cases. In 1990, the NFL added a bye week for each team to make the regular season a full 17 weeks. The moves pushed the Super Bowl back from early in the second week of January to early February.

There then became a necessity to switch other things around in order to accommodate the changing times. This is the theory the NFL was working under when it announced changes to the offseason schedule last month. That announcement served to place the league in the headlines year round.

There has to be something larger at play here.

According to the Associated Press, a proposed 18-game schedule was one of the major sticking points during the collective bargaining discussions that led to a lockout prior to the start of the 2011 season (via NFL.com.):

Concerns about injuries and insurance make the NFL's push to switch to an 18-game regular season a major sticking point in negotiations for a new collective-bargaining agreement, according to two players who are members of the union's executive committee.

Recently retired linebacker Scott Fujita and former seven-year veteran Domonique Foxworth, who were major players in the negotiations, were singled out in the report. 

Fujita even went on the record, indicating the following: 

To me, right now, as things stand, 18 games, the way it's being proposed, is completely unacceptable. ... I see more and more players get injured every season

Under previous CBA, league had the right to expand to 22 games.

This hasn't changed in two years, but the NFL has seemed dead set on the notion of an 18-game schedule for some time now, as reported by ESPN in September  2010:

An 18-game regular season is not uncharted territory, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press......The key is to approach it the right way and work closely with our players and clubs to come up with a year-round football calendar that will be better for everyone, including the fans.

The issue here is that just five months later, the NFL had not worked closely with the NFL Players Association to get a fair plan implemented, at least according to the aforementioned quotes and stories. 

Pro Football Talk reported that the NFL has indicated that recent changes to the offseason schedule have nothing to do with expanding the regular season

The league says an expanded regular season is not one of its goals as it considers reorganizing the offseason: We’re told that the NFL’s position is that the proposed new offseason calendar is unrelated to whether the regular season expands.

Take that with a grain of salt. Back in 2010, some players around the NFL had come to the conclusion that an 18-game schedule was OK as long as there were changes to the offseason schedule, as noted by Pro Football Talk. 

That being said, most of the changes that the players wanted had to do with fewer commitments as they relate to offseason activities—some of which have already been filtered in under the new collective bargaining agreement. 

This seems to indicate that the changes to the NFL's offseason schedule beginning next year have nothing to do with previous conversations as they relate to an expanded regular-season slate. 

In short, moving back the draft and changing the date that free agency starts has absolutely nothing to do with previous demands by the NFL Players Association. 

The NFL must, however, work with the players in order to find some common ground on an expanded regular season. It knows this all too well and has been laying the groundwork for some time now. 

Moving up the start of the league year to prior to the combine will help the financial bottom line of veteran free agents, who would otherwise be afterthoughts once the combine rolled around. Moving back the draft to May could also help the second or third wave of free agents find homes prior to the event. 

The NFL knows that and played its cards close to the vest when determining what effect that changes to the league calendar might have on players. It doesn't take a front office executive or agent to draw that simple conclusion. 

It also isn't a coincidence that rumors have started to swirl about the league discussing moving to an 18-game slate immediately after the new offseason schedule was reported: 

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the league needs to work with the players association in order to expand the regular season. This was a point of contention during the drawn-out labor negotiations two years ago, but the sides seem about as split now as they were before. 

It must be noted that ESPN reported the NFL has set aside multiple dates for Super Bowl L, which was just rewarded to Santa Clara, Calif. This has to be an indication that the league believes something will get done before the start of the 2015 season. 

Goodell himself has gone on record indicating that there are a wide array of possibilities as it relates to changing up the schedule, according to ESPN. 

I hear from fans consistently that they want to make every NFL event more valuable. They see the preseason as being less valuable to them because they don't see the best players and the games do not count....We have to address that, whether we are looking at 18 [regular-season games] and two [preseason games] or 16-and-two and expanded playoffs.

Mr. Goodell, it could have something to do with fans having to pay $70 to go see a meaningless preseason game in August. 

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Please don't put this on anything else beyond the league wanting to expand its brand, market the sport internationally and increase its bottom line. You are not pushing heavy for an increased regular season just to appease a fan base that has already given up so much to support a sport it loves. 

The vast majority of us aren't going anywhere no matter what plans you have in store for the league in the future. You must already know that, Mr. Goodell

Is the NFL setting the stage for an 18-game schedule? That's the million dollar question here. 

"Post hoc ergo propter hoc" is a fallacy that most of us became familiar with during our years in school. It means, "After this, therefore because of this." 

That term could easily be utilized when drawing a conclusion about the NFL's plans as they relate to an expanded regular season. While it can easily just eliminate two preseason weeks and start the regular year in late-August, the league has set into motion a plan that includes keeping the start of the regular season in early September while still being able to hold the Super Bowl in early February. 

These two things have a causal relationship, and anyone telling you otherwise has allowed Goodell to pull the wool over their eyes. 

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