Eighteen regular-season games and only two preseason games. Two bye weeks. A regular season going deep into January. A Super Bowl party that would excite George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Welcome to what could be the new NFL schedule. With labor troubles on the horizon — 2010 is set to be played without a salary cap, and a lockout is possible in 2011 — a longer regular season could be the money-making solution that helps the league and its players reach an accord.
"I think we feel it's a chance to help grow the game, and kind of where we are, I think it could be a factor in helping reach an agreement with the players," Packers President Mark Murphy told Packer Report after the team's Tailgate Tour wrapped up on Thursday night.
The NFL went from a 14-game schedule to today's 16-game slate in 1978. The bump to 18 games would include a corresponding cut of the preseason schedule from four games to two. Along with the dollars-and-cents reasons — mainly, the possibility of improving contracts with the TV networks — there are practical reasons for such a change.
"The offseason has evolved to the point where players come to camp in great shape and don't need four games to get ready for the regular season," Murphy said. "I think a lot of us have looked at it and said the way that we're playing our players in the games, the starters hardly play at all. So, we thought about going down to two and increase the number of regular-season games, but we want to make sure we do it in a way that you don't overexpose the game. I think the NFL is pretty good when you compare it ot the other professional sports in terms of the number of games."
The fans certainly wouldn't complain, since preseason tickets are sold at regular-season prices. Veteran players generally like the idea of discarding two preseason games, in which the risk far outweights the reward. Not that there aren't drawbacks.
"For the young guys, I think (the preseason games are) huge," said receiver Jordy Nelson, a rookie last year. "It gives you two more weeks to study before the season and to adapt to a more game-like situation. For the young guys and anyone trying to make the team, I think it would be a huge loss for them. For the vets, obviously, it's a couple games they don't even really play so they're not really going to worry about it."
There's obviously an increased risk of injury, too, with more high-intensity games and the corresponding increase in fatigue. Murphy suggested roster sizes could be increased and that injured reserve might no longer be a season-ending proposition.
So, how would it work?
Murphy's thoughts are that following the two preseason games, all 32 teams would have a bye. That would push the start of the regular season to its traditional spot on the week following Labor Day weekend.
"The thought there is we don't want to start the regular season in August because people are on vacation," Murphy said. "Television would not like it because ratings through history are not too good. You'd start like we do now, right after Labor Day."
Teams would get a second bye week at some point in the season. That would push the end of the regular season to mid-January. For the upcoming season, for instance, the Packers would conclude on Jan. 17 instead of Jan. 3.
(For those of you wondering about the weather in Green Bay, the National Weather Service tells me that the average high on Jan. 3 is 24, the average low is 8 and the record low is minus-17. On Jan. 17, the average high is 24, the average low is 6 and the record low is minus-28.)
Super Bowl Sunday already is a quasi-holiday. In this case, it actually would be part of a holiday known mostly for car sales.
"The Super Bowl would be Presidents Day weekend, and there's some advantages to that," Murphy said. "Tying into a national holiday makes some sense."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.