Expanded season has many influences

As the NFL considers expanding its regular season, there are many factors to take into account. Vikings players, owners and coaches all commented on the issues involved.

By this time next week, Vikings players will be getting ready to report to training camp in Mankato and take their physicals, and by the end of next week, they will be going through the rigors of training camp.

The intensity of those early training camp workouts could increase in future years if a discussion to extend the regular season and shorten the preseason moves from early talks to the negotiating table when the league and the NFL Players Association begin bargaining in earnest.

"We are right now talking about that. We are reaching out and hearing from the fans that's something they'd want to have, an extra regular-season game as opposed to the preseason," Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said during a State of the Vikings address last month. "We're talking about it, extending the regular season, but we're looking at the ramifications of what it would do to the players and the personnel and the adjustments we might have to make."

Players seem mostly opposed to the idea.

"I don't like it. An 18-game season, that's just ridiculous. You might as well have the four preseason games instead of have 18 games because there is no difference," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe told Viking Update last month. "Everything is for the owners on that. That had nothing to do with the players. I don't know what's the purpose of even doing it."

As with many things, the driving force behind the discussion is money and quality of product. Owners see empty seats at preseason games and hear the complaints from season tickets holders about being charged the same for preseason games that rarely feature the starters playing most of the game. More regular-season games would mean more tickets sold, and more merchandise and concessions sold at the stadiums.

But there is no question it would take some adjusting on the part of the players and the coaches, who have become used to the routine of having four preseason games and 16 regular-season games.

"I think that's the environment that you're used to. Certainly you'd have to make some adjustments," head coach Brad Childress said. "I know in talking to my coaching peers, I know when we get done with two games that we play and how we play guys and the preparation leading up, if you were going to jump right into the regular season, would certainly have to change. It's a matter of where the bye would be, how prepared they'd have to be coming to camp, how you'd get in shape. It's the same thing I've been saying to everybody out here: Don't peak too soon."

The issue for players is a simple one. A longer regular season, which means more playing time for the starters than the preseason contests require, equals more wear and tear on the body. Most players already feel the toll of a regular season on their bodies by the end of a 16-game regular season.

"The season is long enough. The season takes a good enough toll on your body anyway. To add on two games, that's just going to prolong (it). I understand everybody is trying to get their money, but we do have postseason as well," linebacker Chad Greenway said during the State of the Vikings.

But by the time Greenway had talked his way through his answers about the potential for an expanded season, the competitive juices may have influenced his words.

"The positives are that we would have two more regular-season games, which as a competitor the intensity level would be a little more for me, which is always more fun to play in a regular-season environment than a preseason environment because the fans are packed, the fans are there. It means something," he said. "The negatives are, obviously the body. After a 16-week season, it's tough. Obviously the coaches and the folks running the team are going to do a good job of still letting us prepare with 17 or 18 (games) and letting our bodies heal for the next game. There are a lot of positives and negatives. For me personally, I'd like to see more regular-season games rather than preseason games. Obviously there are some things that would have to change from scheduling, but it's always more fun to play in front a crowd when it means something."

From a personnel standpoint, a shorter preseason would mean a shorter evaluation period for scouts to make decisions on younger players. Those players wouldn't have as many opportunities to show their developing skills during preseason game action, but there could be other adjustments that would be made to accommodate a longer regular season, like expanded rosters or different rules that govern game-day roster limits or on the practice squad size.

"I know if we went to that format, just from a personnel standpoint, after we get a chance to see how Coach Childress lays out who's playing in the games and what we do from an evaluation standpoint and a development standpoint with the young guys, that takes away two games from getting those young guys developed," said Rick Spielman, vice president of player personnel. "From our standpoint, all our scouts – pro scouts, college scouts, myself – everybody is out there looking at all these other teams (during the preseason) and their 80-man rosters, and if there are players out there that could come in and potentially upgrade our roster, that's going to affect getting a good evaluation on some of these young rookies that may be on the bubble.

"The expanded season and the toll it takes on the players from a physical beating standpoint: Can you expand your roster? Do you have more guys on your practice squad? Can you bring more guys into training camp? Can you expand your 53-man roster? Can you have more guys up instead of the 45 on game day? So there's a lot of moving parts that if they do go with a 17-game or 18-game regular season, that's going to have to be discussed and you adjust the roster that way."

An expanded season isn't going to be a reality for the 2009 season, but it could come into play in the near future, or at the very least be a negotiating point between the league and the union as they try to reach an agreement on an extended collective bargaining agreement.

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