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Joe Henderson

NFL must do right for all fans on scheduling

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 01:29 PM

It sometimes pays to read the fine print.

In a proposal National Football League owners are crafting for consideration by their locked-out players, ESPN.com reported the 18-game regular-season — once viewed as essential by commissioner Roger Goodell — is now "negotiable."

Cue the elephants. Release the balloons.

While the idea of adding two regular-season games and subtracting two glorified scrimmages, otherwise known as preseason, sounds peachy on the surface, players vowed to stand in the courthouse door against the idea.

I can't imagine why they'd have a problem subjecting their bodies to two more games of real-speed punishment, unless they've happened to read all the stories about older players with maimed bodies and all sorts of other issues.

So rather than push a bad position, the commissioner declares this "negotiable."

He also may have just forced the owners, his bosses, into a major concession.

I'll admit up front that I hate exhibition football. Judging by the number of empty seats for these games the past few years at Ray-Jay, many of you agree.

Assuming the NFL sticks with the 16-game schedule, what happens to the exhibition games? It's not like Goodell and the owners can just go back and stick ticket-buyers with the same garbage requirement of paying full fare for these faux skirmishes.

After all, just last year Goodell said, and we quote, "It's clear the fans don't want four preseason games. It's clear the players don't want four preseason games. They tell me that all the time."

Goodell used that as the rallying point in his push for an 18-game regular season. It would be a little disingenuous now to say, "Oopsie! I meant to say nothing beats the color, pomp, and excitement of an August practice game. Operators are standing by to take your credit-card orders."

I have some friendly, albeit unsolicited, advice.

Throw fans a bone or two and stop pretending these tune-ups are important.

Drop the insane requirement that they have to pay for exhibition games as part of any season-ticket package, but don't stop there. Eliminate two of the games, leaving fans with only one home dress rehearsal to deal with.

Then cut the price at least in half.

Maybe people who otherwise would never think of forking over standard NFL prices might actually venture out to the stadium. Like the commissioner said all by his own self, fans don't want these games and neither do players. Recognize these games for what they are.

Make it happen, Mr. Commissioner. It's the least you can do for all the minutes of our lives we won't get back from watching and/or reading all the stories about the squabble between millionaire players and billionaire owners.

Of course, the lockout is still small-time compared to other showdowns we've seen over the years.

In my working lifetime, there have been eight labor standoffs in Major League Baseball — five strikes by players, three lockouts by owners — resulting in the cancellation of 1,718 games and the 1994 World Series.

There was the loss of an entire National Hockey League season. The NFL shortened the 1982 regular season to nine games because of a strike.

Those were big-boy battles between labor and management. This lockout hasn't even gotten interesting. That excludes the innocent worker bees furloughed or laid off by the Bucs and several other teams. They are keenly interested to have this thing resolved.

I'm sticking by my original prediction, made on the first day of this lockout, that it will be late August before there is peace in our time. So far, these guys are just playing around. It's only June. They've lost a few offseason workouts, but the republic will endure.

With training camps set to open in a little more than a month, we could be in for another round of brinksmanship and false starts. It always seems to go that way.

Self-preservation will kick in eventually, though, and they'll get a deal. As long as it includes fewer make-believe football games at lower prices, maybe all this fuss will have all been worth it.

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