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NFL column: 18-game season hard to justify

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Published:   |   Updated: August 25, 2013 at 12:16 PM

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TAMPA — A bad idea is about to be put to rest.

Under Roger Goodell’s reign, the NFL’s popularity has soared to heights unimaginable a generation ago. TV networks shower billions of dollars on owners for broadcast rights, and every other sport wishes it generated half the interest Americans show in Goodell’s league.

But the commissioner isn’t perfect.

He makes mistakes.

Putting the 2014 Super Bowl in an open-air stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands in February doesn’t make much common sense, but Goodell championed the cause and got enough owners to support him, although Tampa Bay made an impressive bid.

A few years ago, Goodell started beating the drum for an expansion of the regular season from 16 to 18 games. He said NFL fans were demanding the change and the league was happy to drop two exhibition games along the way to keep the overall structure at 20 games.

But when the Associated Press conducted a 2011 survey of 1,125 people selected randomly, only 27 percent strongly favored or somewhat favored adding two regular-season games.

It soon became apparent that owners, rather than fans, were the impetus behind the idea of an expanded regular-season schedule.

More games that count mean more revenue.

Patriots owner Bob Kraft stood behind Goodell, saying an 18-game season is “a win-win all around.’’

A new management voice emerged last week, a voice of sanity.

Packers president Mark Murphy, a safety for the Washington Redskins from 1977-84, wants to put the brakes on this runaway money train.

“I think with all the concerns about the health and safety of players, it’s hard to justify,’’ Murphy told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “To go from 16 to 18 regular-season games would be a lot more wear and tear. It would be additional games for your starters.’’

Murphy was entering his second season as an NFL player in 1978 when the league schedule went from 14 to 16 games.

The sky didn’t fall 25 years ago, but we also didn’t know much at the time about the toll pro football takes on the body, effects that often manifest well after a player retires from the game.

Murphy’s comments suggest Goodell doesn’t have widespread support from 32 franchises on this issue.

If Goodell is smart, and he most certainly is, he will abandon the 18-game chatter and address what NFL fans really want — cheaper ticket prices for preseason matchups.

You don’t need an AP survey to know NFL fans are tired of being charged full price for games that don’t count in the standings, games manned primarily by undrafted free agents trying to survive cutdown day.

Running back Adrian Peterson, the league’s MVP last season, didn’t play in Minnesota’s first two exhibition games. He wasn’t fighting for a roster spot, so Peterson didn’t mind the decision by coach Leslie Frazier to take a couple of nights off and let the backups duke it out for a place on the depth chart.

How would you like to pay $150 per ticket to see Hugh Jackman on Broadway, only to end up with Howie Mandel?

Take a bow, Mr. Murphy.

ikaufman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7833

Twitter: @IKaufmanTBO

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