SBD/Issue 241/Leagues & Governing Bodies

Roger Goodell Again Defends 18-Game Season On ESPN's "OTL"

Goodell Appears On "OTL" To Discuss
CBA Negotiations, 18-Game Schedule

Sunday's edition of ESPN's "Outside The Lines" featured a taped interview with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell discussing the current CBA negotiations and issues facing the league. Goodell said the idea of an 18-game regular season came after fans said they "want more football.” Goodell: “More importantly, they've made it very clear they don't like preseason football and they don't think the quality of the preseason reflects what we do. … The question is can we make the game safer by changing the rules, looking at advances in equipment, making sure that we're training our athletes in a proper way and we think we can. We think the game has changed significantly enough." Goodell said there is “probably some anxiety -- (that) is probably the best way to put it" -- about how players feel about the CBA negotiations and "about what's going to happen and how fast we can get something.” He said, “They want to be playing football and we want to be playing football. We just have to get the right system." Goodell noted he has "great respect” for NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith, saying, "I think he respects the game. I think he wants to do what's in the best interest of his membership as he should." Goodell said, “Eventually there's going to be a deal. That's clear. It's a question of how difficult it is to get there." He said he did not have a “biggest fear,” but noted, “I recognize the responsibility I have.” ESPN's Bob Ley noted Smith and NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash had originally agreed to appear on the program but subsequently cancelled.

THE GAP BAND: ESPN's Chris Mortensen said the gap between the two sides "feels like the Grand Canyon." SportsBusiness Journal’s Liz Mullen said, “You have a huge gap. You have the owners, who want to reduce the salary cap by 18% and at the same time they are not giving the players any indication that they're losing money. They won't open the books. That's going to be a major issue.” Mullen added decertification is a “real possibility." She noted that current NFLers and union leaders she has spoken with "don't see why should they take this pay cut when they see the league making money." Mortensen: "The players don't expect the owners to open their books and the league will certainly point out that that's never helped any labor negotiation previously and the owners are not claiming they're losing money. What they're claiming is that their profit margin is shrinking and their ability to reinvest and therefore grow a larger pie” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 8/29).

NOT A LIAISON: The Browns were one of seven teams Goodell visited this summer, and LB and NFLPA Exec Committee member Scott Fujita said of the visit, "Guys are eager to ask questions. He's not answering them. Guys are coming in there with simple, straightforward questions, and the response is kind of disappointing." Fujita's contention was that Goodell was "evasive on key topics, to the point where several Cleveland players left the room calling him 'Dodger Goodell.'" Fujita: "He works for the owners. To come in and say, 'I'm a liaison, I work for the game,' I mean, come on. We all know that's not the truth" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/29). Chiefs LB and NFLPA Exec Committee member Mike Vrabel said he has seen Goodell "on two fronts." Vrabel: "I have been negotiating with him, and then you see him in front of the players, it's two different guys. Think about it. He was somebody who wanted to be the liaison between the owners and the players, and that's just not true. He works for the owners, and we understand that, and he's part of the negotiating team with the owners, too." But Goodell said, "These visits are designed to meet with the players, coaches and front office and some of the fans." Chiefs OT and NFLPA Exec Committee member Brian Waters said he believes there is "going to be some delay in the season" next year. Waters: "It's just a matter of whether it's going to impact the training camp or the season, I don't know. Because everything has to be reconstructed, it's going to take some time, and at the pace we're going right now, we're not getting anything major done" (K.C. STAR, 8/29).

Kraft Among Many Owners
Eyeing An 18-Game Season

OWNERS SUPPORT 18 GAMES: Jets Owner Woody Johnson said expanding the regular season to 18 games is "good for the game." Johnson: "I don't think two games make a huge difference one way or the other." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft: "Fans have said pretty loud and clear that they'd like fewer preseason games. It's a win-win all around" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 8/28). But in Pittsburgh, Joe Starkey wrote it is "downright scandalous ... for the NFL to be peddling an expanded regular season even as evidence mounts of football-related collisions causing long-term brain damage." The players "see through the owners' ruse," and "even increased pay won't make this idea fly among the rank and file." Starkey: "There should be talk of shrinking the already ruthless 16-game season, not piling on. ... At the very least, the NFL should refrain from adding more games until it sees more research" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 8/29). SI.com's Jeff Pearlman wrote an expanded regular season would be "good for the commissioner, the owners -- and absolutely nobody else." When Kraft "states that fans crave fewer preseason games, he conveniently fails to mention" that they feel that way because teams "charge full prices, and insist that season ticket holders pay for those games." Pearlman: "The bottom line here is that, in extending the season, the NFL is continuing to treat players like yourself as cattle, not human beings. The concussions will increase. So will the sprains, the tears, the spinal injuries" (SI.com, 8/27).

BETTER ALTERNATIVE? In N.Y., Bob Raissman wrote Goodell should "simply fold the under-performing, distribution-challenged" NFL Network. Such a move would allow Goodell to "take the eight-game package, seen on that network during the second half of the season, and add eight more games from the first half, which would be plucked from the current schedule." That would be an "attractive schedule to sell to either a broadcast or cable network," and the league "would be cutting expenses and making dough." Raissman: "Players would not be at an even higher risk of suffering injuries that lead to serious health issues when their playing days end" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/29). 

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