The NFL "unveiled its slate of preseason games Tuesday, despite the ongoing ominous lockout that threatens to prevent teams from taking the field this summer," according to Sean Leahy of USA TODAY. The league is "proceeding with its normal schedule-unveiling process this year" and "intends to release the regular-season schedule this month." The "specter of a lengthy lockout that lasts deep into the season could throw a wrench into the plans for a regular agenda in training camp and preseason," but if the preseason "kicks off as scheduled, it would be on Aug. 7 in the annual Hall of Fame Game" featuring the Rams and Bears. The dates and times of many preseason games "must be finalized, but teams know the opponents they'd play in each of the four weeks of the exhibition schedule" (USA TODAY, 4/13). In N.Y., Judy Battista wrote the labor uncertainty "could cause the preseason to be truncated if training camps open later than usual in August and the league tries to open the regular season on time, in the first week of September" (NYTIMES.com, 4/12).
Bucs may play in London's Wembley Stadium for second time in three years
BACK ACROSS THE POND: In St. Petersburg, Rick Stroud reports "for the second time in three years, Tampa Bay is expected to move a regular-season game from Raymond James Stadium to Wembley Stadium" in London. While the NFL "would only confirm Tuesday that the Bucs are among the teams being considered to play a regular-season game in London in 2011, they are expected to 'host' the Bears." It is "not surprising" that Buccaneers Owners the Glazers "would be receptive to moving a regular-season game from Tampa to London." The Glazers own EPL club Manchester United, and the Buccaneers were the "only team to have all 10 home games blacked out last season." Buccaneers QB Josh Johnson, who played in the team's previous London game against the Patriots in '09, said he has "no problem" with playing at Wembley again. But he added, "If they fixed the playing field, it would be something nice. But the field was unsafe. It's a soccer field, and players were slipping all over the place. Of course, I'd much rather play the game in Tampa, but I guess it is what it is" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 4/13). ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert wrote, "I'm a little surprised the NFL is going ahead with plans for a 2011 game in London, considering the logistics involved and the embarrassment of canceling an international contest because of a lockout. On the other hand, if they passed on this year, it could aid the NFL Players Association's argument that owners have been and continue to plan on a long and damaging lockout" (ESPN.com, 4/12).
Izod IndyCar Series President of Competition & Racing Operations Brian Barnhart before last week’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama met with driver advisory group leaders Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Justin Wilson to “hash out changes that were well received and produced a cleaner race” than the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, according to Nate Ryan of USA TODAY. The driver advisory group has “no formal title or structure." Wilson said the goal is “just trying to make life easier.” Franchitti, who “walks the race course before every event, is the group’s safety expert.” Wilson is the “consensus builder who cobbles together opinions through myriad e-mails.” Kanaan, a “gregarious Brazilian, leads the group’s meetings in person.” The trio “isn’t paid” for their roles. Barnhart said of the group that formed last year, “It’s one of the best things we’ve done as a sanctioning body. We have better dialogue than ever with our most important group.” Barnhart is “planning to meet with the triumvirate again before” Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (USA TODAY, 4/13).
RISKY BUSINESS: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin noted the $5M bonus IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard has offered “will be on the line Oct. 16 for five non-IndyCar drivers” at the season-ending race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But it “remains unclear how one of those drivers, should he win the race," will be paid. Bernard on Sunday said that he “hasn’t decided whether to buy insurance to cover the potential payout -- the cost could reach seven figures -- or have the sanctioning body assume the risk.” If Bernard chooses to assume the risk, then he must decide “how many years the payout will be for,” and a “one-time lump sum seems likely.” Bernard said it could be “one year, 10 years, five years, something like that.” Meanwhile, Bernard said that an “official assessment of earthquake damage at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Japan will begin this week.” IndyCar is “scheduled to make its final trip there Sept. 15-17,” but Bernard said that the series “will honor whatever decision Motegi officials make” (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 4/11).
The American Hockey League will shorten its season from 80 to 76 games for the '11-12 season in an attempt to lessen wear and tear on its players. The AHL BOG approved the schedule, which will eliminate two home and two away games for each of the league’s 30 teams. The new schedule also lengthens the playing calendar by one week, thus eliminating sequences in which teams play four games in five nights. Additionally, the AHL will shorten the first round of its playoffs from a best-of-seven to a best-of-five series. “As our league has grown and our game has become faster and more physical, the wear and tear on our players has begun to affect player development and at times the quality of competition,” said AHL President & CEO David Andrews in a release. “These steps are intended to provide a safer environment for our players through increased rest and recovery time, and also to provide our fans with an even higher caliber of play as a result of reduced player fatigue.”
In N.Y., Mitch Lawrence cites sources who indicated that the NBA has "scrubbed its annual Las Vegas summer league and has also scuttled its annual summer internship program." The moves are "two more signs" that the league is "gearing up for a lockout starting July 1." The summer league "normally starts around July 9, with upwards of 20 teams." In preparation for a lockout, the NBA also is "not sending any teams abroad for training camp, and did not schedule any preseason games in Europe for this fall" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/13). In Charlotte, Rick Bonnell wrote he thinks the NBA and NBPA are "so far apart that a lockout could last a long time -- maybe even wipe out next season." But he added, "I suspect any system that replaces the current one aids teams like the Bobcats. ... While nobody looks forward to losing games -- that can only harm the Bobcats' marketing -- it's conceivable the team would lose less money in the short run, wiping out some player payroll in November and December and sacrificing game revenue over the same span" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 4/10).
AMERICAN IDLE: In Jacksonville, Garry Smits wrote "instead of American stars with high expectations such as Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan and Bubba Watson, it's been the youth among international players who have taken charge" at golf's majors recently. Charl Schwartzel "became the third consecutive international player in his 20s to win a major," and Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open last year "at the age of 30." Smits also noted international players have won "five of the last six" majors and "eight of the last 10" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 4/12). In Nashville, Joe Biddle wrote, "Professional golf has fallen victim to an international invasion." Foreign golfers "now hold all four majors" and have won "11 of 16 majors." Biddle: "Where are America's stars of the future?" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 4/12).
PLAYOFF EXPANSION ON HORIZON? On Long Island, Anthony Rieber notes MLB Commissioner Bud Selig last week in an interview with Sirius XM's Chris Russo said that "adding an extra wild card team in each league" and an "extra round to the postseason is possible starting in 2012." Selig: "We're working on that. I'm not sure where we are on that. I like the idea, but we've got a lot of details to work out." Rieber notes with the CBA "set to expire in December, adding two more playoff teams will be on the table." Rieber: "Expect it to get done" (NEWSDAY, 4/13).