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Volume 20 No. 42
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NFL readies plans for season as short as 8 games

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

The NFL is considering season lengths for 2011 as short as eight regular-season games, half its normal number, as the league plans for the possibility of an abbreviated season because of the nearly three-month-long lockout, sources said.

An eight-game season could start in late November. Allowing for five weeks up front for free agency, training camps and perhaps one preseason game, the contingency suggests that the league and players could reach a deal on a new labor agreement as late as mid- to late October and still salvage a season.

"We have contingency planning for our contingency planning."
— Roger Goodell
NFL Commissioner
For now, the league has said its focus remains on playing a full season. Key owners and executives met face to face with player representatives last week in hopes of resolving the labor strife.

Asked at the owners’ spring meeting last month about the league’s contingency planning, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “We have contingency planning for our contingency planning.”

The NFL, in a statement, said, “If and when it becomes clear that we cannot play the schedule as it was announced, we will make the appropriate adjustments with an eye toward minimizing changes.”

The NFL announced a full, 16-game schedule for all teams on April 19.

Sources said the eight-game-season scenario is not one that’s been committed to, but it also has not been dismissed and is being studied along with other schedule permutations. How many divisional games would be played in an eight-game season, for example, is one issue the league’s competition committee would have to examine.

One of the sources said the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee had been apprised of the eight-game scenario to ease its concern about losing the championship game, which is scheduled for Feb. 5. Indianapolis can delay that game date one week, if necessary.

In 1982, the NFL played only nine of its usual 16 games per team because of a player strike. A player strike in 1987 led to a 15-game schedule, with replacement players competing in three of those games.

The NFL has said it will not use replacement players this year.

A Super Bowl in an eight-game season is a consolation prize, said Roman Oben, a former player and current broadcaster.

“You have to talk about there being a gap in the product on the field because players didn’t get enough time to prepare properly for the rigors of the football season,” he said. “We are really running out of time. Everything will get affected.”

The NFL has previously said there is flexibility built into the schedule, so a few weeks can be lost without losing games. Bye weeks can be eliminated, the planned off week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl can be lopped off, and Indianapolis can move the Super Bowl back a week.

The meeting last week between the players and owners was held pursuant to court mediation.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was set to hear arguments last Friday on whether to lift the lockout. The NFL’s response to the players’ antitrust claims in Brady v. NFL was due today in Minnesota federal court.

The owners are scheduled to meet June 21 in Chicago, and a decision from the appeals court is expected soon after.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said last month a labor deal needs to be done by July 4 to save the full preseason.