NFL Considers 17th Regular Season Game

By Mark Maske and Cindy Boren
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 27, 2007

NFL officials are considering adding a 17th regular season game to accommodate the league's desire to play overseas games, Commissioner Roger Goodell said yesterday, although the idea is in the formative stages.

Goodell and other league officials had not even discussed the possibility with the leaders of the NFL Players Association as of yesterday. But if the NFL decides to increase the number of regular season games it will play in foreign countries beyond the one to two per year to which owners now are committed, it could decide to add a week to the regular season to devote to a slate of overseas games while subtracting a week from the preseason.

"One negative [to playing overseas games] is you're taking a game away from fans here," Goodell said before an annual meeting of sports editors at league headquarters in New York. "We've discussed whether to cut one preseason game and add a 17th week. It would create more inventory, and that has some appeal. We're chewing on that. The issue is: How do you create more inventory?"

NFL teams currently play 16 regular season games apiece over a 17-week regular season; each club is given a bye week during the season and plays four or five preseason games. Goodell also said that holding a Super Bowl in a city outside the United States is a long-range possibility. Citing the game's global appeal, he said it would be "reasonable to look at" that eventually.

There have been previous pushes to shorten the preseason and lengthen the regular season, aimed at increasing revenues and limiting the players' exposure to injuries during meaningless exhibition games. But many owners and league leaders have been wary of diluting the importance of each week during the regular season.

In this case, however, the league's desire to increase its popularity internationally could end up taking precedence. Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue made that a priority before leaving office last year, and Goodell has continued to emphasize it since being elected Tagliabue's successor by team owners. In October, the owners voted to play as many as two regular season games per year outside the U.S. over the next five seasons. One overseas game is scheduled for next season, with the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins playing in October in London.

The league played its first regular season game in a foreign country in 2005, when the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers played in Mexico City.

On other issues, Goodell said that the league plans to require teams to have all players undergo annual neurological examinations. Many teams already do that, but Goodell said the league is taking steps to try to protect players from concussions. One measure he mentioned was educating players in the simple method of properly fastening chinstraps and he indicated he already has told coaches to be more careful in dealing with players who have suffered concussions.

"I've been very clear to coaches that at no time should competition issues take precedence over medical issues," Goodell said.

Goodell said the league is looking for ways to provide improved medical coverage to former players at a reasonable cost, and might create assisted-living facilities for needy former players.

"We're not trying to fix blame here," he said. "We're trying to fix the issue."

Boren contributed to this report from New York.

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