NFL owners to discuss 18-game schedule during Wednesday meetings

By Mark Maske
Tuesday, August 24, 2010; 9:54 PM

The NFL's franchise owners are scheduled to discuss the possibility of an 18-game regular season when they meet Wednesday in Atlanta.

A source familiar with the deliberations said Tuesday he doesn't expect the owners to take a formal vote on the measure. Commissioner Roger Goodell and other NFL officials have said in recent weeks it was unclear if a vote to lengthen the regular season would be taken at this meeting.

The measure, even if approved by the owners, would not take effect without the endorsement of the NFL Players Association, owners have said.

The owners have said an 18-game regular season could be put into effect as soon as 2012.

Asked nearly three weeks ago whether a vote on a longer season would happen at this meeting, Goodell said: "I think those are things we're going to discuss over the next couple weeks. We're clearly going to discuss the issue. It's on the agenda. We'll make the determination in the next few weeks."

The owners seem to strongly favor expanding the regular season from 16 to 18 games, while reducing the preseason from four games to two per club.

Goodell has said the quality of preseason games is not up to the league's usual standards for its customers. Owners seem to believe a longer regular season could produce increased rights fees in future television contracts.

Union officials and players have expressed wariness about the increased injury risks that players might face in a longer regular season.

The owners and union are discussing the measure as part of their labor negotiations. The current labor deal expires after the upcoming season. Union officials and players have said they expect the owners to lock out the players in 2011.

The current labor agreement gives the owners the right to lengthen the regular season, but they would have to negotiate compensation with the union or that issue would be put before an arbitrator. The owners have chosen not to extend the regular season unilaterally, saying they would put a longer season into effect only with the union's approval as part of the labor talks.

The longer regular season could produce an increase in roster sizes. Currently each team's roster includes 53 players, of which 45 can be active on game days. A shorter preseason could lead the owners to launch a developmental league to give coaches and team executives a different way to evaluate players under game conditions.

If the owners take a vote on the issue at some point, it would have to be ratified by at least 24 of the 32 clubs.

Earlier in their deliberations on the subject, the owners also discussed the possibility of a 17-game regular season. That would give teams an unequal number of home and road games in a season. The extra game potentially would be devoted largely to play in international venues. However, the owners seem to favor an 18-game season at this point.

The owners could vote Wednesday on the proposed sale of the St. Louis Rams.

Stan Kroenke owns 40 percent of the team and exercised a contractual right to match any offers for the 60 percent stake owned by Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez. Rosenbloom and Rodriguez previously agreed to sell their 60 percent share to Illinois businessman Shahid Khan.

The potential sticking point for Kroenke is that he owns hockey's Colorado Avalanche and basketball's Denver Nuggets. NFL rules prohibit an owner from having a majority stake in a football franchise in one city and a team in another sport in a different city.

The other NFL owners have been working with Kroenke to resolve the conflicts with the cross-ownership rule. There has been speculation Kroenke perhaps could transfer primary ownership of the hockey and basketball franchises to family members.

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