Expanded schedule is good idea if ...
... it means labor peace in 2011; otherwise league can't justify added toll on players
The NFL can justify going to an 18-game regular season, but only -- and I repeat, only -- if it means no lockout in 2011.
Expanding the regular season by two games has its problems. But more games means more revenue and more revenue can be the olive branch that could lead to long-lasting labor peace. The last collective bargaining extension in 2006 was heavily favored toward the players. To fix it, owners have to get the players to accept a lower percentage of revenues in order for teams to secure better profit margins. Adding two games can accomplish that and would enable both parties to make more money.
What doesn't make sense is locking out players in order to force them into taking a much lower percentage and then asking them to endure two more games of pounding. Plus, a lockout could ultimately hurt revenues. Sure, the 18-game schedule would be set for 2012, but who is going to renew season tickets in 2011 under the clouds of a tough economy when there is no guarantee games will be played in the fall? Plus, a labor disruption could turn off a young fan base that craves news on transactions and fantasy information and doesn't want to hear about labor issues.
Owners are expected to vote in the near future, and there isn't expected to be much opposition. Commissioner Roger Goodell has stated repeatedly the four-game preseason is too long and fans aren't buying it. He's right. More and more local games are being blacked out. Fans have complained for years about being forced to pay regular-season prices for games filled with backups. Expanded offseason programs have allowed coaches to get players in shape enough to sacrifice two preseason games and replace them with two regular-season games.
Although the players sound reluctant to go to 18 games, it's going to be hard for them to turn down the idea of getting two regular-season game checks instead of being paid around $1,000 a week to play meaningless preseason games.
An 18-game schedule has its faults. Figuring a game usually results in 2½ injuries per team, the injury attrition rate could be a problem. Sure, rosters will be expanded by three or four players per team, but those players can't replace valued starters late in the season or in the playoffs. An 18-game regular season will alter the record book, but that was a complaint when the NFL had 12 and 14 regular-season games and wanted more.
With two more games, the league still doesn't plan to start the regular season before Labor Day, so that means the Super Bowl would be played around the third week in February. Later playoff games could be problems in cold-weather sites.
Overall, though, no one can complain about having more meaningful football. And if it leads to significant labor peace, I'm all for it.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.