Colts president Bill Polian on Wednesday pulled back on his comment made earlier in the week that the NFL adopting an 18-game schedule was, in fact, a done deal. Appearing on ESPN's "Mike and Mike In The Morning," Polian attempted to clarify his earlier statement on his radio show by saying that his club is operating on the assumption that the season expansion is inevitable.
If you want to get technical about it, then yes, the 18-game season is not a done deal and won't be until a new collective bargaining agreement can be hashed out. Polian's presumptive statement on Monday might have been impolitic, but it certainly wasn't wrong. That the next season will take place in 2011 is far from assured, but whenever we next sit down to watch professional football again after this season, it's going to be with an 18-game format, or with one having been agreed upon and on the way.
The owners desire the two-game expansion for the very obvious reason of increased revenue. To reap those gains, the owners are going to have to offer a mix of concessions, which will include at least some if not all of the following: roster expansion, an additional bye week, a relaxing of regulations on off-season work-outs and, most importantly, added compensation for players. Polian's initial comments drew the expected complaints from players that more games means a heightened risk of injury, but then the players have a clear motive to make the season expansion sound like an undue burden, at least more so than they have in the past.
It's hard to say how much of that is actual worry and how much is deliberate posturing to strengthen the side of the players union in the ongoing collective bargaining stand-off. The concern about injuries is, of course, very real and serious, but the rhetoric is amplified with the owners and players creeping ever closer to the deadline to reach a deal.
As Mike Florio noted this morning, the players union in 2006 already agreed in principle to the idea of the league pushing the regular season to 18 games. Granted, the owners opted to pull out of that CBA in order to negotiate one more appealing to their interests, but from a negotiation standpoint, it would be difficult for the players union to claim now that injuries are more of an overwhelming concern than they were four years ago. The culture at large might be more attuned to the consequences of head injuries than it was four years ago, but the risks remain the same. To say players have knowledge about injuries that they didn't in 2006 wouldn't fly.
The pumped up voice of concern from the players is a ploy to make sure the union gets the greatest amount of concessions possible from the owners. And that's good, not only because the players deserve them for taking on the added risk of serious injury, but because the owners brought the difficulty of the current process on themselves by deciding to opt out of a CBA that would have made the season expansion process easier to execute. That said, when any deal does finally get done, it's going to include an expanded season.