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Archive for Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Exhibition season should be cut

Here’s an idea: Slice two games off NFL preseason and add two scrimmages for each team

September 4, 2002

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— With the exhibition season over, the debate over the value of the games has become a hot topic and sore subject again.

That was never more evident than last Thursday night, when Dolphins cornerback Patrick Surtain was hit in the groin while trying to recover an onside kick in the final exhibition against Chicago. Surtain likely will miss some valuable practice time before the opener against the Lions.

But the playing value has less to do than what fans care about most their pocketbook.

The fairness of paying for games that don't count and often are dominated by players never to be heard from during the regular season is a big concern.

But owners, who hold all the cards in America's most popular sport, say they need the money. Meanwhile, players and fans gripe.

Here's an idea: Cut the exhibition season to two games and add two scrimmages for each team, one home and one away.

To make up for the lost revenue, owners can prorate ticket prices for nine games instead of 10 and let fans watch the scrimmages for free.

Fans, who are paying regular-season prices for the exhibitions, don't save much in that equation, except for one game of incidental costs, such as parking and concessions. But it's a more equitable solution which gives diehard fans a chance to watch scrimmages and allows owners a chance to make money.

The altered format would create a better product in the regular season.

Most players, fans and coaches would like to eliminate two games. Earlier in training camp, Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt said three practice games at the most would be fine.

Quarterback Jay Fiedler and linebacker Zach Thomas said two would work, and the reality is that neither Fiedler nor Thomas played much more than a full game's worth of downs in the four games.

The problem is, it doesn't reflect economic reality. Management needs the revenue from 10 home games. Before accusing owners of being money-grubbing, realize most teams don't make more than a 2 percent or 3 percent profit annually. Decent money, but not exactly an overwhelming return on the investment.

The real profit is in selling the franchise.

Another solution is to turn two of the exhibitions into regular-season games, creating an 18-game schedule. But NFL Players Association president Trace Armstrong said two years ago that has problems, too.

It would require negotiations between the union and the league, the players wanting more money because of the increase in revenues from added ticket sales and television revenue.

Second, Armstrong said players would not necessarily go for the idea because of the added risk of injury.

"The season is already hard enough on our bodies," Armstrong said two years ago, when he was still with the Dolphins.

"Now you're talking about adding two games and that many more chances for guys to get hurt, for their bodies to wear down, for their careers to be shortened. It's not an easy call."

No, but that doesn't mean a solution can't be worked out.

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