Solving the NFL's Labor Problems

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As the NFL labor dispute drags on, we hear and read plenty about the needs of the owners and the wants of the players. Well, I’m here to negotiate for the NFL’s third party: the fans. Here are a few suggestions I’d make at the bargaining table.

* There’s been endless debate over preseason games. Are four too many? Should the regular season be extended from 16 games to 18 (with the elimination of two preseason contests)? The players’ union is very much against two more games that count. Players point out the irony of extending a season in a sport where the number of collisions — and concussions — has been the chief health concern of late.

Keep the four preseason games, I say, but cap ticket prices for these exhibitions at $10. That’s right: a single Alexander Hamilton should get you into these glorified scrimmages between unsigned free agents and low-round draft picks. An August game between the Tennessee Titans and San Diego Charges is no more an NFL game than a November showdown between the University of Alabama and Auburn. At least the Tide-Tiger game counts in the SEC standings.

Better yet, all kids under the age of 16 get into preseason games free. Charge $8.50 for a beer and $30 for a parking spot at these meaningless tryouts-in-uniform. But don’t insult NFL fans by gouging us on ticket prices for games that mean nothing.

* The NFL experience is as much about television as it is game day at the stadium. And there are some egregious slights that take place in our living rooms on fall Sundays. We’ll start with two.

Case 1: The post-kickoff commercial break. Your team has just scored a touchdown, the blood’s pumping through the point-after, and the network breaks for commercials. This is understandable with a change of possession. But after returning to the game and showing us the kickoff — which all too often flies though the end zone for a touchback — the network breaks for commercials again. This is abuse by sponsorship and must be eliminated.

Case 2: The quasi-informed sideline reporter. From Pam Oliver to Tony Siracusa, sideline reporters are tasked with bringing viewers information the analysts in the broadcast booth cannot. But all too often, they merely update us on injuries, or hold a microphone for a coach leaving the field at halftime to stress the importance of not turning the ball over.

Why not have each team designate two players — a starter on offense and another on defense — as “media captains.” These players are required (once a quarter) to enter a designated area of the sideline and grant a short interview on how the game is unfolding. The next time the Titans’ Chris Johnson is closing in on 200 yards rushing, let’s hear from a member of the opposing defense about what the heck might be done to stop him. That sideline reporting would be worth listening to.

* Eliminate “Hype Week” before the Super Bowl. The Sunday after the conference championships is a lost weekend for NFL fans. No action. Only fuel for the hyperactive prognosticators to tell us what will happen (between commercials, of course) in the Biggest Game Ever. Why do teams get two weeks to prepare for the Super Bowl when part of the NFL DNA is preparing for battle over six days?

Here’s the solution. Extend the regular season to 16 games over 18 weeks, which would allow each team two bye weeks over the grueling four-month regular season. This would push games back a week, add another slate of games — more TV revenue! — and give every NFL player a second week for extra healing instead of only the two conference champions. I can’t see any loser here, except maybe those hyperactive prognosticators.

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