- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

CHICAGO — NFL owners yesterday decided to abandon efforts to reduce the preseason from the current four games to two, ending a vigorous, two-month debate on the issue following high-profile injuries to quarterbacks Michael Vick and Chad Pennington.

After a brief discussion during the NFL’s midseason owners’ meetings, commissioner Paul Tagliabue said no committee will be formed to study the issue, bringing the possibility of a reduced preseason to a quiet death.

“There seems to be a clear sentiment that four preseason games and 16 regular-season games serve us well,” Tagliabue said. “There’s a good balance between getting ready for the season and playing it. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.”

It was Tagliabue who first publicly floated the idea of reducing the preseason to two games and expanding the regular season to 18 contests. Tagliabue said the concept was rooted in competitive balance and was not in response to the Pennington and Vick injuries during preseason games that crippled the postseason chances of the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons.

Rich McKay, Tampa Bay general manager and co-chairman of the competition committee, said that structure was seen as “too radical” by both that panel and the body of owners.

“This just didn’t engender a lot of support,” McKay said. “There’s a great deal of comfort for where we are now. It won’t change for the foreseeable future. I’m not one to deal in initials, but I would say that ‘DOA’ is pretty close to where this thing is at now.”

Many fans would have welcomed a reduced preseason because season ticket holders for most NFL clubs are forced to buy tickets to those games as part of their packages. But many owners and their coaches have strong feelings about the preseason’s utility in player evaluation.

“You simply need that time to learn about your younger players,” said Houston Texans owner Bob McNair. “That time is very important.”

The NFL Players Association also would have sought additional compensation for its members had the regular season expanded to 18 games.

Meanwhile, several influential owners said Arizona’s rapid assistance with moving Monday night’s game from wildfire-ravaged San Diego to Tempe will loom large in this morning’s vote to pick the 2008 Super Bowl host.

Phoenix, already seen as the front-runner, likely received enough league goodwill to push it over the top. The Bidwill family, owner of the Arizona Cardinals, received an ovation from their fellow owners yesterday, prompted by San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos.

“[Phoenix] certainly did help themselves,” said Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. “What they did [to aid the games move] was very, very impressive. They didn’t have to put forth the effort they did.”

Said New York Giants president Wellington Mara, the league’s elder statesman: “They didn’t hurt themselves. That’s for sure. The last Super Bowl in Arizona [in 1996] was very enjoyable, and I’ll be supporting them [today].”

The pro-Arizona sentiment spells trouble for Washington, which through the Redskins is seeking to stage the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl. Still, Redskins officials continue to lobby other owners and, like competitors Phoenix and Tampa, will make a formal presentation this morning.

“We’re hopeful,” said Redskins owner Dan Snyder.

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