- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2008

Slowly, the NFL owners are reacting to the empty seats, dismal television ratings and awful quality of play during the month of August for so many years.

Although a solution to shortening the painfully long preseason is months away and wouldn’t take effect until 2010 at the earliest, the fact that owners talked about the issue this week at the NFL fall meetings is a positive sign.

“The focus was on how do we prepare for the season,” commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday. “Football readiness was probably the No. 1 issue that everyone wanted to do further analysis on. We still have a lot more work to do on the analysis.”

Goodell knows he can’t demand teams play their starters - the prospect for injury is too great. Most teams treat only the third preseason game with any importance.

The expanded schedule would allow the NFL to market its brand overseas with the allure of real games and fleece the networks of another week’s worth of money.

Most of all, it would eliminate the .500 record and teams puffing their chests and claiming they had nonlosing seasons.

Here’s one proposal:

• Spring scrimmages: two for each team but not intrasquad as in college football.

Some owners brought up a similar idea this week but as an intrasquad proposal.

It would require moving up the draft a month to late March to allow for practice time for the rookies and street free agents that are signed throughout the winter.

Most matchups would be easy - Redskins and Ravens, Giants and Jets, etc. The format would be more gamelike than the scrimmages Baltimore and Washington held from 2005 to 2007, but it would giving the coaching staff a head start on evaluating who would fill roster spots 45-53 and who could fill the practice squad.

The veterans would have their organized team activities during these weeks.

“The logistics of that would be awfully tough, but it might give a lot more young guys a chance because there wouldn’t be veterans involved and you would have to bring more guys in to fill the reps,” Redskins right tackle Jon Jansen said. “I would be open to that as long as I don’t have to play in them.”

• Preseason: Cut it in half.

The big issue would be when to start training camp. If the first preseason game isn’t until the weekend of Aug. 22-23, 2009, would the players association stand firm on not having more than two weeks of camp before the first preseason game? This year, the Redskins opened camp July 20.

“If you have three to four weeks, I’m not necessarily for that because that’s a lot of hitting each other instead of somebody else,” Jansen said. “But two preseason games, depending on how many reps you get, that would be plenty for me.”

The veterans wouldn’t lose much money - they’re paid about $1,200 a preseason game.

• Regular season: Add a 17th game.

Start the regular season Labor Day weekend. If implemented in 2009, that would make opening day Sunday, Sept. 6. Each team would play 17 games over the next 18 weeks, and the Super Bowl would be held Feb. 7, 2010.

The new game would be a neutral-site game, either in North America or abroad. Teams would have their bye weeks after an international trip.

Adding an 18th game would be too much, and rosters would have to be expanded.

But a spring crash course for young players, a shortened preseason and a 17th game makes sense if the numbers - including TV money and a higher salary cap - can be crunched correctly.

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