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Money at heart of schedule debate

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Ron Borges
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Posted Aug. 01, 2010 @ 3:59 p.m. ET
By Ron Borges

When did an exhibition game become a pro football game? That is the core of the debate presently raging between the NFL and its players, because it has been made clear to the players' union that management wants an 18-game season as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Like most American businessmen these days, the owners want to speed up the line without paying for it.

What the owners have been trying to sell the public is that dropping two exhibition games and replacing them with two more regular-season games is not really a change for the players. From the time this idea was first floated, commissioner Roger Goodell, a master of many things, including semantics, has insisted, "They are being paid for the preseason games. It's all part of our total gross revenue, and it's calculated up and they get a percentage of that. That's something they have to understand."

What the players understand is this: They were paid $1,225 a week during training camp last year with an additional $200 for each of the four exhibition games. Rookies were paid $825 a week. Fans, of course, were charged the same price as for regular-season games. Why fans haven't risen up en masse and refused to do this is beyond me.

Preseason games are to pro football games what pre-owned cars are to new cars. Pre-owned is another way of saying used. Exhibition is another way of saying "not real." Even Goodell concedes this, admitting, "The fans also recognize that those players aren't playing in preseason games."

Under Goodell's reasoning then, players are now being paid not to play in exhibition games when the truth is they're paid to play in 16 really dangerous regular-season games. Period.

His argument on the source of total revenue that goes to the salary cap is correct, but he knows, as does any fan who ever attended an exhibition game, that players' salaries are not based on those games nor do they often play in them.

The owners' position is that players are paid per year so it doesn't matter how the real and phony games are divided up. The players' position is the risk they encounter increases exponentially when the games are real, and new games would come at a time when they are already beaten down and might be more susceptible to injury. They would not take those risks for $200 a game.

"We are not machines," tackling machine Ray Lewis said on the NFLPA Web site after the issue arose during a preliminary negotiating session.

While players will talk of injury risk, the real issue is money. The owners want to keep more of it, which is why they are trying to force the union to accept a cut in the percentage of gross revenues used to calculate the salary cap. They will argue that increased TV and ancillary revenues from adding two regular-season games means a larger pie and hence more money to the players so they're getting a "raise" for the additional games. They will make this argument at the same time they're trying to cut the players' percentage. So where's the raise?

It's in the owners' pockets.


Ron Borges is a columnist for the Boston Herald. 


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