Extending season would change a lot

The Baltimore Sun

NFL owners, who broke their annual March meetings Wednesday in Dana Point, Calif., are warming to the idea of expanding the regular season to 17 or 18 games - with commissioner Roger Goodell raising the possibility of filling out an expanded schedule with neutral-site games.

It could be two or three years before any changes take effect, giving the league time to restructure the season - such as dumping one or two weeks of preseason games - so as to allow teams ample time to prepare for games that count. The NFL players union would also have to sign off on the schedule restructuring. But if done, the league might have to reconsider when it stages the scouting combine and the draft, and it probably would move the Super Bowl to mid-February.

If, say, the regular season were expanded to 17 games, half of the 32 teams would have one extra home game each season. Goodell said one idea would be 17 neutral-site games. That would create the possibility of more overseas games and maybe some in Los Angeles, which hasn't had an NFL team since the Raiders and Rams left after the 1994 season.

The rationale to expand the season: The NFL needs to expand revenues, and in this sour economy, it needs to stay in the good graces of its paying customers.

Owners could vote on the concept in May.

The longer season would also exact a physical toll. That would call for larger rosters, and maybe even a developmental league, about which the league has had some very preliminary discussions. In fact, Goodell spoke Wednesday about bringing back a developmental league. He did not have any specifics.

Rule changes: : Ed Hochuli and other referees can rest easier after team owners passed a rule allowing video replays on a loose ball that could be either a fumble or an incomplete pass. Hochuli famously ruled Denver quarterback Jay Cutler to have thrown an incomplete pass in the final moments of a game with San Diego last season. Replays showed it was a fumble that the Chargers recovered, but the play was not part of the review process. Denver kept the ball and won the game seconds later. Now, it is reviewable. Also, replay now can be used to determine whether a loose ball hit the sideline. The owners eliminated a rekick after an illegal onside kick, awarding the ball to the receiving team. And the draft order for playoff teams will be based on where teams were eliminated in the postseason. Last season, the Chargers (8-8) beat the Colts (12-4) in a wild-card game, but San Diego will pick before Indianapolis in next month's draft. The new procedure begins in 2010. A waiver period during the first two weeks of training camp was established. Owners also reworded when the postseason waiver period begins - previously it was after the Pro Bowl. In the future, the Super Bowl will be played after the Pro Bowl in some seasons, and the waiver period will begin after the final postseason game.

Jurisprudence: : The U.S. Department of Labor filed complaints accusing suspended NFL star Michael Vick of illegally spending about $1.3 million in pension plan funds for his own benefit, including paying restitution ordered in his dogfighting conspiracy case. Mark Lichtenstein, one of Vick's bankruptcy attorneys, declined to comment on the allegations. ... Former Lions receiver Charles Rogers, the second pick overall in the 2003 draft, chose to be locked up for 30 days in Pontiac, Mich., with credit for 15 days served, instead of staying in an intensive drug counseling program after violating probation in a domestic violence case. "Am I sad about the way my life has turned out? No, because I know the strides I've made to take care of Charles Rogers," he said.

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