FOXBORO, Mass. -- If owner Robert Kraft had his way, his New England Patriots would have played their season opener Thursday night, not merely their third preseason game.
Eighteen regular-season games -- that's what Kraft and the rest of the NFL owners want, up from the 16 their teams have played since 1978. They want to play just two exhibition games, not four.
"I really think that going to the 18-game season is critical to us getting a labor deal," the Patriots' boss said Wednesday at a meeting of NFL owners in Atlanta.
The proposed -- and, if you listen to the owners, all-but-inevitable -- 18-game season looms as a major sticking point in what could be bitterly contentious negotiations over a new collecting-bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.
If the owners insist on playing 18 games in 2012, there very well may not be any games in 2011.
"There are not," said Kraft, "a lot of ways in this economic environment to generate incremental revenue."
And revenue -- ideally in large, year-over-year increments -- is what the wealthy owners are seeking by expanding the regular season.
"There was overwhelming support for the concept," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said.
Overwhelming support among the owners, that is.
From the standpoint of the players, adding two games to the already over-long schedule without, at the very least, a corresponding salary increase, is a distinctly underwhelming idea.
And I stand with them.
There are too many games as it is. Not that the NFL is ever going to cut back, but, from a quality-of-play standpoint, I'd prefer to see them play 14 games, rather than 16.
The NFL season has become more of a war of attrition than a test of talent. It's not so much a question of who has the best team come playoff time, but who has the healthiest team.
Football, as it is played in the NFL, is thrilling, exciting, breathtaking.
It also is brutal and debilitating.
Injuries, some people say with a shrug, are part of the game, and always have been.
But, as players continue to get bigger, faster and stronger -- and the seasons get longer -- the risk of injury, especially those with long-term, life-threatening effects, increases significantly.
And so we are about to see a pitched battle of physics versus economics.
Force equals mass times acceleration. The human body can only absorb so much punishment. Longer seasons are sure to shorten careers that already hang perilously in the balance every weekend for five to six months.
Good businessmen that they are, the NFL owners seek to increase revenues while decreasing expenses. But there's no way they're going to get players to sign off on a new collective-bargaining agreement that has them playing 18 games for the same money they made for playing 16.
The owners want to garner more revenues? Great, say the players, whose primary interest is in how those revenues will be shared with them -- the guys who provide the product.
Can owners really argue that players don't deserve a commensurate salary increase for playing more games?
And won't more games require larger rosters? With, of course, players who'll cost more money?
Those are hardly the only questions to be answered.
Will an expanded season start earlier? Or, if the NFL sticks to its traditional, post-Labor Day openers, how will America react to seeing the Super Bowl played in mid-February?
Particularly, as will be the case in 2014, when it's played outdoors, at the Meadowlands?
A problem in recent years has been that of teams that have clinched playoff spots resting top players, including in games against teams which still are battling for playoff berths.
That's how the New York Jets slipped into the playoffs last year, courtesy of the "We don't care if we finish undefeated" Indianapolis Colts.
Playing more games seems to make it even more likely that, not only will the divide between the good teams and the not-so-good be larger than ever, but also that more games will mean less than ever before.
Fan reaction will be interesting.
I tend to think that the idea of more games -- even if they are watered-down -- will appeal to a football-crazed sporting public that just wants to see football and, for the most part, isn't all that concerned about the quality of it.
Especially if, as seems likely, heated debate between owners and players over the issue of playing more games in 2012 results in no games at all in 2011.
(Contact Jim Donaldson at jdonalds(at)projo.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)