NFL fans are dying to know the drop-dead date at which the owners and players must come together to save a full 2011 season. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell won't offer one. We will. Sept. 3.
It would require rushing things, cutting some corners, eliminating two preseason games and some general flying by the seat of one's pants once the regular season starts. We'll call it "The Brett Favre Plan."
The regular season would start Oct. 2, three weeks later than scheduled, and end Jan. 15, two weeks later than scheduled. There would be no bye weeks, no week off before the Super Bowl, and the big game would take place Feb. 12, a week later than scheduled.
Here's how it could work:
Sept. 4: Free agency opens
The NFL pretends free agency takes months of headlines and expert over-analysis to complete. Wrong. The key signings take just a couple of days. Teams and players have been sitting around all offseason plotting moves. Most of that can be completed in a week:
-- Sept. 11: Training camps open
If there's one thing the NFL loves, it's removing one's hat for public displays of patriotism. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, players return to 32 practice fields across the country. One week of two-a-days is enough. Most players stay in shape year-round. Throw in today's player safety concerns and it's not the worst thing in the world that camp opens a week before the first preseason game instead of the usual 2-2 1/2 weeks.
-- Sept. 18: Preseason begins
The owners would take a financial hit, but think of the positive PR they would receive if they cut the preseason in half. Two games are enough to prepare the starters and get a look at the rookies.
-- Oct. 2: Regular season begins
Week 4 becomes Week 1 in this scenario. Weeks 1 and 2 are moved to Jan. 8 and Jan. 15. As for Week 3, every game that week has teams that share the same bye week later in the season. That allows the Week 3 games to be played later on without schedule conflicts, thus eliminating bye weeks.
-- Jan. 21: Playoffs begin
The wild-card round is Jan. 21-22, followed by the divisional round Jan. 28-29 and the conference championship games on Feb. 5. Can you feel the cold?
-- Feb. 12: Super Bowl XLVI
Goodell already has said the Super Bowl might be played a week later. As for eliminating the week off before the Super Bowl and ditching the Jan. 29 Pro Bowl, hallelujah! The Pro Bowl is an embarrassing touch football contest, while the two-week buildup to the Super Bowl is unnecessary, counterproductive and, frankly, annoying.
There you go. A plan that allows the current stalemate to drag on and on and on another three months.
So panic if you must. But a better plan would include relaxing, enjoying your summer and realizing we're still a long way from feet being put to the fire and the need for panic buttons being pushed.
At this point, no one knows how or when this will end. All we know is the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hold a hearing Friday to determine whether to overturn U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson's decision to lift the lockout.
We're told to believe the owners now hold the advantage because the 8th Circuit has already granted a permanent stay on Nelson's ruling. But who knows? When it comes to the lockout, it seems the winners are only winners until the losers find themselves another judge.
We're also told to panic because the lockout will affect the quality of play this season. That's possible, but to what degree and for how long? It's hard to believe a season can be wrecked because the players weren't allowed to run around in shorts for a couple of minicamps and 15 Organized Team Activities.
We're also told that coaches will have to scale back and simplify their systems. Would that be so terrible? It's not as though year-round training and preparation eliminates mistakes. Two years ago, the best team in the NFC fell seconds short of the Super Bowl in part because it had 12 men in the huddle.
So panic if you must. Some of us will wait a while longer before worrying about whether the 2011 season can be saved in its entirety.