Front Row: Adding Games To NFL Slate Is Tough Task
Edited by Larry Harris
The NFL kicks the season off for real Sunday, and all concerned parties -- players, coaches, owners, fans, the commissioner -- will heave a sigh of relief.
More than ever before, the preseason has weighed heavily upon the participants, from the number of players actually injured, to the number of players faking injury, to the number of players who don't mind contact but only if it's of the genuine variety.
Everyone, including big boss Roger Goodell, is ready to declare drastic changes in the four game exhibition season that has deteriorated into such a farce that even starry-eyed young media members can discern the insincerity of 75 percent of the schedule. Who are those guys out there in our team's jerseys?
Then too, the number of empty seats at exhibitions is growing, another reflection that fans are fed up with paying regular season prices for such drivel.
However, it just isn't that easy to effect a major change in the NFL. To wit:
• If Goodell and the owners simply declare a switch to 17 or 18 or even 20 regular season games, every player in the league will immediately and rightfully demand a renegotiated contract. "If you work at the Gap and they add two more hours to your schedule, you would expect to get two more hours' worth of pay," said ex-Marylander and Broncos defensive back Domonique Foxworth to the Denver Post.
• If the schedule is extended, then surely the number of players on an NFL roster must rise drastically from 53. To what number? 60? 70? 75? How many to bring in for an abbreviated training camp?
Also, if those high-priced stars are forced to play two or four extra games, the injury factor is only going to increase commensurately. There is a limit to the punishment a body can take.
• If the player number rises, then so must the number of assistant coaches, trainers, doctors and team go-fers. The Ravens' Jim Harbaugh, for instance, already lists 20 staff helpers. Then there's the matter of another road game or two, involving the complicated costs of travel and logistics of moving all those burly young men.
• If the number of games is extended, will all the major TV networks go along and increase the dollars? New England owner Robert Kraft says it will be a slam-dunk, but ESPN, which already pours $1 billion per year into NFL coffers, and the others might say there's a breaking point.
• If all those extra expenses are added up, will the owners be able to offset them with Kraft's slam-dunk of extra cash from the networks?
• If that extra TV income can't balance the extra expense, where are the necessary dollars going to come from? Guess in what direction the owners will then look. Wouldn't a drastic rise in ticket prices be the next step?
Therefore it's not a simple thing and there's no ready solution to this farce of a preseason. Still, Goodell is wise enough to see the discontent and a crisis looming.
The Commish admits nothing will change until the 2010 season, because 2009 is the final one under the present salary cap. That puts even greater importance on new negotiations between owners and players. The latter not only won't relinquish their present 59 percent of the pot, but will be asking for even more if and when the regular season is enlarged.
It unfortunately shapes up as a Catch-22 for fans, who already moan about ticket prices that seem to escalate yearly. Football lovers may do well to start saving now.
In Annapolis they're still agog at the school record 348 rushing yards slotback Shun White recorded last Saturday in Navy's 41-13 victory over a game but outmanned Towson team. Speedster White scored on runs of 87, 73 and 33 yards and became the first Midshipman since Napoleon McCallum in 1985 to rack up more than 300 all-purpose yards in a single game.
Slotback Shun White set a Navy record with 348 rushing yards against Towson.
Rookie coach Ken Niumatalolo was also impressed with the play-calling turned in by offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper. In seasons past, departed coach Paul Johnson had called his own plays from the sideline. Jasper works from upstairs, but obviously the Middies have lost nothing in transition.
"Ivin did a phenomenal job. We had a great rhythm on offense," Niumatalolo said.
The coach also said his starting quarterback, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, will miss yet another game, perhaps two, with a nasty hamstring injury. His replacement, senior Jarod Bryant, seemed to be quite capable of running the Mids' triple option, as next foe Ball State will likely find out tomorrow night.
Fans were looking for some excitement at the NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Fontana, Calif., last Sunday night, but such was not the case. An expected showdown between points leader Kyle Busch and flippin' Carl Edwards never took place because Jimmie Johnson smuggled a rocket onto the track and breezed to victory.
At one point, Johnson re-started his Hendrick Chevrolet after a pit stop in sixth place and was back in front before the field made a single lap. He was that dominant, which sends chills down the spines of competitors. Johnson has won the overall championship for the last two seasons and his performance at Fontana indicates he is ready to mount another surge when the Chase for the Cup begins in two weeks.
The final run before the 10-race "Chase" starts is Saturday night at Richmond, and there will be some scrambling as several drivers on the bubble of the 12-man cutoff point get one last chance to make the big dance.
• Without a game being played, North Carolina has already been declared 2009 NCAA champion by a lot of outlets and the TV folks have certainly jumped on the bandwagon. The Tar Heels released their schedule recently and let it out that a mere 25 of their games are on national TV.
• Villanova's Jay Wright returns 11 of 12 players from his Sweet 16 team, and the fashion plate coach has one heckuva jump on the 2009-10 season. He has commitments from three of the top 31 national players as rated by Scout.com -- Philadelphia guard Maalik Wyans and two players from Montrose Christian in Rockville, 6-foot-7 Isaiah Armwood and 6-foot-10 Mouphtaou Yarou. Then there's Taylor King, the 6- foot-6 long-distance gunner who's transferring from Duke to the Wildcats and will be eligible in 2009.
• The NCAA bean counters have sounded out from last year's national tournaments. The women's Final Four generated $19 million to the Tampa metro area, while the men's counterpart in San Antonio produced a whopping $47 million. In Texas, 97 percent of the fans were from out of town.
Matt Wieters, the Orioles' golden boy who's tearing up the minor leagues this summer, comes by that talent naturally. His father is Richard Wieters, a former two-time Southern Conference player of the year at The Citadel who earned first team and academic All-America honors in 1977. He was inducted into that Charleston, S.C., school's hall of fame in 1985. One big difference: Matt's a catcher; his dad pitched.
FROM THE CHEAP SEATS
• Whether it was Alexander Cartwright or Abner Doubleday who created baseball, it's a good bet neither planned for the World Series to start Oct. 22.
• With Chad Pen