Football fans made a big mistake complaining about the NFL’s four-game exhibition schedule.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and his league’s response isn’t what we had in mind.

Goodell has gone into used car salesman mode. He’s heard football fans gripe about having to pay regular-season prices for meaningless preseason games. So this week, he threw his arm over our shoulder and said “Well friend, let me tell ya what I’m gonna do.” And now we’re being talked into buying a junky gas-hog that we don’t really want.

NFL owners met this week to discuss expanding the regular season schedule to 18 games while eliminating two preseason contests. They didn’t make a final decision, but Goodell reported that enough of a consensus was reached to move forward with the idea. The plan is to make the expanded schedule part of a new collective bargaining agreement, which owners are expected to demand with a lockout of the players after the upcoming season, and then implement it for the 2012 season.

Goodell claims that fans haven’t just been pining for a shorter preseason, we’ve been begging for a longer regular season. This is news to most of us, but that doesn’t matter. It’s just a cover for his employers, the league owners, who won’t hear of losing the revenue two preseason games generate without finding a way to replace it.

Not only has Goodell found a way to replace those revenues, he’s found a way to enhance them (hence the silly “enhanced season” term the league unveiled this week). With two additional weeks of regular season football, the NFL can get more advertising and television revenue.

Not only will the league be able to demand more money from the networks that currently show the games, but with more games, it could potentially lure in another network with a package similar to the NFL Network’s late-season Thursday night/Saturday night deal.

If this happens, only the NFL owners’ wallets will be enhanced. The product on the field will suffer, the fans will suffer, and the players will suffer more than everyone.

No one will miss the lost preseason games, although a case can be made that they are needed to evaluate and develop rookies. The quality of Week 1 games will be the same as they are now. The effects of more regular-season games will be felt in Weeks 14-18, when the games are supposed to mean the most.

During Goodell’s tenure, the NFL has created numerous rules designed to protect players on the field. Spit in a quarterback’s direction now and someone will throw a flag. Yet now the league wants to put its players in harm’s way more often, in worse weather (more on that momentarily) and when they are even more worn down by the grind of the season.

Talk about a mixed message.

Confused yet, fans? The league feels our pain about having to pay for the right to sit through watching third-stringers play on hot August nights. So tell ya what they’re going to do — they’re going to make us pay to watch second-stringers play meaningless games on freezing cold January afternoons.

All indications are that the league dreads the regular season starting before Labor Day, so that means the new games will be played post-New Year’s. Let’s say you’re a Patriots’ season-ticket holder and imagine what you’re going to see on the second weekend of January besides icicles forming on your $7 soda. What if the Pats have already clinched the division and even a first-round bye (optimistic with this defense, I know)? And what if their opponent, let’s say it’s the Bills to make it believable, have packed it in for the season and decided to take a look at their younger players?

Through the sleet and snow, you’re going to see Brian Hoyer throwing to Sam Aiken. You’re going to see the Bills’ fourth-round rookie quarterback-in-waiting handing off to a guy who was only playing special teams six weeks ago. And your only solace will be that you’re not a Colts’ season-ticket holder because they clinched their division before Christmas.

Gee, thanks Roger.

The players have come out almost universally against the idea. They look at a longer season, see a bigger revenue pie and hope it means a bigger slice for them. They also see their bodies breaking down more and their careers getting shorter.

It’s unlikely the players will agree to an expanded season without an expanded roster. The owners don’t care. They can always find more players. So what’s a few hundred thousand dollars for a few more scrub players? There are millions of dollars to be added to their already overflowing coffers.

And so what if the fans decide to stay home? If we want to watch the game from our warm and snug living rooms on our high-def TV’s, it won’t be long before the owners decide we can start paying for the privilege.

Roger Goodell and the NFL will find a way to get our money, even if they’re selling us a lemon.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. His e-mail is [email protected]


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