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NFL: A 17th game is on the horizon

By Barry Wilner

AP Pro Football Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL has put the labor ball in the players’ hands.

In a somewhat surprisingly strong decision, the 32 team owners voted Thursday to “accept the negotiated terms on the principles of a new collective bargaining agreement.”

Details of that agreement were not forthcoming from any of the owners or Commissioner Roger Goodell. They quickly scurried from a Manhattan hotel without nothing more than “sorry, can’t help you,” or “I can’t comment” when asked about the proposed CBA.

Now the onus is on the players, who have a conference call Friday involving its executive committee and player representatives. The NFL Players Association said it would not comment Thursday on the NFL’s announcement.

Such quick action by the owners indicates their eagerness to replace the 10-year labor agreement that concludes in March 2021. Several elements of a new CBA could be implemented for the upcoming season should the players vote in favor of it.

That, of course, is no given. Should the players vote against accepting this proposal or seek further negotiations, the NFL has said the current agreement would remain in place for 2020. A league statement put a deadline on acceptance by the union, saying “since the clubs and players need to have a system in place and know the rules that they will operate under by next week.”

The league’s business year begins March 18.

Among the items in that proposal, according to several people familiar with the negotiations but speaking anonymously because they are not authorized to release such information:

— A 17-game schedule, which always has been a stumbling block in talks with the NFL Players Association. More roster spots per team would be a must for the players.

A 17th game would preferably be played at neutral sites, which one of the people familiar with the talks said could include non-NFL U.S. venues as well as Europe, Mexico and Brazil.

— A reduction of the preseason, initially from four games to three.

— A higher share of revenues for the players; the current number is 47 percent. The cut the players would receive is dependent on the length of the regular season, but would remain below 50 percent regardless.

—An expansion of the playoffs, something the NFL has been seeking for years.

Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested back in 2015 that increasing the postseason field to seven teams in each conference was in the works. The owners could unilaterally add a wild-card team in the AFC and the NFC, but are willing to make such a move part of a new CBA.

The provisions for two more wild-card games, developed years ago, would have only the team with the best record in each conference receiving a bye for the first weekend of the playoffs.

There’s even a chance one of those wild-card matchups would be played on a Monday night.

Also being considered is a second bye week to go with a 17th game, although almost certainly not for the 2020 season. The expansion of the playoffs easily could occur this year, however, if a new CBA is reached.

The current labor agreement was reached in 2011 after a 4½-month lockout of the players.

•••

NFL’S HUDDLE INITIATIVE NEARS 400 MILLION VOLUNTEER MINUTES

NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL says its Huddle for 100 initiative totaled more than 1 million volunteers donating nearly 400 million minutes to their communities.

The Miami Dolphins led the way with 75.623 million minutes from 163 events.

As part of its celebration of the 100th NFL season, Huddle for 100 was launched at the draft last April, seeking to inspire 1 million people to give back 100 minutes of their time. In November, the NFL surpassed the 100-million-minute mark and by the Super Bowl in Miami, there were 397,253,630 volunteer minutes from 1,020,846 people.

“Huddle for 100 brought our fans and communities together and the impact will be felt for the next 100 seasons of the NFL,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said.

A large portion of the volunteer minutes were contributed through the 32 teams and their programs. The Dolphins did not top the list in any month, but wound up with the highest season total.

“We’re very proud,” said team owner Stephen Ross, whose organization will receive $100,000 from the NFL Foundation to be used on a community service project. “We always want to be the best at what we do, be the best in class.

“This was a combination of the team reaching into the local neighborhoods and working with the communities. It was an accumulation of all that work.”

The total minutes volunteered equates to 757 years of volunteer time. Huddles occurred in 789 communities in all 50 states.

Among the organizations partnering with the league and benefiting from the volunteerism were the March of Dimes, Red Cross of America, United Way, Habitat for Humanity, The Confetti Foundation, Special Olympics, American Heart Association, WE Schools, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, USA Football, DoSomething.org, and InnerView.

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