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Column: A way to save the NFL season

More games on more nights - more time between games to deal with
Credit: AP
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

NEW ORLEANS — Drastic times call for drastic measures and if these aren’t drastic times, well…

Yes, obviously with everything that has been going on in the world, sports has taken, rightfully, a seat in the corner.

But, soon all of those early release movies, Netflix and Disney Plus shows will run out.

So here’s my (fairly) safe way that I think they can play NFL football this year, get a lot of fresh programming on the air, accentuate safety and get paychecks to those professional football players who aren’t the Pat Mahomes and Michael Thomases of the world.

1-      Shorten the season to 10 games

Sacrilege you say – look, the NBA has just made up a ridiculous way to finish the season and Major League Baseball is going to play 60 games, maybe. 10 games will be more than half a season. You've already eliminated two preseason games and the other two are dead men walking hoping for a stay of execution.

2-      Teams play every other week – For 10 games, that makes the season 19 weeks. It’s 17 now, so that only lengthens it two weeks. Do the ‘no week off between the Championship Game and Super Bowl' model that’s been used before and you lengthen the entire season by only a week. This is key as you don’t want to shorten the offseason too much as football players take a pounding. By playing every other week you increase the time to right the ship if a player tests positive (see below).

3-   Anyone player who tests positive for COVID misses the next game (think of it as the COVID version of the concussion rule).

4-   If a player or coach tests positive, every player gets tested every day. The average incubation for COVID is 5 days before symptoms start showing. Teams get ready after Monday night games by practicing Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and traveling Saturdays. Theoretically, after a Tuesday game (again, see below), someone tests positive on Wednesday, the team gets tested daily, has remote meetings, physically trains at home or in shifts at the facility and gathers again the following Wednesday to start practice for a Saturday or Sunday game.

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5-      Play only in your own leagueSee, the NFC would play one weekend, the AFC the next. No weeks without football on TV.  The other advantage to staying in your own league is that if anything unforseen happens that requires a weekend not to be played, or a couple of games not to be played, only one league would have to figure out a solution. Even if the AFC ending up playing 9 games or deciding its champion by percentage points because not all teams played all games, it wouldn't wreck both sides and you'd still have a legitimate champ coming out of each side.

6-      Play six games against your division and four others in the conference. This will maintain integrity, lessen the chances for someone getting an inexplicable advantage in scheduling. Someone smarter than me can figure out which 4 teams you play, but you’d want it to be somewhat fair. Say a first place team playing a 1-2-2-3 and a second place playing a 1-2-3-4, third playing 1-3-3-4 and fourth playing 1-2-4-4 or something like that.

7-      Increase the broadcast TV slots – Look, they aren’t playing high school football this year in all likelihood and if they do, they won’t let many (if any) fans in the stands. The NFL has traditionally avoided Fridays to avoid hurting high school – this one year won’t be a problem.

8-      Play on Fridays (Saturdays if the colleges don’t play), Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays – The old bugaboo about not playing on Tuesdays won’t be there because you  won’t play the next weekend.   The networks will eat up the additional programming.

9-      Play a game on Fridays, three on Sundays and one each on Mondays and Tuesdays.

10-      Sunday night gets first pick when the new schedule comes out  (no picking Saints-Tampa twice though), followed by Mondays, then Tuesdays. The two daytime games on Sunday would each have a backup game with the strongest going national and the weakest going regional.

11-      This would make 6 broadcast spots per week instead of five that they now have. That’s a 17 percent increase in programming that the networks would probably gobble up due to the dearth of new sitcoms, reality programming and dramas.

12-   The increase in  TV revenue could help teams bargain with players and, while all will have to make a sacrifice, the 17 percent increase in TV money (NFL could probably get 20 because ratings will be through the roof) would allow them to pay players the equivalent of a 12-game season rather than pro-rate it at 10 games. The players would still lose 25 percent of their salaries and the owners would probably lose similar even with the 17 percent TV hike and ads over the empty seats.

13-   One last thing on salary – any ‘total’ incentives, like, say, 5,000 yards passing bonus, would revert to a ‘per game’ incentive. Meaning divide 5,000 by 16, take that total and if a player plays in at least 7 games and hits that per game, they get the ‘pro-rated’ incentive.

14-   Teams would have a minimum 11 days between games. No Tuesdays then Friday two weeks later for instance.

15-   Because you aren’t worried about fan travel, conflicts with stadiums like concerts and circuses, each week the league could pick the best games for the optimal TV slots as long as the 11-day minimum is not breached.

Playoffs are another story. You could lengthen the season and put two weeks between each game, but that will really lengthen the season and, if you wanted football every weekend, eventually a team with only one week off would face a team with two weeks off.

The hope for the playoffs is that a vaccine is in place by that time.