NFL

Start Date and Contingency Plan: What 2011 NFL Schedule Will Look Like

| by Alex Groberman

At this point, almost everyone agrees that the National Football League (NFL) will have a season in 2011-12.

While the league-wide lockout that rocked the sports world looked to be devastating when it was first announced, cooler heads have more or less prevailed throughout the last few months, and negotiations have actually progressed.

Although the pace has been slow, the owners and players have taken positive steps, and now it is more of a matter of when a new labor deal will be reached, not if one will be reached this summer.

July 4 seems to be the target date by which everyone hopes to get the intricacies of the new deal sorted out. If the owners and players find an amicable way to divide up their estimated $9 billion pot by that point, then the lawyers and league experts can work out the fine print of the deal in enough time for there to be a player-acquisition, free agency period. If an agreement is struck by Independence Day, the season will move forward with minimal interruption.

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Keep in mind, the first exhibition game between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears is scheduled for August 7. That means in order for the league and players to be able to participate in a full preseason of training camps and games -- worth anywhere from $700 million to $1 billion to all parties involved -- an agreement needs to get sorted out near that July 4 mark.

Previously, when many figured that large portions of the year may be lost due to the lockout, contingency plans were hatched on how to salvage the complete season. Many pointed to the slight cushion created by all Week 3 opponents having the same bye week and the week off between the conference championships and Super Bowl as potential ways for the first three weeks of the year to be made up.

If that scenario went down (unlikely at this point), then the Wild Card games would have kicked off on January 21, the divisional round games would have began on January 28 and the conference championships would have been slated for February 5. Then, the Super Bowl, obviously, would have to be pushed back one week. It would have meant a more stressful schedule for all players involved given the lack of breaks, but at least a full year was there to be had.

Despite conflicting reports on the matter, there is no league-sanctioned drop-dead date on losing an entire season. Commissioner Roger Goodell, in his earliest statements on the lockout, said that neither he nor the owners had any set date in mind on when bargaining would have to conclude -- in order to miss an entire season.

Whether or not this is true is another story. By divulging such a date, the NFL would have given up some of its leverage during negotiations. During negotiations, each side always wants the opposition to think they have as much time as needed to wait for the best deal.

But taking into account when previous lockouts have ended -- and the amount of money vested into any given season -- the NFL could theoretically kick off at the Week 8 mark, or even as late as the Week 14 mark and still somehow make it work with a shortened season.

Nevertheless, if an agreement is reached within the next week or so, then the entire “what if” debate is moot and the schedule can proceed as originally planned.