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Bet on the NFL The head of the NFL's negotiating team says it will be much easier to reach a new labor agreement with the players' union if the accord includes an 18-game regular season. NFL executive vice president of labor and chief counsel Jeff Pash said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press that tt's something that both sides recognize the value of, and so both sides will work hard to incorporate it into the new agreement. Pash also said the league is "focused on a full 2011 season" and the owners want to have a deal in place "well before" the summer.

The current collective bargaining agreement expires in March, and the union's executive director, DeMaurice Smith, has said he believes owners are preparing for a lockout. In a letter sent to players last week, Smith advised members to save their last three game checks in case next season is canceled. The NFL has not missed games because of labor problems since 1987, when the players went on strike.

Pash believes that if both sides are equally committed and equally focused, then there's no reason why we can't get an agreement. Pash doesn't have a drop-dead date in mind for getting a deal done in time to avoid missing games. Asked whether the season could be played if there is not a new CBA in place until the summer, Pash replied that the goal is to have an agreement well before that.

He continued by saying that they have every incentive to get an agreement as soon as we can. They’ve said, they’ve told the union, it's been public — if there is extended uncertainty, it's costly for both sides. It's costly for us, and it's costly for the players. So there is every incentive to try to reach an agreement sooner rather than later, and that's what our focus is. Are we going to do it? I can't guarantee that.

Pash declined to provide details on where the negotiations stand right now.

He listed the most prominent issues as economics, the 18-game season, the rookie salary system and free-agency rules. Pash believes the back-and-forth the sides already have had about increasing the regular season from 16 to 18 games demonstrates they are aware of that subject's importance to the talks. He said the NFL and union "exchanged detailed proposals" and had detailed discussions on that topic and added he thinks they'll continue to do so.

It's a season that would deliver more value to the fans. It would allow a lot of growth opportunities that don't exist with the current structure, and those growth opportunities would be beneficial for the players as well as for the clubs," Pash said. "There is a recognition that it is realistically an easier agreement to reach in the context of an 18-game regular season."

The current CBA went into effect for the 2006 season, and the owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008 that makes the deal expire next March. According to the NFL, the average player salary rose from $1.5 million in 2005 — the last year of the old deal — to $1.9 million in 2009. The league said it doesn't have comparable figures for 2010 because there is no salary cap in place.  As talks move forward, Pash emphasized what he called a shared responsibility to the sports betting fans on the part of both sides.



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