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League won't set drop-dead date for saving games

NEW YORK -- The NFL doesn't have a deadline for when games would be canceled without a collective bargaining agreement.

"We don't have a date by which the season is lost, or a date by which we have to move from 16 games to some other [number]," Eric Grubman, the league's executive vice president for business operations, said Friday. "Our intentions are to play a full season, and we will pull every lever that we can within the flexibility we have or can identify to make that happen."

Even during the lockout, Grubman said, the NFL and teams are working so they will be ready to start the season quickly once a deal is reached.

"We have to be able to figure out: When you turn the key, is the gas going to flow?" he said. "Is everything going to work?"

The 2011 schedule released Tuesday has games beginning Sept. 8 but includes some room to maneuver. The NFL could still squeeze in 16 games with a delayed start by eliminating bye weeks and the week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. The league also has a deal with host Indianapolis to potentially hold the Super Bowl a week later, stemming from the earlier possibility of playing an 18-game regular season.

But a delayed opening would remove a meaningful date from the schedule. For now, the first Sunday of the season falls on the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and part of the NFL's business-as-usual planning includes deciding how to commemorate that moment.

"Its national significance is profound," Grubman said. "And the significance of competitive sports in America is also very profound."

Predicting a deadline for when the schedule would have to be revised is difficult because it's impossible to know how negotiations will play out. If at some point it becomes clear a deal is near, the NFL can begin setting plans for the upcoming season. If an agreement is reached unexpectedly and rapidly, there might be more lag time before the games start.

The league and teams have mostly turned to pay cuts to reduce expenses during the lockout. It costs about $40 million a week to run the business of the NFL, Grubman said.

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