Time is running out on professional football.

The ongoing negotiations between the NFL owners and players are moving as slowly as molasses in January.

And there's a deadline -- midnight Thursday.

Months ago, I found myself supporting the position of the players because I thought it was a lot to ask and expect for players to play two additional games in future seasons.

And I haven't changed my mind.

Two games doesn't sound like much, I guess. But two extra games after 16 regular-season games where they're taking a brutal beating week in and week out might be two extra games too many.

Yes, they might be able to work it out that the players just play two fewer exhibition games to balance things out. But it's not the same. The players certainly know it. The owners know it, too.

It's a huge difference asking professional players to perform at a professional level that early in the season, when in normal years most players would not be asked to play more than one quarter of an exhibition game, if that.

Instead of part of an exhibition game, they'd all of a sudden be expected to play a full game that actually counts in the standings.

As if the league isn't plagued by enough injuries as it is. In a 16-game schedule, it's a miracle to have one-third of the league's quarterbacks playing most or all of the games. Add two more games and what will you get? Logic would suggest more injuries are to be expected.

How does that improve the NFL product? It doesn't. How much of a game is it if you have starting players left and right sitting on the sidelines with injuries? Especially the skill players. Nineteen of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the league, for example, missed playing time last season. Some of that was significant.

All the focus these days is on players having head injuries -- concussions -- and taking time off to heal. Every time that happens, it diminishes the quality of the NFL product.

And adding two games to the regular-season schedule would almost surely create an environment where those types of injuries would occur more frequently, not less. Players playing when they're tired or banged up are more likely to be injured than guys who are fresh.

The NFL season is already six months long.

The players are dragging their feet about adding games to the schedule. They'd probably prefer fewer games, not more. And they absolutely would like to cut back on so many exhibition games and preseason practices because it only hastens the breakdown of the NFL players' bodies.

Counting the regular-season and playoff games, some teams already are playing 20 games or more in a season. Some are played on short weeks. Some are played in foreign countries.

Yes, conditioning is important. But there's a fine line between enough and too much. I'm not sure they've figured out where to draw that line.

And if there are going to be more games, the players expect to be reasonably compensated for them. That makes sense to me. I don't see how owners could expect players to compete for less money in the two extra games than they do for the 16 games they're already playing.

The owners are talking about a lockout. The players are talking about a decertification of their union, basically declaring an end to union representation of players.

All that in a business that tops $9 billion a year in revenues.

There's plenty of money to go around, but you'd never know that by listening to the poor-mouthing from both sides.

This is posturing at its worst -- both sides have become expert at it.

Frankly, I'm having a difficult time feeling sorry for either side in this dispute. It's millionaires seeking concessions from other millionaires, and it's all about money.

I'm not going to shed a tear either way.

In fact, it'd be just fine with me if all these millionaires had to sit out a season with no games being played and no one earning a dollar.

That won't happen, of course, because when it comes right down to it, both sides have too much to lose by not coming to an agreement -- again, a ton of money.

Money rules in professional football -- in all professional sports for that matter.

But at the moment, it's a sorry sight to behold.

Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch colum nist, run Thursdays. E- mail: lhicks@yorkdis patch.com.