NFL: 34 + 18 + 14 = a Sound Future Plan for Pro Football
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On Thursday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expressed a preference for expansion, rather than an existing team relocating, as the way to plug the hole in the league's soul, otherwise known as the lack of a franchise in Los Angeles.
Goodell added that one expansion team would mean two expansion teams, with the idea of having an odd number of teams being declared essentially a non-starter.
But what other changes might such an expansion lead to?
One strong possibility is the extension of the regular-season schedule from the present 16 to 18 games.
And how does expansion facilitate that move?
Because it would be logistically impossible to maintain the set rotation of every team playing every other team every so many years—at least one meeting every three years for non-division teams within the same conference, and one every four years for inter-conference matchups—that the NFL went to so much trouble to implement when it realigned the conferences into four four-team divisions in 2002, with 34 teams playing only 16 games.
There simply wouldn't be enough games to go around to account for all the scheduling scenarios that would arise, most notably when the teams from a four-team division were scheduled to play both of the two five-team divisions a 34-team league would bring about in the rotation.
True, the 18-game schedule provoked intense opposition from the players' union when the issue was first seriously broached last spring. But that was during the middle of a bitter and protracted labor dispute—a situation that would not pertain should it come up again in say, 2013 or '14; and it is very likely that sufficient concessions could be offered to the union to make the 18-game schedule happen.
Expansion could also result in an increase in the number of teams in the playoffs—most likely by adding one more wild-card team to each conference, for 14 teams in all.
From 1990 through 1994, all inclusive, 42.9 percent of all NFL teams—12 out of 28—qualified for the postseason. If, in a 34-team league, 14 teams made it, that comes out to only 41.2 percent, making any claim that such an expanded playoff field would be excessive ring hollow.
Furthermore, with only the top seed in each conference then earning a first-round bye, the inherent inequities and illogical nature of the present playoff format are successfully addressed: First, the difference between a 1 seed and a 2 seed would no longer be less than the difference between a 2 seed and a 3 seed, as is the case now because the 1 and 2 seeds get both a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the divisional playoffs, while the 3 seed gets neither.
It also opens up the possibility for a wild-card team to actually host a divisional playoff game, for if the 2 (which no longer gets a bye), 3 and 4 seeds were all to be upset in the first round, by the (newly created) 7, 6 and 5 seeds, respectively, the divisional playoffs then consist of the 1 seed hosting the 7 seed while the 5 seed—a wild-card team—hosts the 6 seed.
Sooner or later, it would be bound to happen (and it could have the net effect of dampening the argument that a wild-card team should not have to play a first-round playoff game on the road against a division winner that had a poorer record).
In addition, under this change it becomes possible for a 3 seed to host a divisional playoff game, which it would if the 2 seed gets upset in the first round; and even a 4 seed could host a divisional playoff game if both the 2 and 3 seeds lost their wild-card games.
And if a team that doesn't win its division doesn't get a home game in the playoffs—at least not in the first round, anyway—then why should a team that doesn't win its conference get a first-round bye?
This seems for all the world like a very promising plan for the NFL to pursue.
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