ORLANDO — NFL owners made plenty of news at their annual meetings, from shifting some video review oversight to the officiating headquarters to experimenting in the preseason with extra-point kicks from the 20-yard line.
They also vowed to clamp down on unsportsmanlike conduct and verbal abuse. A significant item they didn’t vote on, but discussed at length, was expanding the playoffs. Though the move wasn’t adopted in Orlando, it soon will be.
It could even be approved at the owners’ May gathering in Atlanta and be implemented for the 2014 season. Commissioner Roger Goodell was hesitant to predict that. He also wasn’t exactly shooting down the idea of going from 12 to 14 postseason qualifiers, adding one in each conference, next season.
“It’s not out of the question,” Goodell said about two more wild-card games next January. “We have more work. I wouldn’t rule it out but I wouldn’t say that’s the direction we’re heading.”
The NFL definitely is heading toward bigger playoffs, even if the new setup
occurs in 2015. Although the owners have struck out with the players union about stretching the regular season to 18 games – new NFL Players Association President Eric Winston has called the issue “dead in the water” – more teams in the postseason isn’t likely to be opposed by the union. For one, it means more money in the pockets of the players on the qualifying teams. For another, it really means more money in the pockets of every player.
When the league adds more playoff games, it also will add significant revenues in which the players share handily. The networks, which can’t get enough of pro football – witness CBS diving headfirst into Thursday night games for the first half of the 2014 schedule – will blitz each other for the rights to televise the two extra games.
That means not only the current network partners such as CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN but also perhaps Turner Sports or another outlet not currently involved with the NFL. Remember that ESPN, the self-proclaimed sports leader, currently has no postseason rights.
Also consider that one or both of the new games could be scheduled for prime time, perhaps even on Monday night, which is ESPN’s regular-season territory.
Did someone say “cha-ching?”
“I think there’s a tremendous amount of interest in this, possibly even to the point of support,” Goodell said. “But there also are things we still want to make sure we do right. We’ve been very incremental in trying to do this but we believe competitively it could make even the races toward the end of the season even more exciting, with more teams vying for playoff positions, which is great for our fans. We still want to do some additional work, including talking with the players association.”
He said the issue could be discussed at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday and also with the league’s broadcast partners.
Proponents of the expanded playoffs insist it is the answer to not having 11-5 or 10-6 teams fail to make it; Arizona won 10 games last season and was on the outside.
Opponents question whether .500 (or worse) teams will benefit more than anyone. Clubs that would not benefit would be two division winners in both the AFC and in the NFC who don’t have the best overall record in the conference. Only the top team in each conference would secure a bye, with the No. 2 finisher facing the seventh-ranked team one week after the regular season ends. The No. 3 team would play No. 6, while No. 4 meets No. 5.
“Personally, I think it would be a positive for our game,” said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, whose Packers won the NFC North at 8-7-1 in 2013. “I think if you look at the history of the later seeds, they’ve been successful. If you look at the productivity in the NFL from the best team in the league to the last team in the league from a productivity standpoint, there’s only a 16 percent difference.
“Parity’s been evident in our game for a long time. I think giving another team an opportunity, I’m for it, I think it’s the right thing to do.”
So, almost certainly, do the owners. Count on it happening sooner rather than later.