NFL owners are not scheduled to take any formal action during their one-day meeting Tuesday in Washington on a proposal to reduce the preseason and expand the playoff field in future seasons.
While the topic is on the owners’ minds, it’s not clear at this point how much support the measure would have if it is formally proposed at some point by the league.
“I don’t know,” an executive from one NFL team said Monday when asked about the potential support among the owners for such a proposal. “That remains to be seen. I think that’s something that will take a while. It’s pretty far down the road.”
Another person familiar with the league’s deliberations on the matter said it’s possible but unlikely that the NFL would make a move to shorten the preseason in time to take effect next year.
That person said he thinks it’s possible that the NFL eventually could shorten the preseason without necessarily expanding the postseason in the same step. An expanded postseason could come a year or so later, that person said.
The two concepts have been linked because expanding the playoffs would generate additional revenue to offset the financial losses the sport would suffer from shortening the preseason.
The league likely would reduce the preseason from four games per team to three. It probably would expand the playoff field from six teams in each conference to seven. That would leave one team in each conference receiving a first-round postseason bye, down from two currently, and create an additional first-round playoff game per conference.
The NFL previously was interested in expanding the regular season from 16 to 18 games per team in conjunction with reducing the preseason from four games to two per team. But the players’ union has balked at a longer regular season, leaving the league to consider an expanded postseason to generate additional revenues in conjunction with a reduced preseason.
The problem with an expanded playoff field is that it’s not certain the owners would approve it. Some owners appear wary of the perception that the postseason would be watered down by having more teams in it. That’s why an alternative proposal to expand the playoffs even further to allow eight teams in each conference to qualify for the postseason appears to have little chance of being approved.
But the league does appear intent upon trying to reduce the preseason, having acknowledged that the sport’s exhibition-season product is not up to its usual standards.