If the fans could vote on a new concept in scheduling that will be considered by the National Football League club owners this weekend in Seattle, it probably would pass unanimously.
It is an intriguing prospect that would annually toughen up the schedules of the top teams on the basis of all teams' performances the previous year and be fairer to lower teams in the process of improving.
The owners have had since December, when it was presented at a league meeting, to study the concept.
Simply put, all teams would continue to play home-and-home games within their present divisions. But in nondivision games, a team that finished in the first place in 1976 would oppose every other first-place team from the other five divisions in 1977.
The second-place teams would play one another, and so forth. For instance, the Washington Redskins who were the NFC wild-card team after finishing second in the East Division, would play the usual home-and-home games in the division against Dallas, St. Louis, Philadelphia and the New York Giants.
Besides those eight games, the Redskins would play the other second-place teams one game each - San Francisco, Chicago, New England, Denver and Cincinnati. In addition, the Redskins would play one other team rougly equal in caliber, probably a first-place or third-place team from outside the division.
In a four-team division, such as the AFC Central, Pittsburgh would play home-and-home games against Cincinnati, Cleveland and Houston.
Besides those six intra division games, the Steelers would play the other division winners, Oakland, Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles and Minnesota. Their three other games would be against comparable opponents, probably against second or third place teams, or a top team in decline or a lower team on the rise.
There would be a lot of difference in the caliber of the schedules of the first and second-place teams compared to last season.
On the basis of their records for the 1975 season, Oakland's opponents were said to be the easiest of all before the 1976 season began. By the same measurement, the schedule of the New York Giants was the hardest.
Because of the unpredictable rises and falls of teams' fortunes in the rotating nine-year schedule that still has two years to go, the Giants, Chicago Bears, and New England Patriots were faced with unfairly difficult challengers in 1976 while trying to turn around run-down frachisess.
That the Patriots and the Bears, to a degree, did improve a credit to their operation.
Under the new proposal, the third, fourth and fifth teams could have much better records and be more competitive.
Still if a top in a division continued to dominate it, that team would have a leg up for playoff purposes on another division winner that did not quite dominate.
The new concept would not remove all the inequities and make competition entirely equal for every team, but would redistribute some inequities.
As an example of a holdover inequity, in the NFC East, St. Louis would be classified as a third-place team for 1977 and thus would play third-place teams in its outside games.
The Cardinals are generally rated as good as or nearly a match for the Cowboys and Redskins. But it would have a potentially easier outside schedule playing third-place teams while the Cowboys were playing first-place clubs and the Redskins second-place clubs.
The thinking is that if the Vikings had had to play all first-place teams in its outside games in 1976, they might not have qualified for the playoffs.
In any case, the new concept would give a better picture of the relative strengths of the division winners, some of whom now pretty much coast through the final weeks.
Some of the winning owners may not vote for a change because it would work against their teams staying on top, but some might be influenced to favor the proposal because more strong attractions would mean more gate receipts.
Likewise, while some of the lower teams may see a chance to grow against more realistic competition, others may ne swayed by the fear of losing the financial revenue that often consoles them after a one-sided loss to a top team.
The league is going to have to realign soon to mesh in the new franchises at Seattle and Tampa Bay. The difficult task has been deferred because it would make more sense to wait until there may be expansion to two more teams, making six five-team divisions.
The owners again will consider increasing the present 14-game regular season to 16 games because there has been a slump in the exhibition-game ticket sales. Also, the players are opposed to six exhibitions.