INDIANAPOLIS—Support has eroded for a proposal to expand the NFL playoff field from 12 to 14 teams, to the point that the measure no longer is viewed as likely to be enacted for the 2015 season.
“I’d say at this point it’s 50-50 at best,” said one person familiar with the deliberations by the league and the rule-making NFL competition committee Wednesday. “I think it’s gonna happen eventually, just maybe not for next season. It seems to have lost momentum. It still could be revived for the March [owners’] meeting. But at the moment it doesn’t look good for next season.”
Those sentiments were echoed by three others with knowledge of the NFL’s deliberations on the issue. They did not rule out the measure being implemented next season. But they said enthusiasm for the proposal clearly has diminished.
“I’d say it’s questionable, whereas last year at this time I would have told you it’s gonna happen [in time for next season],” one of those people said. “It’s a question of timing.”
According to that person, league leaders seem reluctant to make another significant change affecting the sport’s television partners at a time when the NFL is on what amounts to a year-to-year arrangement with CBS to broadcast its package of Thursday night regular season games in conjunction with the league-owned NFL Network. CBS began carrying a portion of the Thursday night schedule this past season, and the league and network announced last month that they’d extended the deal through the 2015 season.
“People didn’t want to have the Thursday night package and expanded playoffs start the same season,” the person familiar with the situation said. “So it looked like next season would be good [for the expanded playoffs to begin]. But now we’ve only done a one-year extension with CBS, so it’s kind of the same thing.”
It once was regarded as a near certainty that the league and owners would expand the playoffs beginning next season. The move was viewed as a revenue-generating maneuver that would allow the NFL to sell additional, highly rated postseason games to the TV networks. It was seen by some within the sport as a revenue-boosting alternative to an 18-game regular season, which the owners proposed during the most recent set of labor negotiations with the players’ union. They abandoned their proposal for a longer regular season when the union strongly objected to it.
Under the expanded-playoffs proposal, seven teams in each conference would qualify for the postseason instead of the current six. There would be only one team in each conference given a first-round playoff bye rather than two, meaning that there would be a total of six opening-round postseason games league-wide instead of the current four. One of those first-round playoff games could be played on a Monday night.
But some owners have expressed wariness that expanding the playoffs could diminish the accomplishment of reaching the postseason.
The Philadelphia Eagles, with a record of 10-6, and the Houston Texans, who went 9-7, would have reached the postseason if the expanded-playoffs proposal had been in effect this past season.
Several of those with knowledge of the league’s internal deliberations said Wednesday there also are concerns about a Monday night playoff game potentially conflicting with college football’s new playoffs.
When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the expanded-playoffs proposal during his annual state-of-the-league news conference two days before the Super Bowl, he did not offer an endorsement.
“There are positives to it,” Goodell said then. “But there are concerns as well, among them being the risk of diluting our regular season and conflicting with college football in January.”
That marked a shift in tone after league leaders generally had focused on the positives of the measure in previous public statements about it.
“There’s no push for it,” another person with knowledge of the deliberations said Wednesday. “New York [the league office] is not pushing for it. Some other things have to fall into place first. They just got the Thursday night TV package. Things could change. But for now, there’s not a lot of time being spent [by the competition committee] on it.”
A fourth person said there don’t appear to be enough votes among the owners at this point for the expanded playoffs to be ratified for next season, and added: “I don’t think it’s next season. That was the signal that [Goodell] sent” with his comments during Super Bowl week.
The competition committee is meeting this week in Indianapolis at the NFL scouting combine. It will continue its deliberations during meetings in Naples, Fla., before making recommendations for the owners to consider during the annual league meeting next month in Phoenix. The proposal to expand the playoffs, like any other prospective rule change, would have to be approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners to be implemented.