Commentary

Hands off the playoffs, Roger that?

Commish's proposed changes could be detrimental to the future of the NFL

Originally Published: January 31, 2014
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

Roger Goodell made it snow at his annual State of the National Football League press conference on Friday. Clearly, he can do anything.

But just because the commissioner of the most powerful and profitable professional sports league in this country can do something doesn't necessarily mean that he should.

Goodell should not advocate for another cold-weather Super Bowl, no matter how unseasonably warm the temperature will turn out to be on Sunday for the Denver-Seattle game. There are too many variables when the threat of severe weather is real. Why put the league's signature event at unnecessary risk?

Goodell should not advocate for another Super Bowl in the New York/New Jersey area, even though the good people of both states have made travel around the metropolitan area as smooth as possible. Aside from one stretch through Times Square, there has been little buzz about the Super Bowl in New York City. Escape to lower Manhattan, from the meatpacking district to SoHo to the East Village, and there is no feel for the Super Bowl. There are just people going about their lives, eating sushi, hustling to the subway, going to work.

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesThe NFL's two best teams this season will play in Super Bowl XLVIII, proving the current playoff system works.

And Goodell should not mess with the playoff structure. There's no need to have more teams in the playoffs. The format is just fine the way it is. Why become the NBA or the NHL with a regular season that means little and a postseason that is diluted by subpar teams that don't deserve to be there?

That's the danger of opening up the postseason to teams that, likely, would finish around .500. What the postseason normally does is expose the flawed teams from the strong, the weak teams from the deep.

Sure, there are the lower-seeded teams that get hot at the right time and run through the postseason on the most arduous of paths – on the road, never at home, starting with wild-card weekend. The New York Giants won Super Bowl XLII by taking that path, winning at Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay before beating the then-undefeated New England Patriots to win the Lombardi trophy.

But there are also seasons, like this one, when the best teams in the regular season proved to actually be the best teams overall. The four teams that played for the right to play in Super Bowl XLVIII all deserved to be there. Denver, Seattle, New England and San Francisco had little trouble with their lesser opponents in the divisional round. All four won their divisional games by at least a touchdown. None would have struggled against a team like the 8-8 Steelers, one of the teams standing outside looking in at the playoffs after their season didn't merit inclusion.

An expanded postseason would have had little effect on the last two Sundays of playoff games, so why bother?

Let Goodell explain:

"We currently have 12 teams qualify for the playoffs, as you know. We are looking at the idea of expanding that by two teams to 14. There's a lot of benefits to doing that. We think we can make the league more competitive. We think we can make the matchups more competitive towards the end of the season. There will be more excitement, more memorable moments for our fans. That's something that attracts us.

"We think we can do it properly from a competitive standpoint. This will continue to get very serious consideration by the competition committee, and then the ownership will have a vote on it."

Having two more teams in the postseason might indeed make the matchups more competitive toward the end of the season. I'll give Goodell that. If there are more teams vying for spots, then there could be more drama and more excitement.

But we're still talking about average teams here. And average teams from the regular season don't guarantee compelling drama in the postseason.

What it does guarantee is more money, and exploring additional revenue streams is what drives the NFL's engine. That's what this is about. That's why Goodell fielded questions on Friday about the possibility of expanding the league to London or beyond. It is why he was asked about the possibility of the St. Louis Rams moving to Los Angeles.

It is all about money, money and more money for the owners. Two more playoff games would mean two more additions to the pool. It would mean more revenue from ticket sales, from television, from concessions, from parking. It would mean more profit, and that is what drives this and every other professional sports league.

The NFL isn't, after all, a nonprofit organization.

Which is why it will likely expand the playoffs sooner rather than later. Maybe it will be next year. Likely by 2015.

It is not the best idea for the quality of the postseason product. But it is an idea that will resonate with owners, because it will make more money, and that's what this league ultimately is about.

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