The NFL Needs its Own Presidents’ Trophy

On a continuous basis since 1986, the NHL has awarded a trophy, called the Presidents' Trophy, to the team that finished with the best overall record during the regular season. Prior to that, in the "Original Six" era (1937-1967), the first-place regular-season finisher also received a trophy, but it was called the Prince of Wales Trophy; with the doubling of the number of teams in the league in 1967, and the creation of separate Eastern and Western Divisions, the Prince of Wales Trophy went to the first-place team in the East while a new trophy, the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, was established for the West winner.

In 1974, the Eastern and Western Divisions were replaced by the Campbell and Wales Conferences, with the top regular-season finishers therein receiving those respective trophies, an arrangement that lasted seven seasons. For the next four seasons after that, no trophy at all was awarded based on regular-season finish, with the Prince of Wales Trophy and Clarence S. Campbell Bowl being transferred to the postseason conference champions, who then met for the Stanley Cup — and remember that it is pronounced "STAN-lee cup," not "stan-lee CUP," at least in the country where the sport was invented.

(From 1974-75 through 1980-81, playoff teams were seeded, and matchups determined, solely by record, with no regard to division or conference — meaning that two teams from the same conference, or even the same division, could play each other in the Stanley Cup finals; indeed, in the 1979-80 season, the New York Islanders won the first of what proved to be four consecutive Stanley Cups by defeating the division rival Philadelphia Flyers in the finals.)

A concept like this could be very useful in the NFL — for two reasons.

First, even with the top seed in the conference getting a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (and quite possibly the only first-round bye in that conference very soon, if the playoff draw is expanded from the present 12 teams to 14 — as seems likely, since there is no significant opposition to doing so on either side of the labor-management divide), there will always be some instances of teams entering the final week with the top seed in their conference already clinched, but the best overall record in the entire league not yet clinched. If such a team did not rest their starters and were playing against a team that is still in contention in Week 17, the latter team would not get what amounts to a free pass into the playoffs, and the integrity of the game is preserved.

And second, a Super Bowl champion who did not earn a first-round bye will actually receive more postseason money than a Super Bowl champion who did earn a bye: this year, for example, each player on a 3- or 4-seed will earn $242,000, and a 5- or 6-seed $239,000, for going all the way, while players on a 1- or 2-seed will only make $211,000.

That is hardly fair — and not for nothing, but doesn't baseball only put gate receipts from the first three or four games of a series into its player's pool, to prevent teams from intentionally prolonging a series to get more money?

So the first thing the NFL needs to do is to award the same share to the teams that get a bye as the other division winners get, which in this year's postseason is $31,000 per player.

The second thing, of course, is to establish a trophy to be awarded to the team that finishes with the best overall regular-season record (except don't call it the Commissioner's Trophy, due to the reigning commissioner's manifest unpopularity!).

And what if the top seeds in each conference finish with the same record?

The NFL already solved that problem retroactively last spring, by approving new tie-breaking procedures to break ties for draft choices between teams not in the same conference that played the same strength of schedule (prior to that, coin flips were held to break such ties). These same tie-breakers can be used to break a tie for the regular-season championship and the trophy that goes with it, except that strength of schedule would be slotted after strength of victory in the tie-breaking steps, as in the case of a tie within a division or conference.

Even when to present the trophy is not problematic: since the trophy's winners would have a first-round bye, it would obviously be done during the wild card weekend, at halftime of one of the wild card games (of which there would be six if, as expected, the playoff field is expanded).

The home-field advantage in the Super Bowl will never be given to the team with the better record (although a redux of the 1967 "Ice Bowl" on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field for all the marbles would be awesome) — as is done in the NBA, NHL, and at long last, in 2017, MLB. So recognizing the NFL's regular-season winner with a trophy and correcting the blatant inequity of paying that team less money if they do win the Super Bowl is the least the NFL can do.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site