NFL Owners Make Their Move

The fat — or maybe something else — finally hit the fan last week, when the NFL owners voted both to expand the playoff field from six teams in each conference to seven (leaving only the top seed in each conference with a first-round bye) and to lengthen the regular season from 16 games to 17.

A few further details were conveniently omitted, like whether there would be a second bye week for each team. The speculation is that there will be, because the owners want to push the Super Bowl back two weeks, not one, so that Presidents' Day becomes "Super Bowl Monday" — a move sure to be a tremendously popular move among both the fans and businesses, who would save billions of dollars in absenteeism and lost productivity costs. Furthermore, a second bye week for each team means that all teams playing a Thursday night or Thanksgiving Day game could be given an automatic bye the week before — having to play on three days' rest being a major sore point for the players.

Another piece of unfinished business is what form the 17th game would take. The most logical means of apportioning these games is as interconference games matching up the entire divisions that played each other two years previously (and two years hence) on a positional basis; i.e., first-place teams from the previous season playing each other, second-place teams, and so on, with who gets to play these games at home alternating by conference — the AFC teams getting all of the games at home one year, the NFC teams getting all of the games at home the next; this way, every team battling for a division title, a playoff spot, or a playoff seed would have the same number of home games, and the same number of away games.

As for the expanded playoffs, that is a fait accompli, as there is no meaningful opposition to it from the NFLPA. This will make the postseason fairer all the way around: It will make "overlap" scenarios, which arise when a team that misses the playoffs finishes with a better record than a team that makes it, far less likely; and it even opens up the possibility that a 5 seed, who didn't win their division, could host a divisional playoff game, if they beat the 4-seed in their wild card game while the 2 and 3 seeds both lose theirs (the 2-seed no longer having a first-round bye).

Meanwhile, the union is playing an "over-charging" game that would make Jack McCoy from "Law & Order" blush, J.J. Watt going on the cyberbullhorn known as twitter and screaming "Hard no on that proposed CBA." Those of us who are more sophisticated know exactly what's going on: He and his fellow "Irreconcilables" — the term used to denote the U.S. Senators who kept us out of the League of Nations after World War I — are merely trying to wring as many concessions from the owners as possible.

Some of them are obvious — cutting the preseason by one game (variant — holding the Hall of Fame Game on the same week as the rest of the league opens the preseason, possibly on a Wednesday night to ensure that the game is the first preseason game overall), a 6.25% across-the-board salary increase for all players (17 being 6.25% more than 16), and, as already mentioned, eliminating three-days-rest situations.

Additional pot-sweeteners — no pun intended — could include complete legalization of marijuana so far as the league is concerned (baseball did this in December) and an "innocent until proven guilty" policy regarding suspensions of players, which actually enhances the "integrity of the game," not undermines it, by preventing betting coups that can arise from arrests that in the fullness of time prove to be apocryphal (in their proposed CBA the owners agreed to relax the marijuana rules while not "legalizing" pot altogether, but did not address the presumption-of-innocence issue).

And do we really need OTAs — which by the way stands for "Organized Team Activities" — during the offseason? Didn't we all do just fine without them in decades past? (And be honest — did you even know what "OTA" stood for?)

On Friday, the union postponed a scheduled vote on the owners' proposal, so that they could schedule further negotiations — with the owners!

So everything appears to be coming together: when the owners meet in Palm Beach, Florida for four days starting on March 29, look for them to approve the 14-team playoff, to commence in 2020 (the 17-game schedule, however, cannot begin until at least 2021) — and can also be expected to okay any changes that they and the players agree to in the proposed new CBA between now and then (and if the owners do it quickly, who knows — maybe they will have time the fix the NFL's grossly unfair overtime rules).

One can only envision the ad campaign trumpeting the expanded playoff and schedule: The tag line will no doubt be the Andrea True Connection's "More, more, more: How do you like it? How do you like it?" — perfect for the 50-somethings who grew up with that song.

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