Recently, Bob Molinaro had this comment in his column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:
“Bottom line: Expand the NFL playoffs from 12 teams to 14 or 16, and open the postseason door even wider to mediocrity? Why not? Isn’t Roger Goodell always saying that he thinks about the fans first? Fans will eat it up – TV, too – and the league will make more money. It’s a terrible idea, of course, but even bad ideas work out well for the NFL. Why not make pro football’s regular season as meaningless as the NHL’s or NBA’s, if only to test the theory that the NFL is too big to fail.”
I am of two minds on this proposal. Professor Molinaro sees the expansion of the playoffs as a way to render the regular season meaningless as in the NBA and NHL. I look at it through the other end of the telescope; adding more teams to the playoff mix means more of the “slightly-above-average-but-not-really good” teams will be in the playoffs. I agree the regular season will be less interesting with expanded playoffs; but, for me, I think the more severe damage will be done to the quality of the games in the playoffs themselves.
Think about the structure of a 16-team NFL playoff. We have already seen the Seahawks get into the playoffs with a 7-9 record and last year the Broncos barged in with an 8-8 mark. Unless the NFL gets rid of divisions and conferences, there is no way to assure that only the best 16 teams will be in the playoffs and that could make for some bad football in the playoffs. The problem with a single standings – like the table in the English Premier League – is that the focus of attention and striving for teams would be to make it to the top 16. The “focus games” will be between teams in the middle of the pack playing each other not games between teams at the top of the “table”.
Simple math says a 16-team playoff would put half the teams in and leave half the teams out. That is what the NHL does and the early rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs do not command nearly the same level of attention as do the later rounds.
Oh, and adding teams to the playoffs adds games to the schedule which has impact on the issue(s) of player safety which the NFL has to keep in a prominent place.
Having said all that, what added playoff games will do is add a nice chunk of money to the revenue pot for the league. That means more money for the players – they get a guaranteed cut of the total revenue in salaries; therefore, there might just be agreement from the union with the league on such a proposition. Given the total opposition of the two sides on just about everything since Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw left the scene, perhaps this is a good thing for football in general.
Having said all that:
My Bottom Line: I prefer not to expand the NFL playoffs beyond 12 teams so long as there are 32 teams in the NFL. I do not think expansion would render the regular season meaningless but I do think it will erode the standard of play in the playoffs. However, if the league and the union can come together and agree on something, there is a benefit to the “game of football” writ large.
Here is another comment from Bob Molinaro in a recent column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:
“Secession: I don’t usually support conference chaos, but good for the seven non-FBS Big East schools – the Catholic schools – for breaking away from a crumbling enterprise. I salute them for having the nerve to think basketball is at least as relevant as almighty football. In 1985, when the Big East became the only conference to send three teams to the same Final Four, nobody questioned basketball’s place at the table.”
On this issue, Professor Molinaro and I are in complete agreement. I believe that a top-shelf basketball conference can indeed survive on its own and that the member schools can run an athletic department on basketball revenue if in fact that same athletic department does not have to issue 80 scholarships to field a football team. No, the revenue stream will not be as big for schools without football; but neither will the costs. The “Catholic 7” schools have had basketball rivalries that go back at least to the 1960s which is when my perception of college basketball as a national entity began.
The Big East started with 9 schools – BC, Georgetown, Holy Cross, Providence, Rutgers, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Syracuse and UConn. The idea was a basketball conference in and around the large metropolitan markets in the northeast where college basketball was – and still is – a major attraction. Subsequently, the Big East expanded to include other schools and to include schools with an interest in big-time football. Here is a reality that many college football aficionados around the country do not comprehend:
College football is not such a big deal in the northeast. There are no football powerhouses in that part of the country in large measure because there is no rabid fanbase producing the kind of revenue support that it takes to become and remain a football powerhouse. In and around the big cities of the northeast, the “major” football programs are Maryland and BC – and neither of those programs is considered “major” on any scale outside the northeast.
The so-called “Catholic 7” currently consists of DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova. The league will obviously try to expand beyond that number and will hopefully stick to its knitting and avoid inviting any football-oriented schools to join. If they want a 12-team conference, here are 5 schools to consider inviting:
St. Joseph’s: Long-standing rivalry with Villanova and St. John’s.
Temple: Located well for the new conference and plays at football as opposed to plays football.
Butler: Located near the other western schools; not a football school.
Xavier: Good location; no football.
Dayton: Good location; no football; long-standing rivalry with Xavier.
If the conference does not get around to attracting any new members in the short term, they really should keep the name “Catholic 7” because that evokes images of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. Moreover, in any given year, the bottom team in the conference could be designated the ones deserving of Last Rites.
Finally, since Bob Molinaro was clearly the inspiration for today’s rant, it is only fitting that I close with another of his comments – only this time without any commentary of my own:
“Wondering: What’s going over the cliff first, the economy or Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni?”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………