NFL Considers adding extra playoff teams

Admittedly, I’m the type of person who would – given the opportunity – watch a football game or more from Thursday to Monday.  I’d start with the Thursday night game, followed by a high school game right down the street on Friday night.  On Saturday morning, I could watch GameDay on ESPN and settle in for an afternoon or evening of collegiate action.  Sunday afternoon, I’d watch the Patriots play then casually watch the Sunday Night Football broadcast.  I’d cap it off Monday with Monday Night Football.

This doesn’t happen anymore (my wife simply wouldn’t allow it).  However, many weeks of my life have mirrored this exact circumstance.  And, my wife is considerate – despite her growing up the middle of two sisters, who’d never have a weekend like the aforementioned – of my passion for watching sports.  So playoffs are always a different story and I’ll be able to watch football an entire weekend.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

With the NFL’s rumor mill spouting off the idea of expanding the playoffs by adding one team to each conference, we’re guaranteed more football.  On the surface, this looks great to people like me, who’ll gladly accept more football in their lives.

However, I have to admit to being lukewarm to ice cold on this idea.  Meaning, I’d have to be talked into it.  And I’m going to be pretty hard to sway, if only because I sense a little nefariousness in the entire transaction.

Yes, I’m all for high level athletics.  I’m also in favor of cutting the superfluous preseason from the NFL.  Two games, tops.  These are aspects of the deal that I could get behind, kind of.

The NFL is the most popular league in professional sports in America.  It’s a billion dollar industry with millions of fans all over the world.  I wonder, though, how much they’re not telling us regarding the lawsuits and the safety issues in the league.  We know, in the most reductive sense, that a brain smashing into a skull is a bad thing.  We know, also, that this happens repeatedly in practice and games, and we know that players subject themselves to this happening many, many times over the course of long careers.  We know the fates of players like Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, and we know the cause of their demises.

I’m not going to moralize and say how much we don’t need one more game, x amount of hits, etc.  I’m wondering if the league is proposing this change because adding one more game to the NFL playoff schedule is not only going to replace the dropped preseason game revenue, but exceed it.  If, perhaps, the league officials know that they could be living on borrowed time and are looking to make as much money as they can before the league devolves into a product we no longer recognize.

That, I understand, could be an egregious claim.  To assert, essentially, that league officials would eschew player safety for monetary gains is irresponsible and, in a way, defamatory.  But I don’t think it’s unreasonable – as a business model – to try to make as many fiscal gains in a business that may not look the same in twenty years.

Let’s face it.  In twenty years, we may not be watching the same brand of football.  Think twenty years ago.  Is it the same sport now than it was in 1993?  No way.  Defensive ends can’t mangle quarterbacks the way they used to, horse-collar tackles are no longer allowed, face mask penalties are different, “launching” penalties, and so on.  It was, in a very major way, a more violent league despite the players being much smaller and slower than they are now.


Malcolm Gladwell, author and outspoken champion of football reform, has said that in 30 years no one will be playing football anymore.  I don’t know if he’s softened that stance, but his recent remarks suggest that he’s changed them a bit.  He claimed the sport was going to be “ghettoized,” and “essentially dare people to play.”

His thesis came under a bit of fire by people who take exception to the world “ghettoize,” but his insight is poignant.  If the risks of head injuries are known, football is going to be left to the people for whom risks are acceptable.  Much like, Gladwell asserts, the Army currently does.

Sean Pamphilon, director of the film United States of Football, from where these Gladwell remarks were published, hypothesizes that, “Suburban white kids or their parents are going to opt out.  More affluent people are going to decide they don’t want to put their kids in that position.

“In places where football isn’t the only thing to do, fans are going to opt out first.  Certain colleges are going to follow and there will be a steady decline in the participation of the game.”

It’s a reasonable prediction.  And so I don’t think it’s egregious to wonder if the league feels the same way and is trying to make their business more money by adding more revenue through another postseason game.  The cold, snowy (and sold out) January games would add millions more to the revenue stream through attendance, advertisements, retail sales than their counterparts in humid August preseason games attended by few, watched by fewer.  It seems to me there aren’t many people who support adding a game besides the billionaires sitting behind mahogany desks, lighting cigars with $100 bills (that’s at least how I picture them).

And perhaps I’m a bit hypocritical, if not entirely so.  If the postseason does expand, I will watch the extra game.  I’ll bet on the extra game because, of course, we run the risk of putting a #2 seed against a 7-9 team that has no business in postseason play.  I’ll enjoy the excitement of Wild Card Weekend a little bit more than I do otherwise.

I just can’t help but wonder if there is something a little deeper, darker, or more sinister behind these motives aside from just giving me and millions of other fans another reason to sit my ass on the couch on a cold January weekend, have a beer and gamble.  It is, to use an overused cliche, enough to make me pause.


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2 responses to “NFL Considers adding extra playoff teams”

  1. Ryan says :

    Like the perspective.

    Interested though to think that the sport may already be bastardized. With the number of parent (middle to upper class) already not letting their six year old play sports that require pads.

    Another thing you didn’t mention is the irrelevance of the regular season. Why not add 2 teams, why not 4, why not best of 3/5/7 series to win the Super Bowl. Oh wait, I just described the NBA.

    • matthewmosgood says :

      I was interested in two things in research I did for this.

      1.) Gladwell’s response re: a sport that will publicize the risks, essentially dare people to play, and make it a league of players who are willing to take those risks. Which plays into your point about parents – many of them middle to upper middle class – who are already unwilling to let their kids play football.

      2.) I liked the editorial in the NY Times by former LB Scott Fujita (who has three daughters), who answers the question, “would you let your sons play football?” tellingly with, “I’m really happy I don’t have to make that choice.”

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