Goodell has Problems, I have Solutions

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

Pushing to expand both the regular- and post-season, the NFL has some challenges. No. Check that. The NFL has opportunities.

Commisioner Goodell wants to expand the playoffs and the NFL wants to stretch the regular season to 18 games. There is revenue to be earned!

The players, on the other hand, don't want more work. It's not that they're lazy (certainly not as lazy as sports bloggers). But more games equates to more injuries. On that note, so do longer overtime periods and unnecessary preseason games.

And speaking of playoffs, there's no small amount of discontent over the qualifications of division winners. If the Arizona Cardinals win out, they could go 11-5 and still miss the playoffs while two division winners sneak in at 9-6-1 and 8-8. And if the Cardinals and the Panthers both lose this Sunday, the Cardinals will actually be cheering for their wild-card-rival-contender San Francisco to win against the irrelevant Atlanta Falcons on Monday night to align the screwball tie-breakers in their favor.

Help is on the way.

Trim the Preseason

Preseason games eat up a precious revenue-earning week with unpopular games. They cost players time and injury risk with unpopular compensation.

But coaches need to evaluate players. And, as you may not know, many NFL stadiums have a lease which requires 10 home games per year.

Solution? Don't cut the preseason to just two games, but cut it down to three games. Schedule two home games to each of the teams that finished in the bottom 16, and their leases will be taken care of. You'll probably get 8-10 home playoff games out of the remaining pool (more on that below), leaving just 10-12 stadiums that have to be paid off (pretty sure they won't complain about not hosting an actual game as long as you pay for it), which the NFL can cover with increased revenue (more below) until those leases expire.

Then, set the roster limit for opening day at 55 to give coaches more time to evaluate fringe players. Do the cut to 54 after week 3 and the final cut to 53 players after week 5. Given that every team ends out with at least two players on injured reserve over the course of the season, roster limits should be front-loaded anyways.

Eighteen Weeks, Sixteen Games

So now you have an extra week on the calendar to play with. Add another bye week. Ticket revenues won't increase, but there will still be NFL games in five time slots every weekend (Thursday, Monday, Sunday x 3), so the big-money advertising revenues will go up by roughly 1/17. Mandate that each team give players a 4-day vacation during one of their byes, and the NFLPA should be quite happy with the arrangement.

Playoff Seeding I: Ties

Stop playing overtime in the regular season. It eats up airtime with a minimal gain in advertising revenue because the network commercial quotas are already met by the end of regulation. And as much as you'd like to, you can't empty the stadiums and charge fans another $50 for the extra game time. And, again, players don't appreciate the excess injury risk.

Best of all, we'll be spared most of the ridiculously arbitrary tie-breakers that determine playoff seeding. As it stands, a team which wins in overtime did not play as well as a team which won in regulation, but they get credit for a full win nonetheless. Likewise, a team which loses in overtime doesn't get credit for being equal to their opponent over the course of sixty minutes. If ties are allowed to stand, team records will more accurately reflect team performance and there will be fewer ties in the standings.

As a bonus, the tie-breakers could be modified thusly:

1. Head-to-head (if applicable)
2. Division record (if in the same division)
3. Most wins
4. Conference record/common opponents, strength of victory, etc.

This way, a team that goes 10-6 will be tied in percentage with a team that went 9-5-2 (because ties count as half a win) but will take the higher seed because they earned more wins. This might even produce some good drama in week 17 for teams that need a win (and not just a tie) to make the playoffs.

Playoff Seeding II: Division Titles

Divisional alignment generates rivalries which are entertaining to fans. More importantly, perhaps, they allow the NFL to award eight championships a year in the form of Division Titles. That's a huge draw in a league of 32 teams where only one can be the Super Bowl champion. And to keep the title meaningful, it needs to be attached to post-season seeding.

On the other hand...

When there is a weak division-- or several weak divisions-- a team can place well into the top six in the conference by record but be denied a playoff spot. And when there is a very strong division, that division's second-place team can do no better than the fifth seed, even if they have earned a much better record and thus a deserve a better chance to make the Super Bowl.

Solution?

Seed as follows:

#1: Division winner with the best record
#2: Division winner with the 2nd best record
#3: Division winner with the 3rd best record
#4: Best record among remaining teams
#5: Division winner with the 4th best record, if not awarded the #4 seed; otherwise, the next best record.
#6: Next best
#7: Next best
#8: Next best

Wait, is that eight teams? Yes. Yes, it is. And not only does the over-achieving #4 seed get a home game, so does every division winner, even if they drop to the #5 seed. That's coming up. But first:

Pay the Players for Playoff Games

As of 2012, the average payout per player per playoff game was $28,909. Now consider a player like Anquan Boldin, who's annual compensation of approximately $8 million averages to (approximately) $500,000 per game. If the 49ers make the playoffs, he will be taking a pay cut between $412,000 and $480,000 every game (each round pays differently).

I predict that someone reading this right now is thinking, "The guy can't complain, he's still making eight million dollars!" You are using the wrong part of your brain. Or perhaps none of it. If you want to channel your moronic envy into a crusade against high player salaries, then take it up elsewhere. That's an entirely different topic. This is not about total compensation, it is about inequity. Anquan Boldin and Pierre Garcon have both "paid their dues" on rookie contracts, achieved a high level of play, and made themselves worth about $500,000 per game. But if the 49ers were to return to the Super Bowl as a Wild Card this year, Boldin would see his earnings drop to $406,000 per game. By virtue of missing the playoffs, Garcon will enjoy a higher pay and start his vacation a month earlier. By virtue of making the playoffs, Boldin will earn more money for the NFL, suffer more career-consuming wear on his body, and expose himself to more injury risk.

A good place to start would be tripling the per-game payout to an average of around $87,000 per game. This would still represent a pay cut for anyone making more than $1.4 million per year, so there'd be no competitive imbalance caused by free agents shopping playoff contenders in hopes of additional compensation. But as Richard My Brother Sherman says, players should not be asked to take a pay cut to play for a championship.

Expand the Playoffs... Intelligently

Says Goodell,

"If expanding the postseason would allow other teams to get into the dance, and they have the potential of going on and winning the Super Bowl, that's a good thing for fans, that's a good thing competitively."

Frankly, he's being a simpleton. Or a liar who just wants more revenue. I'll give him the benefit of doubt and call him an idiot.

Playoffs are inherently bad because they wipe out the accomplishments of the regular season and thus render it meaningless. Right now, the only saving grace is the combination of limited participation (just 12 of 32 teams) and the highly-prized bye week awarded to the four best.

The NBA can get away with sending 16 teams to the playoffs because they play a 7-game series instead of single elimination. The outcomes are less random. There's also much less risk of injury in basketball, so there's no reason for teams to hold back in the regular season. If the NFL playoffs are expanded too much, don't be surprised if teams start burning clock, resting players, and playing in a generally non-competitive manner even at the risk of lowering their playoff seed as the regular season winds down.

Going by Goodell's logic, the playoffs should be expanded to 32 teams. Which is incredibly stupid. If you make the regular season games less meaningful, there will be consequences.

Although I personally prefer the current 12-team format, recognizing the drive for more participation (and revenue), I have a solution. Well, really, it's the AFL's solution, but I'm smart enough to recognize it.

Take a moment to appreciate the elegant beauty of that bracket. Eight teams get in, and six of them (including all division winners) are guaranteed a home game. Most importantly for the NFL, it preserves the integrity of the regular season by providing a substantial advantage to higher seeds. The top four have an opportunity to earn a bye week by winning in the first round; and while seeds 5-8 open with loser-out games, the top seeds get a second chance if they lose on the opening weekend.

And there's loads of money there. The playoffs would go from four weeks to five weeks, and from 11 games to 19 games overall (including the Super Bowl).

One final detail: We've already reduced wear by cutting down the preseason and adding a bye week, but playing as many as five playoff games can be a big disadvantage for a team going into the next season. So we'll also introduce a new roster designation, "Short Term PUP". The existing PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) designation must be given to a player prior to opening day; he does not count against the 53-man roster, cannot practice with the team until at least week 7, and has two weeks after he begins practicing to be added to the roster or placed on IR.

The "Short Term PUP" list would work exactly the same way, with a two-week window after beginning practice. However, there would be no six-week minimum, so it would be useful for players recovering from offseason surgery or last season's injuries if they just need a couple of weeks. Each team that plays 2-3 playoff games would be allowed one Short Term PUP designation, and teams which play 4 or more playoff games would be allowed two such designations.

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