Bob Smizik: NFL postseason expansion good idea

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Purists may cringe, but the news coming from Roger Goodell that the NFL is considering expanding its playoffs figures to have most football fans excited. What's not to like about yet another addition to the most exciting time in team sports -- the postseason?

No doubt, officials of the three other major U.S. pro sports wish they could be publicly discussing postseason expansion.

Fans will love more postseason NFL games because they offer up more entertainment value and add additional drama to the regular season. Players will love it for the additional opportunity to win a title, which was the case with the 2005 Steelers. Owners figure to be enthralled with the prospect of more revenue. The real powers in Americans sports, the TV networks, are rubbing their hands with glee.

The NFL has been involved with wildcards -- teams that do not win a conference or a division title but still qualify for the postseason -- for decades. The NHL and the NBA have historically allowed multiple non-conference/division winning teams to enter the postseason.

The only sport slow to embrace the wildcard philosophy was MLB. It wasn’t until 1994 that it added a wildcard, a move that was met with howls of protest. Purists believed MLB was lowering itself to the level of the other pro sports. Actually, it was raising itself up to those sports. It wasn’t long before MLB realized the wildcard philosophy was the way to go and added a second in 2011.

The only complaint baseball fans have is that the wildcard series isn’t long enough. They want more, more, more. But MLB, bound by weather conditions and a 162-game schedule it won’t relinquish, has gone about as far as it can with postseason play.

Not so in the the NFL. Speaking to a group in New York City, Goodell said adding a seventh team in each conference ''is under serious consideration.’’

He said, ''Look at this year — 13 of the 16 games the final week of the season had playoff implications. That’s extraordinary, and we want to keep that. If we can keep that and increase that … by adding two more teams, that’s compelling. And that’s what we’re looking at.”

The fact the recently completed wildcard weekend was such an enormous ratings success only figures to hasten playoff expansion. Highlighting the monster numbers all weekend was the San Francisco at Green Bay game Sunday, which was the most watched telecast of any kind since last year’s Super Bowl. The game drew 47.1 million viewers, a record for a wildcard game, eclipsing the 42.4 million who saw the Steelers-Broncos in 2011.

The fear of some has been that expanding the postseason would dilute the regular season. That’s a logical perspective but it has not held up. The postseasons keep getting bigger but the regular seasons have not lost their meaning.

Look at the Penguins. They are nothing short of a mortal lock to make the postseason but that status has done nothing to diminish the intense interest in their regular season.

One of the reasons put forth as a negative to the new four-team championship format in college football is that the regular season will be less meaningful. Nonsense. College basketball invites 68 teams to its postseason without a trace of diminished interest in the regular season.

The virtually meaningless conference postseason basketball tournaments, a prelude to the NCAA champion, are raging successes across the country. They not only do not draw interest away from the NCAA tournament, they add to it.

If the NFL expansion occurs, and the way Goodell is talking it’s a virtual certainty, that means 14 of the league’s 32 teams will be in the postseason. Could 16 -- half the teams -- be far off? Why not? Since when is extending a good thing a bad idea?

Since the NBA and NHL already bring more than 50 percent of their teams to the postseason -- with those teams sometimes having a losing record -- postseason expansion in those sports is not likely. Although there have been rumors that the NHL, which relies heavily on gate receipts, might add additional teams to the 16 that already qualify.

That could mean 18 of 30 teams -- 60 percent -- would be in the Stanley Cup playoffs. As absurd as that sounds, why not? There’s nothing in team sports like the postseason. And pro leagues love to give fans what they want when it also increases their profits.


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