ATLANTA — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday he expects the league to expand its playoff field from 12 to 14 teams beginning in the 2015 season.
“I do believe it will be approved for the 2015 [season],” Goodell said at the conclusion of a one-day meeting of the sport’s franchise owners in Atlanta.
The owners discussed the measure during Tuesday’s meeting but did not vote on it. The proposal would have to be ratified by at least 24 of the 32 NFL teams to be enacted. The lack of an official vote Tuesday means the playoffs will remain as they are for the 2014 season.
“I think we want to see one more year of ‘Will it impact the regular season in a positive way from a competitive standpoint, will it create more excitement, more races towards the end about who’s going to qualify for the playoffs?’ ” Goodell said. “And we also want to absorb the additional inventory into the marketplace from an advertising standpoint. We’ll be able to do that… . So far we see positive signs in the marketplace. So that’s how we’re going to approach it.”
Goodell said he’d discussed the proposal with DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association.
“This is something that I’ve had numerous conversations with DeMaurice about,” Goodell said. “I just spoke to him about it two weeks ago. And I think there’s a lot of benefits to the players. That’s something they’ll have to evaluate. But they’re our partners and I’ve said on many occasions before we’re going to continue to have dialogue with all of our partners to make sure that it can be done the right way. I do believe there’s some real benefits to the players. The revenues obviously will increase and they’ll share in that. And they get the largest percentage of that, in fact.”
The extra playoff games would be intended as a mechanism to generate significant additional revenues for the sport, mostly from its network television contracts.
“There are some things that the league office is looking at and evaluating,” Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy said during a break in the meeting earlier Tuesday. “But I think everybody feels like it’s a pretty good idea.”
Even those who do not favor the proposal acknowledge it is likely to be ratified. The owners plan to take up the measure at their next scheduled meeting in October. New York Giants co-owner John Mara said he has his reservations about adding more teams to the playoffs but thinks the measure probably will go into effect.
“My guess is that if it happens, it would be for 2015,” Mara said during a break in Tuesday’s meeting. “But that’s not set in stone… . I don’t think it’s a sure thing at all. I would probably say [approval is] more likely than not. But, you know, it still requires 24 votes. And that’s never a sure thing.”
Mara expressed concern that the measure allows too many teams into the postseason.
“I’ve always been against it,” he said. “I just like it the way it is right now. I think we’re diluting it too much. It also creates other issues. You’re going to play one of those games on a Monday night. The prospect of doing that in January is not all that appealing. But most importantly, I like the way it is right now. We had a great opening wild-card weekend this year. It seems like we have that every year. I’m not sure what this is gonna bring.”
It has been widely believed within the sport that it is inevitable the proposal will be ratified for the 2015 season. Goodell’s statement Tuesday about his expectation the measure will be approved by the owners represents the latest and perhaps the strongest confirmation yet of that.
Under the proposal, seven teams in each conference would qualify for the postseason instead of the current six. Only one team in each conference would receive a first-round bye. There would be six opening-round playoff games league-wide rather than the current four, with one of them likely to be held on a Monday night.
All along, the NFL’s leaders have targeted the 2015 season for the onset of an expanded playoff field, but entering this meeting they had not formally ruled out the possibility of it taking effect during the upcoming season. A vote being taken at this owners’ meeting had been considered a long shot.