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Two, four, five. Six, seven, eight. This may be the NFL’s new playoff format– a 12-team, 16-game marathon rather than a traditional postseason.
President Donald Trump, who unsuccessfully campaigned for the franchise last year, has called for such a tweak. “We will find some way to get a 12-team playoff,” he tweeted in May. “We have the best players in the world. NFL would be so much higher rated and interest would be soooo high. People would be so proud of their teams.”
The idea seems to be gaining traction as NFL owners prepare to meet at the White House and finalize the league’s 2021 schedule. Because the table is set for such a change, the NFL Players Association and its members have no reason to oppose it.
But it’s not a done deal—and here’s why.
1. The dollar value of the NFL is shrinking
With 2018 revenues at an estimated $14.9 billion, the league is worth about $10 billion less than it was in 2011. That’s partly because of changing broadcast habits and partly because the game itself has been getting more physical over the years, putting an additional dent in TV ratings.
2. Fandom is younger than it was in the past
The median age of NFL viewers in 2018 is 41 years old. Which means fans are getting less attached to the league as time goes on, and those who do love the NFL are becoming more sports-savvy, shifting more attention toward other sports with bigger viewership.
3. The odds of a 12-team playoffs aren’t much better than those of getting a pay raise
This “horrible” playoff setup guarantees that only eight teams will have a true shot at winning the Super Bowl, and yet for only one out of 12 teams could that winner knock off the champion of the big four sports. The brain trust that runs the league doesn’t want to be very low on teams in each division or conference — it wants to be the best, and by our math, we think that means it should aim to match the number of NFL teams over an entire decade.
4. It’s no longer a good idea to have a college football playoff
There’s a lot of talk around the new Big 12 football conference over whether to add a playoff over the next few years. This week, a lot of it is because Texas and Oklahoma — the conference’s traditional powerhouses — have earned national titles, a sign that a playoff is the right decision for college football.
But the NCAA has done this before in the 1990s, and it didn’t work out so well. In 1994, Florida State was pitted against the University of Miami, two teams that didn’t get their first bowl game until the next season. The Seminoles lost 30-14, and they would go on to win just one of seven bowls that season.
5. Now the best players are leaving early for the NFL
Former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer will be a first-round draft pick after his senior season, his second in the NFL, despite the NCAA’s insistence that he stay in school for one more year. California quarterback Davis Webb had two first-round picks look at him last year, and will be on his way to the pros as well.
With all these new talent coming to the NFL, the league would surely have a deeper pool of talent if it ended up rotating teams in that 16-game format. But not all of the talent is guaranteed to stay in the NFL after just one season.
6. The current bowl system is working pretty well
Since the first College Football Playoff, the system has been an easy sell to fans and hard sell to the NCAA, and both seem satisfied with the current setup. The nine-game stretch of conference season followed by the championship game is thought to make sure that teams that go undefeated in conference play are guaranteed to have the best chance to play for the championship, a notion that NCAA officials agreed to in 2013.