When the league’s owners meet on Tuesday in Atlanta, they’re expected to discuss the potential expansion of the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams. But it’s still too early to flip the switch on playoff expansion.
It’s too early primarily because the NFLPA has yet to sign off on two extra playoff teams, which would result in two extra playoff games. The union has been coy about the possibility, sending clear signals that, if the NFL wants the players to agree to two extra playoff games, the NFLPA will want something in return. The obvious concession would be a one-week reduction in the preseason, but the NFLPA already knows the NFL wants that. The NFLPA will want something more.
Tuesday’s meeting should be more about finalizing a plan for negotiating the issue with the union, securing a tentative agreement pending a future vote by the owners to proceed with the proposal. (By rule, 24 of 32 owners must vote in favor of the move.) Unless such a deal with the NFLPA can be struck, playoff expansion won’t happen.
It also makes sense for the NFL to secure estimates from the various networks about what they would pay for the ability to broadcast one or two more postseason games on wild-card weekend, which likely would land on Sunday night and Monday night. Some if not most if not all owners will want to know how much more money will be earned if they decide to make what would be the first change to the postseason field in 25 years.
Expansion won’t happen until 2015 at the earliest, in large part due to the various moving parts. The issue won’t move to a conclusion on Tuesday, but it would be a shock if the meetings don’t result in an agreement regarding the preferred approach for securing permission from the union — and a plan for securing wink-nod financial commitments from the networks. It likewise would be a surprise if any specifics regarding the plan make their way to the prying eyes of the media.