Today is Super Bowl Sunday, and I am posting the third part of my now not-so-modest proposal concerning the NFL. The first two parts can be found here and here. The first post proposed eliminating the legacy NFC and AFC. The second posted covered a realignment suggestion, how my proposal would handle a possible team relocation, and how the regular season schedule would work under my proposal including expanding to a 17-game season.
5. Playoff Tournament
I would venture that the only sports postseason that rivals the NFL playoffs in popularity would be the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship. The postseasons for all the other sports pale in comparison. The playoffs for the NBA, NHL and MLB have best-of-seven formats which result in lots of games. The NBA Playoffs and Stanley Cup playoffs are especially known for having too many games and lasting way too long precisely due to having four best-of-seven rounds. On the other end of the spectrum is the controversial bowl format of Division I football where the champion is decided by a two-team best-of-one tournament. NASCAR has the Chase for Sprint Cup and golf has the FedEx Cup playoffs, but I really don't consider either of those to be serious contenders to the popularity of the NFL or NCAA basketball postseasons.
What makes the college basketball tournament great? Ignoring the ridiculous Tuesday play-in game, college basketball has a one-and-done tournament with a perfectly-square, fixed bracket. The NFL playoffs also single elimination, but the bracket is not fixed. The second round match-ups depend on the outcome of the first round with the lowest remaining seed in each conference playing the top seed in that conference. Under my proposal without conferences, a fixed bracket would be standard. The most straight-forward suggestion for the playoffs would be to have the second and third seeds from each division play in the first round with the winner meeting the top seed from that division in the second round. The winner from each of the divisional brackets would then go to the semifinal round with the semifinal winners meeting in the Super Bowl.
One problem with that straight-forward suggestion is that it guarantees rematches that were already played twice during the regular season. Also, it is possible that the two best teams come out of the same division, and one would be eliminated prior to the Super Bowl. For instance, this year's Super Bowl contenders, Indianapolis and New Orleans, are from the two South divisions. Without any realignment, those two teams would both be in the South Division under my proposal. To alleviate both of these issues, I would suggest sending the second and third seeds to the other side of the tournament bracket.
Another issue with my playoff suggestion is that there will be four number-one seeds. This would be problematic in terms of home field for the semifinal round. The answer to that issue is to have the semifinal games played at neutral fields. This would work by requiring Super Bowl host stadiums to sign up for a three-year stint. Each of the two years prior to hosting the Super Bowl (and possibly the Pro Bowl), the stadium would host one of the two semifinal games. To avoid situations were second or third seed ended up hosting a semifinal game, the semifinal game between two divisional brackets should be played at a stadium for a team from one of those divisions. Therefore, a number one seed may end up hosting a semifinal game, but the second and third seeds from that division would be on the other side of the bracket and would end up at a stadium from one of the other divisions.
Now that I have laid all that out, here is an example. Below are some fictional standings based a 17-game schedule that loosely follow the actual 2009 NFL season.
Using those standings, here is how the 2009-2010 NFL Playoff tournament would have looked.
As discussed above, having New Orleans and Indianapolis in the same division could be a problem since the South Division can only have a single number one seed. However, the Saints would be the opposite sides of the playoff bracket, so this year's Super Bowl participants could still meet in the the big game in this fictional example.
Indianapolis and New Orleans being in the same division also presents a problem for next year's playoff bracket since those two cities will host Super Bowls XLVI and XLVII, respectively. Thus, they would host the two semifinal games in this bracket. To simplify things, I am just going to assume the Colts gets realigned to the North Division.
After that, I have to start assuming hosts for future Super Bowls. For Super Bowl XLVIII, I am going to assume the Giants and Jets win their bid to host the game in their new stadium.
For the following year, I am going just going on a wild-ass guess that Tampa will host Super Bowl XLVIII and start their cycle of hosting semifinal games.
A possible issue with my playoff proposal would be if a city is selected as host for a Super Bowl, but would be an unwilling, unable or inconvenient host for the semifinal games. A good example would be if London is awarded a Super Bowl as has been suggested. The simple solution to this issue is to have another city, such as Miami, serve as a stand-in for London for the two years of hosting semifinal games. In the cycle of hosting, London (with Miami as its stand-in) would be considered in the East Division. As a reward for serving as the stand-in, Miami would be the Super Bowl host immediately starting with next cycle. Basically, Miami would host four straight semifinal games and then the Super Bowl. They could also serve as hosts for Pro Bowl during this period and host the Pro Bowl for five straight years.
Year 1 - Miami hosts semifinal as stand-in for London (and possibly the Pro Bowl)
Year 2 - Miami hosts semifinal as stand-in for London (and possibly the Pro Bowl)
Year 3 - London host Super Bowl, Miami hosts semifinal (and possibly the Pro Bowl)
Year 4 - Miami hosts semifinal (and possibly the Pro Bowl)
Year 5 - Miami host Super Bowl (and possibly the Pro Bowl)
That is my proposal for the NFL playoffs. In my future posts on this topic, I am going to cover an innovative approach to the Pro Bowl plus an interesting suggestion for the NFL's contract with the television networks to broadcast games.