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Lowell Cohn: NFL shouldn't add more playoff teams


The brain trust of the National Football League will consider a proposal to further screw up their product.

At next week's league meetings, the NFL competition committee will suggest adding two teams to the postseason lineup beginning in 2015. If you're keeping count — and you may need a calculator for this — that would raise the number of qualifying teams from 12, already an inflated number, to 14.

If I were on the competition committee I would fight to the death against this playoff inflation — call it postseason bloat. Understand, I am not philosophically against change. But I am against bad change. And this change would be very bad.

There are 32 teams in the NFL. Currently, four division winners and two wild-card teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs. That's enough. That's more than enough. Add two more and almost half the league makes it to the playoffs. What a joke.

If the NFL enacts this rule change, it will be committing NBA on itself. To commit NBA is one of the gravest sports crimes. The NBA is comprised of 30 teams. How many make it to the playoffs? Sixteen, that's how many. More than half the teams in that silly league get into the playoffs. Thirty teams play an 82-game regular-season schedule to eliminate 14 teams. You just want to fall down laughing.

There should be a law against committing NBA — especially in the NFL.

Major League Baseball has the right idea. Thirty teams. Ten get into the playoffs. One-third in. Two-thirds out. See you later, losers, and do better next year if you can.

FYI: Baseball allows into the postseason three division winners and two wild cards in each league. I'd prefer only one wild card per league, but that's quibbling.

OK, back to the NFL. This is how a 14-team arrangement might work in the postseason. There would be six games instead of four on the first playoff weekend. This might include two Saturday games, three Sunday games and a Monday night game. Big revenue increase for the league.

Why is it awful to invite 14 teams to the big postseason party?

It's not like Western Civilization as we know it suddenly would crumble. Two more teams certainly would create interest for the fans in cities which would be uninvolved, on the outside looking in. And it would add even more fire to the playoffs. And let's be clear, the NFL playoffs are as exciting as exciting gets.

I'll tell you what's wrong with adding two playoff teams, with allowing 14 to qualify. It dilutes the regular season, diminishes the importance of the regular season.

Remember the thing called the regular season? Allowing almost half the teams to qualify for the postseason makes each regular-season game less important, less valuable. The NBA is the extreme example where regular-season games are cheap and degraded. With the San Antonio Spurs, you never know if coach Gregg Popovich will put out his "A" team or "B" team on a given night. Popovich is forever resting his old stars for the postseason — i.e., the real season.

The NFL does not want to be this, does not want Green Bay resting Aaron Rodgers on a given Sunday because he allegedly has back spasms or an ingrown toenail, does not want Colin Kaepernick standing on the sidelines listening to whatever he listens to on his headphones because he needs a rest.

What is beautiful about the NFL, what makes it sizzle is a simple fact. Almost every regular-season game feels like a playoff game. Almost every regular-season game matters and you feel the thrill in your gut. Allow 14 teams into the playoffs and the regular-season thrill diminishes.

I am lobbying against the loss of thrill. Life needs every thrill it can get. Sports are our avenue to thrills — there are other avenues. Sports are our way to rise above the ordinary for a few hours. Please don't make the regular season ordinary. We already have enough ordinary in our lives.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his lieutenants aren't thinking about the loss of thrill. Thrill shmill. They don't think at that level. They think about one thing only. Dough. Scratch. Simoleons. Call it what you want. More playoff teams mean more games mean more money. The hell with the integrity of the regular season.

Integrity?

Outmoded concept.

There's something else. We are losing the concept of excellence. When you limit the number of teams qualifying for the playoffs, when you make it really hard to get into the postseason, you are making a serious distinction between excellent and pretty good. It is an important distinction.

And it means pretty good is not sufficient. Pretty good is not a mark of honor. Never has been. I'm sorry but that's how it is — and always should be.

The NFL's postseason is strictly about eliminating one team after another until only the most excellent remains. Nothing nice about that. Or kind. Or cuddly. It's downright rude. Brutal. It tells 31 teams, "Sorry, you don't measure up."

Don't allow mediocrity to infect the postseason. Keep the excellence in the NFL.

(For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.)