Change arrives for the NFL in predictable ways. Ideas percolate among the close advisers of commissioner Roger Goodell, a group made up of smart business executives whose guidance has built the league into a $10 billion industry. A framework is built, on-field personnel are consulted, details are discussed. Once a working plan is in place, Goodell begins floating the general idea publicly -- a sign to the initiated that its implementation is inevitable.
So it goes for the idea of playoff expansion, which Goodell first began discussing last fall and which could be approved as early as this week's spring meeting in Atlanta. Some logistical hurdles remain, including an adjustment of television contracts and collective bargaining with the NFL Players Association, but there is near-universal agreement that the league will expand its playoff field from 12 to 14 by no later than the 2015 season.
Goodell signaled that certainty during the NFL draft earlier this month, telling ESPN Radio that any remaining objections -- primarily, the feared dilution of the championship pool -- have been assuaged.
"The issue we've been trying to balance is obviously the competitive side," Goodell said. "I think we're convinced from a competitive standpoint we can do it the right way, create more excitement at the end of the season. And I don't think we'd support it if we didn't think the two teams that we're adding didn't have a chance to win the Super Bowl. And we do. But we want to talk to our partners, our broadcast partners, the players, to make sure we're considering everything."
As we await a verdict from this week's meeting, let's answer 10 questions about the benefits, costs and possible repercussions of this proposal.
1. How would it work?
Each conference would have seven playoff spots: four division champions and three wild-card teams. Several formats have been discussed, but the likeliest would give a first-round bye to the No. 1 seed and pit the remaining six teams against one another in a crowded wild-card weekend.
Structuring six playoff games in a short span has proved one of the most complicated facets of the reorganization. In January, Goodell said the league was considering several options.
The simplest is three games on Saturday and three on Sunday. Another suggestion has been one on Friday, two on Saturday and Sunday and the final one on Monday. A possible compromise: three on one of the weekend days, two on the other and one on Monday night. Presumably, the winner of Monday night's game would get a Sunday assignment for the divisional round to provide fair preparation time.
2. Why does the NFL want to do this?
The bottom line is, well, the bottom line. By definition, the league would increase its stadium receipts for the wild-card weekend by 33 percent. More significant from a financial perspective would be the broadcast deals that include more highly rated playoff games.
Meanwhile, a larger field would put more teams in legitimate playoff competition as the season climaxes. It would also decrease the impact of a poor start and late-season injuries that might slow a team's momentum. Both factors would, in theory, increase fan excitement and attention late in the season in the form of television ratings, attendance and other football-related purchases.