NFL team owners voted Tuesday to expand the playoffs by one team in each conference, for a total of 14, next season as they continue to plan for the 2020 season to begin on time.
During a conference call to discuss league business after the annual meetings were canceled due to the new coronavirus, the owners also awarded one of those extra games to CBS and one to NBC. Three-fourths of the 32 owners needed to approve the change, and the vote was unanimous, football operations chief Troy Vincent said.
As for opening the season on Sept. 10 as scheduled, NFL lead counsel Jeff Pash said: “All of our focus has been on a normal traditional season, starting on time, playing before fans in our regular stadiums and going through our full 16-game regular season and a full playoffs.”
Contingencies, however, are being discussed for potential interruptions caused by the coronavirus.
As for the first expansion of the postseason field since 1990, when the NFL went from 10 qualifiers to 12, only the teams with the best record in the AFC and NFC will get a bye under the new format; the top two teams in each conference skipped wild-card weekend in the past. The seventh seed will play No. 2, the sixth will visit No. 3, and the fifth will be at the fourth seed for wild-card games.
Three games are set for Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 9-10 — pending the NFL schedule going forward as planned, of course; that schedule likely will be released on May 9, according to Brian Rolapp, the league’s chief media and business officer, to give the NFL “flexibility.”
CBS will broadcast one of the new games on Jan. 10 at approximately 4:40 p.m. EST. The game will also be available via live stream on CBS All Access. A separately produced telecast of the game tailored for a younger audience will air on Nickelodeon.
NBC, its new streaming service Peacock and Spanish-language Telemundo will broadcast the other new game on Jan. 10 at approximately 8:15 p.m. EST.
Team presidents and then owners were involved in separate conference calls Tuesday lasting about one hour each. They were advised of current plans for conducting the draft on April 23-25.
Peter O’Reilly, who oversees planning of major events such as the Super Bowl and draft, said all of the NFL’s preparations have been designed to “ensure the selection process is sound.” That means equitable arrangements for every team; “celebrating and welcoming” draftees to the league; fan involvement “providing an escape for our fans and perhaps allowing virtual fan access”; and as a fundraiser for people and communities affected by the pandemic.
O’Reilly stressed that social distancing will be maintained, with no more than 10 people together, remaining at least six feet apart. Anyone who is ill will be kept away.
Commissioner Roger Goodell will make the first-round selection announcements from a central hub, and the telecasts will have connectivity at the 32 teams and potentially at some players’ or fans’ homes.
O’Reilly said Las Vegas, scheduled to host the draft this year, will get consideration for 2022; the 2021 draft will be held in Cleveland.
“2022 is an option for Las Vegas,” he said. “We need some time to work through that with Las Vegas and the Raiders, but that is something we are considering.”