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EPIC POST: Could the NFL adopt the Aussie Rules playoff system?

August 23, 2010

One of my recent pet peeves with American football is the trend of the same arguments held every single year.  How come the college game can’t have a true national championship?  Is the preseason too long?  Are the owners going to expand the regular season?

A lot of the conversation centers around involving more teams and more fans in the championship process without upsetting diluting the prestige of the eventual title holder, which by its nature is not at all a terrible thing.  Due to the intransigence of the sport’s decision makers, true change is unlikely.  We’re left with hypotheticals; this is a generation of fans making imaginary decisions instead of analyzing the actual results.  During my days of working in sports radio, a fan would call in complaining that a team should fire a manager.  When questioned by the host about who should replace said manager, the caller more often than not shortsightedly responds, “I don’t care…ANYONE’S BETTER!”  As a producer, once I heard those words I hit the “bomb” sound effect and dropped the caller with great gusto.  This fan has no cogent thought to offer and does nothing to further the conversation.

At the same time, sports talk listeners are usually more capable of thoughtful, reasoned debate than most citizens on either side of the political spectrum.  They are exposed to researched discussion, devil’s advocacy, respect for both sides of an argument and an openness to compromise that is sorely lacking in modern social discourse.

This is my attempt to argue for a reform of the NFL’s post-season structure that involves more teams, rewards division leaders and generates more revenue for owners.  And it utilizes a system already in place…in Australian Rules Football.

The sixteen team Australian Football League (AFL) engages in a 24-week regular season culminating in an 8-team playoff.  The NHL and NBA deservedly get a lot of criticism for including more than half the league into its postseason because it tends to diminish the efforts of the league’s best teams by expanding the potential for 8-seed upset.  The AFL creatively makes it work with a modified hybrid of single-elimination and double-elimination knockout.

AFL Bracket

Here’s how it works.

The top four teams all play each other in the first round: 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3.  If you win, you earn a bye and you’re one home win away from the title game.  If you lose, no sweat! You just have to play in the quarterfinals the next week.  The next four teams all play single-elimination from the start.  they begin 5 vs. 8 and 6 vs. 7.  Lose & you’re out.  Win and you play one of the losers of the games featuring the top 4. 

Teams earn home field advantage through highest seeds and earned byes with the championship name (awesomely titled “THE GRAND FINAL”) played on neutral ground at the 100,000 seat Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Here’s why this system would benefit the NFL.

Put this system in place for each conference and you expand the playoff pool from 12 to 16 teams.  You reward the division winners with a spot in the top four seeds, guaranteeing either a bye in the conference semifinals or an extra home gate while eliminating the threat of a major upset tossing out a team that deserved better during the regular season.  You’re also rewarding the top 2 wild card teams with a home game for their efforts.

Try and see how it would have worked out for last season’s playoffs…would have been extremely entertaining….



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