High drama or hot air? ‘Battle’ over expanded playoffs set to begin

 

Playoff expansion will be a topic of discussion Tuesday at the NFL spring meetings, though indications are it’ll be just that — a discussion without a vote.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be any drama.

The NFL Players Association has maintained, per the collective bargaining agreement, it must sign off on any changes to the playoff schedule. NFLPA assistant executive director of external affairs George Atallah told FOX Sports the union views any tinkering with the postseason to be a change in work conditions that must be approved. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked on Monday whether he believes that to be true and said no. So these sides appear headed to a showdown over the issue.

But it won’t be a big battle. The players see the value in the increased revenue two more playoff games would bring both them and the owners. It’s just that’s how these things have gone between the sides in recent years: One wants to make a change, and the other wonders what it can get in return.

In this case, the union has set its sights on proposed legislation in Louisiana that would cement how workers’ compensation is calculated for professional athletes. The formula has been up for litigation in recent years, and Rep. Chris Broadwater (R-Hammond) introduced a bill to clarify the law by stating players would receive payments based on the rate they’re paid at the time of injury. In the offseason, that rate is much lower than it would be during the 17 weeks of the regular season and the postseason.

The union doesn’t appreciate the Saints’ supporting the bill and hopes to nip the precedent in the bud. By taking a public stance against playoff expansion, the NFLPA is playing the best leverage it can find right now.

In the end, expect the expansion. And expect it to begin in 2015. Perhaps by the time the owners adjourn Tuesday’s meeting, there will be a clearer picture of which format has the most support — one more team per conference, with six teams playing on the first weekend and one team getting a bye, is the leading pitch right now — and when the proposed changes might formally be presented to the union. As of now, no proposal has been made, but it’s coming and it has the support of at least one influential owner.

"It should be pointed out we enjoy as much or more parity than I could have ever imagined, being 8-8 for the last three seasons," Jones said. "It goes without saying those Cowboys would be (in favor of) more playoff games because we’d have a better shot of getting in."

AND SOME PRESEASON CHANGES?

It won’t be a big topic of discussion here, if it’s talked about at all, but word is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and many owners remain interested in shortening the preseason. Sources have told FOX Sports the league is considering whether it’d be better for teams to play two or three preseason games instead of four.

That discussion isn’t new, as Goodell has publicly stated in the past he’d like to turn two preseason games into regular-season games for an 18-game schedule. But sources say recent talks have been about taking away preseason games but keeping the regular-season schedule at 16 games.

On its face, that would seem teams are willing to walk away from two preseason games that generate money on the local level via ticket sales, merchandise and local broadcasts. But franchises that have introduced variable pricing for regular-season games have shown the blueprint for making up lost revenue via games that actually count. Plus, adding playoff games will obviously increase revenue. And shortening the preseason to streamline everything toward the regular season and playoffs — even if it means not lengthening the regular season — has been one of Goodell’s goals for a while.

The union would have to sign off on changes to the preseason — and on that the league agrees — so there’s always a chance those discussions wouldn’t go smoothly. But those talks won’t happen for a while, not until the league goes through all proposals on its end.

THE WHEN AND WHERE OF THE 2015 DRAFT

Owners will be talking about whether — and/or for how long — the draft will be held at Radio City Music Hall next season.

Another topic of discussion Tuesday will be the success of the delayed NFL Draft, which took place May 8-10 this year. Next year, it could be a week earlier. Sources say Radio City Music Hall hasn’t given the NFL confirmed dates on when it expects to run its spring show, but the venue isn’t likely to be available to the NFL anytime in April of next year.

That means if the draft stays in New York, it’ll be in May once again, though perhaps the first weekend of the month. Plans to move the draft elsewhere will also be discussed. One possibility that remains in play is starting the draft in Manhattan and then finishing elsewhere. In that scenario, the second venue could be tied into some sort of NFL expo instead of a traditional setup with a stage at an arena.

IRSAY SPEAKS — SORT OF

Colts owner Jim Irsay is in Atlanta for the NFL’s spring meetings, but he isn’t going to talk about his legal issues.

Colts owner Jim Irsay addressed reporters on Monday for a little more than 12 minutes. He did not go into detail about his recent arrest, after which he was preliminarily charged with DUI and four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance. Sources told FOX Sports that Irsay has been advised to say as little about the situation as possible because there’s hope he could get the controlled substance charges reduced before he is formally charged.

Irsay tried to steer the conversation toward Indianapolis’ bid for Super Bowl LII against New Orleans and Minneapolis, though that didn’t stop the questions about his personal situation.

"I haven’t been in a coma or anything like that," Irsay said. "I’ve been clued into everything that’s been going on for the last few months. It’s good to be at this meeting and focus in on the Super Bowl bid. I’m not going to talk about any personal, medical issues or that sort of thing, but I’m grateful to be back and I have a lot of appreciation for the support I’ve received."

League discipline is on hold, pending the resolution of Irsay’s legal situation.