Les: Don't Expand the Playoffs

Les Levine takes a look at a proposal in front of NFL owners which hasn't gotten a great deal of attention, but which will impact the NFL post-season. Also, the news of Adam Vinitieri's exit from New England brings a close to one of recent history's best eras...

It looks like the NFL owners are going to discuss the expansion of the playoff system, which would add two more teams to the current number of twelve qualifiers. The Kansas City Chiefs are pushing the proposal, not coincidentally the year after they failed to qualify with a 10-6 record.

We all know that the NFL has achieved their desired goal of parity, but allowing almost half of the teams into the playoffs after a 16 game season is ludicrous. With Paul Tagliabue's legacy in tact with the latest labor/management agreement, the addition of more teams to the playoffs on his way out the door is similar to Presidential pardons that are dished out moments before the newly elected President takes the oath of office.

The odds of the additional 13th or 14th playoff team making a run in the post-season are not very good, despite the success that the Pittsburgh Steelers had this year, ending in a Super Bowl Championship. While the Steelers accomplished it this year, the last playoff team would have to win three games, on the road as underdogs in each game, before getting to the Super Bowl. While the NFL loves parity, I doubt it would be good for the league if the final qualifiers win the Super Bowl very often.

Obviously, some NFL owners will back the proposal because, with a 16 game schedule, almost every team would be alive going into the last week or two of the schedule, allowing fans of these teams to actually believe they have a chance to go all the way. This is not much different than what I discussed last week, when I wrote that the draft always gives false hopes to teams and their fans, when in reality, the only way to get instant gratification is to have a successful free agent signing off-season, something the Browns appear to have had.

There is no way that the Browns could improve themselves through this year's draft than they did with the signing of so many significant free agents. Yet, Browns fans, and others around the league will take a look at the two-day draft and come away thinking they will be much improved. That, along with a sixteen game schedule, which rewards the poor teams with an easier schedule, keeps almost every team alive until the end, continues the myth of parity in the NFL, which satisfies most long-time season ticket holders.

Call me an old-fashioned purist if you'd like, but don't you find something wrong with Adam Vinatieri, perhaps the best clutch field goal kicker in history, leaving New England and going to the rival Indianapolis Colts? New England fans are familiar with this scenario, as baseball fans throughout the Northeast are preparing to see their former hero, Johnny Damon, in Yankee pinstripes.

I realize that the Patriots had the opportunity to re-sign Vinatieri, as did the Red Sox (at an inflated price dictated by the market place) with Damon, and I also know that everything was done within the rules---but I still think there is something wrong with the system that allows that to happen.

Obviously fans feel much more loyalty than many players and many organizations, which allows this to happen under the `(insert name of sport here) is a business' theory. In Vinatieri's case, he is the second most popular player in Patriot franchise history, behind QB Tom Brady. And Boston probably has more popular and great players than any other city. What other cities can match Bobby Orr, Ted Williams, Yaz, Roger Clemens (his best years were there),Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Larry Bird for recognizable names and length of service? Cleveland certainly can't---the only athletes would belong on that list would be Bob Feller and Jim Brown. It is too soon to put LeBron James on that list, although obviously he will be there eventually.

The only case that Cleveland fans can relate to, that can compare to Vinatieri and Damon is when Bernie Kosar showed up in a Dallas Cowboy uniform, after being released by Bill Belichick, to help them get to the Super Bowl in 1993. But that obviously wasn't the player's decision, and most Browns fans rooted for Kosar to succeed when he left. That may not be the case with New England fans in the case of the place kicker and center fielder.

I guess my problem is that New England was the model franchise of the NFL since the turn of this century. And, while what is happening is different than what the Florida Marlins did after winning two World Series titles (totally tearing it down), it is a shame that the system forces you to do it. Somehow, you get the feeling that the Patriots will survive, but they will have to do it with a different cast of characters. The good news for Browns fans is that some members of the old cast of characters are now working in Cleveland.

`More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen M-F from 6-7pm and 11pm-midnight on Adelphia Channel 15 in northeast Ohio, and on `Cleveland Rants' following Indians games on FSN Ohio. He is the leading Sunday sports columnist in the News-Herald and Lorain Journal. E-mail msandll@aol.com or www.leslevine.com

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