National Football League team owners have unanimously approved a contingency plan to expand the postseason from 14 to 16 teams if regular-season games are lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The contingency plan, which was mooted earlier in the month, would feature eight teams from each conference making the postseason, with four division champions and four wild-card teams in each conference.
A possible Week 18 would initially be introduced in order to complete the entire 256-game regular-season schedule. Already the Pro Bowl has been called off, which provides such leeway in the calendar.
The expanded postseason would only come into effect should any meaningful postponed games not be completed in a potential Week 18. Teams would also not be reseeded in this contingency scenario.
The plan must still be approved as well by the NFL Players Association. But league commissioner Roger Goodell said the measure is designed to help keep the season on track.
“Our objective is for all teams to safely and responsibly complete the regular season within our 17-week schedule and have a full post-season culminating with a Super Bowl – with fans in the stands – on February 7th in Tampa,” Goodell said.
“We are committed to completing the season as scheduled. Today’s resolution was part of our contingency planning should it be needed. The resolution passed today established criteria for post-season eligibility in the event that all clubs cannot play the same number of regular-season games,” he said.
NFL team owners approved a plan in March to expand the postseason from 12 to 14 teams, beginning with the 2020 season.
The NFL has repeatedly reshuffled its schedule in order to try to keep its regular season on track. Even with those changes, the threat of additional virus-related issues still leaves the the possibility that some teams will not be able to play a full, 16-game schedule this season as bye weeks disappear.
According to Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy, the NFL is also ready to push back Super Bowl LV into March as a result of the pandemic. The showpiece event is currently scheduled to be held on February 7 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
NFL owners also approved a proposal that will reward teams with draft picks for developing minority coaches and front office executives who go on to become head coaches and general managers for other teams.