Overlooked throughout much of a week that entailed questions regarding the most appropriate way to proceed with the postseason given the decision to not finish the Week 17 game between the Bills and Bengals was the fact that the NFL already has a rule in place for determining playoff positioning if a game is canceled. It became obvious on Thursday night that the NFL already had decided that, in the event of a cancellation, playoff positioning would be based on winning percentage.
On Friday, 25 owners (one more than the requisite minimum) voted in favor of changing the rules during the season. In a conference call with reporters, Falcons CEO and Competition Committee chairperson Rich McKay addressed the decision to change the rules on the fly, and the move to not follow the rules as already written.
“I would say it’s not necessarily that they weren’t followed,” McKay said, “it was that you had a circumstance, it wasn’t necessarily captured — we don’t capture everything in every rule and every policy manual and sometimes when you face situations you have to try to make adjustments, and this was one of those adjustments. Not a lot different than in COVID when we were trying to get — to make sure we got to [256 games] and we had to do a lot of schedule manipulation, and some teams that were affected were not obviously happy with it. But that was done in the best interest of all 32, and that really was the focus of this, is what’s in the best interests of all 32? And that’s why this was voted on, and then voted on prior to this week’s game, so that all teams would know.”
But if the league wanted the flexibility to “capture everything,” the rules could have been written that way. They weren’t. The rule was that, if a game is canceled, playoff positioning is determined by winning percentage. The league, for reasons still not clear, opted to scrap that rule and replace it with a two-headed Frankenstein monster that calls for neutral sites under various potential AFC Championship configurations and a coin flip to determine home-field advantage if the Ravens complete a regular-season sweep of the Bengals, who have clinched the AFC North title, based on winning percentage.
During COVID, significant schedule flexibility was employed in order to play all games. If a game had been canceled, the playoffs and seeds would have been determined by winning percentage, likely without these meandering permutations aimed at making a given situation more fair, or less unfair.
If the league had simply pushed to the media on Tuesday or Wednesday the fact that the established rules call for playoff seeding to be based on winning percentage and nothing else, who would have complained? There may have been some private grumbling from the affected teams, but the rule that was on the books would have prevailed.
The decision to change the rules feels strange, and it seems as if ulterior motives may have been at play. One source suggested on Friday that the Bengals-Ravens coin flip was aimed simply at generating interest in an otherwise meaningless game.
The best and cleanest and simplest approach would have been to say, “We already have a rule for this.” And if the league decided after the season that the rule as previously written lacked necessary flexibility or equity, the rule could have been changed, in the event of its future application.
Rich McKay explains decision to change rules regarding cancelled game originally appeared on Pro Football Talk