The debate is over, and the decision is made. The NFL is expanding its playoff structure, and all that's left to agree on are the procedural details.
That conclusion seems obvious based on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's comments at a public interview Tuesday night in New York City. Goodell said adding two teams is "under serious consideration," pretty much the strongest terms he could speak in knowing it still must be approved by team owners. The options he discussed indicate the NFL is far along in the planning process.
Based on what Goodell said, it seems we can expect the league's competition committee to produce a proposal in the coming months and for a vote to occur as early as the March 23-26 owners meetings in Orlando, Fla. Based on experience, it would be unusual for Goodell to speak in such detail about a potential change if he doubted it would happen.
"It's something that the competition committee looked at last year and thinks there are some real benefits from a competitive standpoint," Goodell said. "They're going to study some aspects of that. Because when would those games occur? And one team would get a bye in each conference and you'd have six games on the weekend. So would you have three on Saturday, and three on Sunday? Or do you get one on Friday and two on Saturday and two on Sunday and one on Monday? I think those are the kinds of things we want to evaluate."
As ESPN.com's Dan Graziano wrote earlier this week, new revenue is of course the primary motivation here. Home playoff games are worth millions of dollars to franchises. Additional rights fees from broadcasters -- via television or online streaming -- can be expected as well.
But count me among the minority that isn't offended by disrupting the sanctity of a playoff structure that has been in place since, oh, way back in 1990. This isn't baseball adding a designated hitter or hockey implementing shootouts. It's a moderate, peripheral change that will have some genuinely positive impact in exchange for a largely ethereal and sentimental downside, most of which will float away as though it never existed.
As we've discussed, an increase from 12 to 14 playoff teams slightly reduces playoff exclusivity. Instead of inviting 37 percent of its teams, the NFL would include 43 percent.
Fears of allowing undeserving teams a chance to play for the championship seem exaggerated. Over the past 11 years, the presumptive No. 7 seeds would have had at least a 9-7 record in 16 of 22 instances. Six would have been 8-8 and none worse than that.
If a substandard team does sneak in, chances are it would be dispatched in its wild-card game and never heard from again. Somehow I think the other playoff teams would manage to wipe its stink from their sleeves soon enough.
The upside is fewer meaningless December games, the type that motivated a startling number of no-shows around stadiums this season. Teams would be less vulnerable to the impact of one significant injury, and if the new structure comes with an eventual reduction in the wasteful preseason, as once reported, then all the better.
There is no doubt that the current structure is great, but I'm not convinced that it will be materially impacted by the addition of two teams once you remove sentiment and the allure of tradition. Like any business, the NFL engages in plenty of brazen money grabs that subordinate customer preferences and risk production dilution. Adding two postseason teams doesn't seem to be one of them.
No matter your opinion, however, rest assured: Change is coming. Goodell has more than signaled as much in his public comments. All we await now is the fine print.