It would be difficult to pinpoint its exact place in the history of bad ideas, but turning the AFC and NFC championship games into events at neutral sites is arguably the biggest mistake in the NFL’s 100-plus-year history.
They definitely won’t allow that to happen. Or will they?
In his book Sports Illustrated column over the weekend, The well-connected Albert Brier writes that it was necessary for the owners to begin discussing the concept after the league set up Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta as a host site if the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City were to play for the AFC title.
With the Bills unable to line up for the January 2 game that was suspended after Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field, the neutral site option made sense. Since they both lost three times in the regular season, it wouldn’t be fair to put the game in Kansas City. But since the Chiefs had another win, you couldn’t give the Bills a home field advantage.
When the Bills lost to Cincinnati, that should have been the end of it. But it now appears that there will at least be discourse about how the NFL could twist that idea into another way of printing money.
Sorry, NFL, but no one wants this other than your greedy mates.
Sure, it’s easy to understand the myriad ways the league can benefit from this. Cities will bid for hosting rights. More care can be sold. The NFL, not the home team, would control ticket revenue and luxury suite sales. Essentially, the NFL can create two Super Bowls.
It might look cool in a spreadsheet. It looks terrible in real life.
See, it’s not that the concept is going to fail. You could put Kansas City-Cincinnati in Houston and the stadium would be packed, just as if San Francisco-Philadelphia were to be played in New Orleans this weekend. The NFL is big enough, powerful enough, and patriotic enough to sell tickets and make them look good on TV.
But the home court advantage is one of the intrinsically awesome parts of this sport.
more:Five Sunday Championship events to monitor
Garrett Bell:‘I don’t think we get respect’: The Bengals enter the AFC title game with a chip on their shoulders
Nate Davis:32 Things We Learned From The NFL Playoffs: The Changing Of The Guard At The QB
Winners and losers:Winners and losers in the NFL Playoffs Round
For all the bells and whistles associated with the Super Bowl, it’s usually a sanitized environment that caters to corporate fat cats and is inaccessible to the most hardcore fans who fill stadiums across the country every Sunday. But this weekend, Arrowhead Stadium will be one of the most intense in sports even in the 20-degree weather forecast for Sunday. Philadelphia, always one of the loudest stadiums in the country, would be absolutely insane.
You can’t duplicate that on a neutral field. You can’t even get close.
Ironically, this is a discussion that college football is in at the moment as it expands its playoffs from four to 12 teams starting in 2024. For now, the new format will include four first-round games on the campuses of the higher-seeded teams, with the quarterfinals, semifinals, and tournament patriotism at neutral bowl game locations.
There are some important voices in the sport who would prefer the quarterfinals to be played on campus as well, rewarding teams for regular season excellence and using the great atmosphere in historic stadiums as a selling point for the entire sport. The bet here is that once college administrators get a taste of on-campus playoff games, they’ll want more.
The NFL already has this item baked in for the playoff season – and it works perfectly. Why mess with it? And why is the regular season devalued by stripping the best team of the right to host the conference championship game in its home stadium?
The answer, of course, is money. And pretty much every decision the NFL makes is guided by how to make more of it. So Brier is probably right that it will be on the table sooner or later for owners to consider.
Let’s hope they can finally resist the temptation.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken on Twitter @tweet.