NFL owners back pandemic playoff plan, diversity initiative

New York (AFP) –


NFL team owners on Tuesday backed a contingency plan which could see this season's playoffs expanded to 16 teams if disruption from coronavirus prevents the regular season schedule from being completed.

With the NFL more than halfway through its 16-game schedule, the league has already been forced to swap around games on several occasions this season because of Covid-19 outbreaks.

While the NFL remains on track to complete the season in its normal 17-week time-frame, the league has left itself the option of staging an 18th week of regular season fixtures in the event of further Covid-19 disruption.

If potentially decisive regular season fixtures are unable to be completed, the league will boost the number of playoff teams from 14 to 16.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, meanwhile, said the league continued to plan for a Super Bowl on February 7 next year in Tampa as scheduled.

Goodell reiterated that the league aimed to allow an unspecified number of fans into the Raymond James Stadium for the showpiece.

Most teams around the NFL are playing games this season without spectators because of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

"Our intent is to have as many fans at the Super Bowl as can be done safely," Goodell was quoted by US media as saying.

Meanwhile, in a separate decision at Tuesday's meeting, NFL owners approved a proposal that will offer incentives for teams that develop minority coaches and front office executives.

Under the initiative, teams who lose a minority coach to a head coaching role elsewhere will be given an additional third round draft pick for two years.

If any front office executive is hired to be a general manager elsewhere, the individual's team will also receive a draft pick.

The diversity initiative is aimed at boosting the number of minority head coaches and general managers in the NFL.

Although the league established its "Rooney Rule" in 2003, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for every head coaching and senior executive job in the league, progress has been slow.

At the start of this season, the NFL had only four minority head coaches and two minority general managers.