By Amy Tennery
(Reuters) – NFL owners approved a proposal on Tuesday to expand the playoff field from 14 teams to 16 if clubs are unable to complete the same number of regular-season games due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposal, which passed unanimously, is a key contingency plan for the league aiming to complete its 2020 season on schedule even as COVID-19 cases surge again across the United States.
“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 Feb. 7th in Tampa,” Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters on Tuesday after the league’s virtual meeting.
“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.”
The NFL has seen numerous COVID-19 positives among players, staff and personnel this season, forcing delays and rescheduling of games. So far, through nine weeks of competition, no games have been canceled outright.
The league enhanced its COVID-19 safety protocols last week, instructing teams to broaden the use of face coverings and expand the sideline area. It also stripped the Las Vegas Raiders of a sixth-round draft pick for repeated breaches.
The league also approved a proposal designed to boost diversity among head coaches and executive staff, which Goodell outlined as a key goal earlier this year amid criticism over the NFL’s largely homogenous coaching and executive ranks.
Under the plan, pending approval of the NFL Players Association, teams that develop minority employees who are then hired by another club as a head coach or primary football executive will receive third-round picks in the subsequent two drafts.
“Our effort here is to continue to look at everything we’re doing to try to improve our policies, our procedures, to encourage and to get the results we want, which is more diversity and inclusion within our ranks,” said Goodell.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Toby Davis and David Gregorio)