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Someday, in the not too distant future, all sport seasons will last 365 days a year, except for leap year, when we will have one day off.
The trend toward all-year sports was accented in Palm Springs last month when the pooh-bahs of the National and American Football Leagues met to decide how they would consummate their marriage—a marriage made in desperation when the couple found that it cost far more to live as two than as one.
The 26 owners in professional football gathered in Palm Springs to ratify a suggestion made by a committee of six owners—three from each league. The committee had said that it was reasonable to suppose that most of the pro football fans in the U.S. would prefer to retain the identity of the two leagues, especially in view of the fact that the Jets had just defeated the Colts in the Super Bowl.
The NFL owners were all in favor of this, and the three members of the AFL who had served on the committee agreed with them. In deference to NBC and the proliferating philosophy of the unending playoff in professional sport, the AFL committee members—Lamar Hunt of Kansas City, Ralph Wilson of Buffalo and Billy Sullivan of Boston—had already accepted a bastard plan by which the AFL, with its 10 teams, would achieve numerical television parity with the NFL.
The AFL, a conference of two five-team divisions, didn't match the NFL in TV games in 1968 because the NFL had split itself into two conferences of eight teams each and the conferences had split again into four-team divisions. This gave CBS two games more than NBC—the two playoffs between the division winners in the NFL conferences. The agreed remedy for 1969 was to have the second-place teams in the two AFL divisions participate in playoffs for the AFL championships.
"This will allow the best team in the AFL to play the NFL champion in the Super Bowl," said Commissioner Pete Rozelle, piously. It was an ambiguous statement—and an inaccurate one. A team which finishes second in its division obviously is not as good as a team which finishes first and shouldn't be given the chance, in a playoff series which allows a second—or third or fourth-place team, as in hockey and basketball—to supplant the first-place club.
This playoff epidemic, which Rozelle seems determined to welcome as a panacea, already has spread to baseball, where, until this year a winner has emerged in each of two leagues, and the winner of the World Series has been, incontrovertibly, the World Champion.
If St. Louis, for instance, proves itself the best team in the National League, it shouldn't have to confirm its eminence in a three-out-of-five series with a division champion which has a poorer record. It shouldn't—but it will.
In Palm Springs the football meetings began benignly. The old-guard NFL owners thought that the AFL owners would meekly accept committee recommendations. They might have, except for Paul Brown, who is now general manager of the Cincinnati Bengals and once was general manager of the Cleveland Browns. "I won't accept anything less than a complete merger of the two leagues," Brown told a friend as the meetings opened. "I bought this club—and talked other people into investing money with me—on the basis that I would be in the NFL in two years. I wouldn't have spent the money I did to buy an AFL franchise. I am, deep down inside myself, an NFL man. I bought in for a complete merger, and the wording of the peace agreement says that we will have a complete merger. I'm here to make sure of that."
As the owners met at the El Mirador Hilton, no one would have bet on Paul winning his point. The AFL owners were basking in the afterglow of their Super Bowl win, and the NFL owners, having recovered from the shock, were happy about it because they thought they would pick up AFL adherents for the 16-10 split for another few years.