The NBA is currently considering no longer awarding automatic playoff berths to division winners. The proposal would require that division winners finish in the top eight of their conference in order to qualify for the playoffs. Some people are saying the NFL should adopt a similar concept, given the fact that the Carolina Panthers made the playoffs this past season by winning their division with a 7-9 record, something the Seattle Seahawks had done several years earlier. In the case of the NFL, the new requirement would be that division winners either finish in the top six of their conference or at least have a winning record.
But if such proposals are adopted, they would render division identity meaningless. There would be no point in having divisions. It would be like a bank assigning its customers PINs that are never used. The NBA and NFL may as well be leagues divided up by conferences only, throwing out the partitions by division. The NBA’s postseason could simply consist of the top eight out of the Eastern Conference and the top eight out of the Western Conference, with the teams seeded from one to eight in each conference. Similarly, the NFL’s postseason could include the top six out of the NFC and the top six out of the AFC, with the teams seeded from one to six in each conference. Assuming no more regard would be given to division winners, that would make things a lot simpler.
Of course, without divisions, conference schedules would necessarily have to be balanced. That would not be a problem for the NBA, as that’s the way it pretty much is already. Every team within a conference plays each of the other teams in that conference about the same amount of times, regardless of what division they are. But the NFL would require a major change. Right now, every team plays every other team in their division twice per season. With four games played against teams from the opposite conference, the schedule would have to be changed to have teams play 12 of the other 14 teams in their conference each season on a rotating basis. Optionally, they could play all 14 in a true round robin, and only play two teams from the opposite conference.