With the aftermath of the Damar Hamlin situation, the NFL recently began to toy with having neutral-site conference championship games. On Thursday, Pittsburgh Steelers team president Art Rooney II left no doubt as to his stance on that subject.
“I hate the idea,” Rooney said. “I wouldn’t like that at all.”
The scheduling complications the league was left with birthed the idea of having the AFC Championship game take place at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium if both the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs made it that far.
The cancellation of the Week 17 game between Buffalo and the Cincinnati Bengals meant those teams ended up playing one fewer game than the rest of the AFC.
The Chiefs earned the No. 1 seed and got a first-round bye, beating out the No.2 seed Bills for the top spot by just half a game. Buffalo beat Kansas City, 24-20 in Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 16, in a rematch of the 2021 AFC Championship Game, which the Chiefs won, 42-36.
The timing to announce the plan was curious, some thought, especially with it coming before either of those teams had played their divisional round contests.
Fans of both teams wasted no time in planning for a trip to the Peach State — 50,000 tickets were sold in the first 24 hours after the announcement. The Bills’ contingent was let down as Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals spoiled their hopes.
It’s not often that Steelers fans thank their division rivals for anything. This instance is one of those exceptions.
With this year’s AFC title game being played in Kansas City once again, the league didn’t get its chance for a trial run. If it were to go through with such a plan in the future, neutral-site conference championship games would render home-field advantage moot.
For now, though, conference title contests will be played at the higher-seeded club’s home digs. Rooney doesn’t think that changing that would make for a very popular proposal.
“My sense is that if you put that up for a vote, it wouldn’t pass today, but who knows?” he said.