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Time Has Come for Playoff Expansion says Selig
Posted By Christopher Rowe On Sep 25 2010 @ 2:21 pm In MLB | 10 Comments
Major League Baseball “comMESSioner” Bud Selig wants to explore expanding the postseason this winter. Several years ago, Major League Baseball formed a committee to examine expansion of the postseason among other issues (instant replay, realignment, relocation of franchises, revenue sharing, dissolution of AL vs. NL, full interleague play, etc.).
”It’s a fair question,” Selig said from the broadcast booth Friday before the St. Louis Cardinals  played the Chicago Cubs . ”We have less [fewer] teams than any other sport. Eight teams make the playoffs. One wild card in each league. We certainly haven’t abused anything.” He’s not afraid of upsetting the purists, who were vocal in their opposition when the sport added the wild card.
”As the guy who brought the wild card and took a lot of abuse – maybe from nobody in this room – it’s worked out great, nobody’s against it,” Selig said. Oddly enough, Selig has yet to expound upon which possible options may or may not be on the table. One may presume that adding another extra round of playoffs could involve additional wildcard teams or possibly some format which would allow division winners (with best records) to have a bye - as in the NFL.
Since it has not been made public what Selig & Committee are actually considering, we may only speculate. One thing that is certain is that a summer sport which has played World Series games in November and has been criticized widely for taking nearly 2 weeks to play a 7 game series wants to draw the process out further. No doubt this financially motivated (more playoff games on TV & more stadium revenue) but at what point do we the public draw a line in the sand? Dilution of the integrity of the sport and the quality of the games should never be the price paid for extra profit. Why not? Three examples. 1. NHL 2. NBA 3. NFL
1. NHL…The National Hockey League is comprised of 30 teams. They play an 82-game schedule, which is virtually meaningless. Why? Because after 82 games, 16 of 30 teams make the postseason. Said postseason lasts 2 months meaning they are playing hockey into Memorial Day Weekend when most warm weather cities have trouble keeping the ice from turning into slurpie slush! Now the GOOD thing about the NHL playoffs is that literally anything can happen in a 7-game series (and usually it makes each series very interesting if viewed in a vacuum). An 8 seed can beat a 1 seed in any given series. In fact just this past season, one of the conference finals displayed the two lowest seeds – and it was one of the more successful NHL postseasons! The speaks to the game of hockey which is what most of the fans (myself included) truly appreciate. Teams get hot, goalies get hot and the game is won on the ice. Critics (like myself) cite the fact that such a postseason format truly makes the regular season virtually meaningless. When 16 of 30 teams make the playoffs, not only are you eliminating less than half the teams over 82 games, but a good number of those teams barely need to surpass the .500 mark (winning 50%) on the season to make the playoffs. That should be avoided, eh?
2. NBA. The “Association” (of National Basketball) generally has similar problems to that of the NHL – largely due to similar format. 30 teams, 16 make the postseason after an 82-game schedule and they usually crown a champion sometime in June after 6-8 weeks of “playoffs.” Even more of a problem is that the talent disparity among teams is more pronounced in the NBA than the NHL. Frequently more sub-.500 teams make the playoffs (in 2009-2010, Chicago was an even 41-41 with the worst record of playoff teams). While the hardwood doesn’t melt so easily in June as NHL ice, it still dilutes the quality of playoff games and renders the regular season virtually meaningless. Two months of playoffs is like having a “second season” after the 14 terrible teams have been eliminated. The regular season is (and should be) a marathon, but not the postseason. This often leads to attrition as players finally break down or blow a tire which detracts from the quality of these playoff series.
3. NFL. Call it the “No Fun League” or the “Not For Long” league or whatever you like. The NFL is the most successful sports franchise, league or entity in the history of Western Civilization – but even they have made mistakes. Rival leagues have come and gone (and merged) including the American Association in the 1940s (merged a handful of teams before folding), the American Football League in the 1960s (landmark 1970 merger with NFL) and that” Super Bowl” (AFL-NFL championship game) became the most successful television event of the 20th century. Brilliant? Sure. Visionary? Absolutely! However, expansion of teams (now 32 in the NFL) and the playoff structure (4 divisions per conference plus 2 wildcards per conference=12 postseason teams) have pushed the Super Bowl into February and requires an entire month of playoff football. The NFL Postseason is usually referred to as a “tournament” in which most teams have an equal chance to advance. Great for TV carrying postseason NFL on three networks but bad if you want to see the two best teams slug it out in front of 80 billion viewers amid the most expensive commercials known to man. How often is the Super Bowl played between the two best teams?
All three leagues have made the same error in judgment – focusing on the bottom line rather than the integrity of the game. These leagues are in business to make money (and they do) and it is likely that they will always defer to the almighty dollar – largely because of the old adage: If You Build It, They Will Come.” So long as fans show up in droves to watch a first round wildcard game, NFL owners will offer full-price preseason tickets, horrid concession and parking prices and every effort to fleece Mr. & Mrs. Joe Fan for every dollar they are worth. So long as the NBA can get you and your kids to suffer through a D-League game or Summer League game in Las Vegas or Syracuse, they will let King James subjugate the TV networks to be a prolonged free (actually the networks pay for it) promotion. Hell even the President of the United States has to pay for his TV network air time, but not King James!
The NHL, NBA and NFL have diluted the quality of their regular season games by placing more value on postseason. Heck the NFL is even trying to expand from a 16-game to an 18-game season – but at least they are considering axing two meaningless preseason games (well it used to be 6 preseason and 14 regular season games so this is progress in the right direction). All three leagues have chosen the path of most financial windfall and none of us can blame them because we pay for the tickets and the TV contracts and the merchandising to support them. Why do we do it? Because we are SPORTS FANS. Sports fans who can’t get enough of what we love. The problem is, the leagues know it. They know that we will keep paying through the nose because our drug of choice is sports! We love it and can never get enough! First one is free kid until you can’t resist coming back! Then you pay $15 for a beer and $10 for a hot dog! Want some more?
Proposals are sketchy but two that I’ve heard rumored are:
1. Expand Wildcard participants from 1 to 2 in each league (2 AL & 2 NL). Have the Wildcard teams playoff Best of 3 game series against each other in the first round of postseason. Winner of Wildcard joins 3 division winners per league in second round of playoffs and plays top seeded division winner. Teams are seeded 1-4 based on regular season record and then playoff (1-4, 2-3). All series are slated for best of 7 format. The bad news is this would take approximately 3 weeks or based on the 2009 & 2010 postseason, closer to 4 weeks. World Series would likely be first or second weekend of November. Should be lots of fun to play in Minnesota or Colorado.
2. Double Down. Shorten the MLB regular season to 154 games, eliminate 2 weeks of Spring Training. This would allow the season to be in full swing no later than April 1 and end no later than September 30. Split the season into two equal halves (with a week-long mid-season All-Star Break). Take division winners from first and second half and pit them against each other to determine season winners. For example, New York Yankees win AL East in first half while Boston Red Sox win in second half. NYY vs. BOS would playoff to determine AL East winner. Same format would follow for each division (3 per league) AND wildcard in either league (8 potential teams per AL & NL=16 playoff teams). This would create twice as many playoff series except in the unlikely event that the same team wins both halves of the season. Not sure what MLB would suggest there. Perhaps a bye? Perhaps number of wildcard teams would vary depending on division winners? This downfall would have to be resolved.
No one is suggesting to boycott the sports that we love, nor am I suggesting that the fan who loves to see 2 months of playoff hockey should refrain from offering their opinion. What I am suggesting is that the MLB Competition Committee and “comMESSioner” Selig be VERY careful. MLB introduced the wildcard in 1995 when purists damned Selig to hell for even suggesting such a concept. Today the wildcard has pennant races and playoff hopes alive in cities across America right on down to the 163rd game! The same was said in 1969 when the 24 teams were broken down into four divisions and the League Championship Series round was added to the baseball postseason. There was a time when there were 16 MLB teams. They played 154 games (with no interleague play) to determine the two best teams (AL vs. NL) to play in the World Series. Those Fall Classics were special for that reason. After 6 months of games, it was clear who was the best. Sometimes it still came down to a playoff in order to get to the World Series (1951 comes to mind) and often fans were treated to a true Clash of the Titans Fall Classic. Adding playoff rounds makes it possible (not likely) for inferior teams to reach the World Series. It remains difficult for a superior team to lose a 5-game or 7-game series. Injuries, attrition and streaks all play their part and it has become fashionable for the “underdog” wildcard teams to rally support by making it to the World Series. In 15 years, there have been no less than 4 wildcard World Series winners and half a dozen wildcard participants in the Fall Classic.
I say that the time has come to prevent MLB from going down a well-beaten path to profit at the expense of the game. Don’t make the playoffs less meaningful at the promise of dollar signs! Let’s take something that is wholesome and noble and fun and keep it that way. Don’t take two weeks to play a 7-game series in order to maximize profits (based on TV revenue)! Throw in some postseason day games (especially on weekends) and play early round games back-to-back (wall-to-wall baseball all day and night). Baseball fans will watch baseball, we promise. We also promise than non-baseball fans will NOT watch baseball simply because it is on TV in prime time and labeled as “playoffs.” Players and teams make enough money with their $200 tickets (this means you New Yankee Stadium) and their $15 million guaranteed contracts! Give us back the game!
Preserve the integrity of the oldest, most storied and most beautiful piece of Americana that we have. Baseball has been with us since before the Civil War, before electricity, before World Wars, the UN/League of Nations, radio, television and the TransContinental Railroad - or jet travel. This is not the X-Games nor Jai-Alai nor Arena Football. Our grandfathers and their grandfathers taught baseball in backyards across America, passing from father to son at Eleysian Field, Legion games, Little League games or even in front of World Series games that begin before the bedtime of small children (as recently as the 1980s). Keep alive what is good about the game, not what is best for business. Do it for the good of the game. Do it for the right reasons!
P.S. – Selig has stated publicly that he will step down in 2012. Suspicions that Selig was using the ancient Mayan calendar when he chose this date have neither been confirmed nor denied.
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