It’s the topic on every football fan’s lips this week: the West Division champion Seattle Seahawks qualifying for the NFC playoffs last Sunday with a lowly 7-9 record.
Most in the media are defending the NFL’s playoff criteria, saying it’s a freak occurrence for a losing team to qualify and that it’s nothing to fret about.
I’d agree, so far as it’s important to give the Seahawks their due. The way the system stands today, Seattle earned their spot and won what amounted to be an early playoff game against division rival St. Louis.
The Hawks got some help from the referees on Sunday but I figure Seattle still has a few more calls coming their way to make up for the horrific officiating in their Super Bowl “loss” a few years back against Pittsburgh.
But when most media say ‘don’t tinker’ with a format that’ll perpetuate the possibility of a losing team making the playoffs, it begins to sound like so much gobbledygook.
It’s time the NFL did away with division alignment. For that matter, it’s time for baseball to abandon the same system and revert back to pre-1969 form: two leagues / conferences, with the top teams making the playoffs.
As each division winner must always be awarded a playoff spot, there will remain the crazy possibility that a regular season loser will ultimately be declared the champion.
That’s not such a disturbing thought where the NHL or NBA are concerned. Their playoff test, which seems to last for months, is so grueling that ANYONE surviving the examination is a deserving champion regardless of regular-season mediocrity.
Football and baseball can’t claim the same difficulty in their post-season challenge and then need to be more demanding in their entrance requirements. It’s becoming all too common now in both sports where weak division “champions” get hot in the playoffs and walk away with the crown leaving many fans scratching their heads.
When the topic shifts to playoff “seeding” (ESPN’s Mike & Mike), the same divisional influence comes into play and into question. One could argue that in each Wild Card match-up this coming weekend the visiting / hosting designations should be reversed.
And isn’t it time to stop pretending the winner of a four or five team division is some kind of a “champion?”
Both football and baseball have long histories of division alignment. The fact that such a format seeks to give post-season representation to each region of the nation by virtue of division winners is good for fans and business.
If the divisions are scrapped, then simply make regionalism one of the tie-breakers. Keep rivalries and favored match-ups in the schedule. Is this change any harder to swallow than the current system where a 7-9 team is viable while the 10-6 Giants and Buccaneers are at home polishing up their golf clubs (or hunting bow, Jared Allen)?
Money as a motive is fine with this writer, as long as it doesn’t sacrifice integrity (PEDs), put players unnecessarily at risk (18-game schedule), quell fan excitement (two-week Super Bowl wait) or make the game look silly (playoff OT changes).
The divisional set-up is looking contrived, tired and a bit goofy these days.
Keys to Sport
About the Author
Written by Steven Keys
A native of the old Northwest Territory (IL), my wife and I have lived in four Midwestern states and Arizona. Today we live in Duluth, Georgia. I have a history / legal background.