Playoffs

While I’m still basking in the afterglow from the Giants’ World Series win last year, being in the midst of the BCS incompetence and seeing the outcry over the Seahawks making the NFL playoffs has given me cause to think about how we crown our athletic champions.

What amuses me most is how most of the bitching and moaning occurs at the beginning of the playoffs and involves teams which have no hope of actually winning the thing. This is especially noticeable with College Basketball where the complaints all involve teams that would be happy to win a single game and be ecstatic to make it out of the first weekend. And this is especially justified with the BCS since only two teams are even considered for the playoff.  It’s one thing to be “snubbed” from an overly-generous sample, it’s quite another to be excluded from a one-off “championship” game.

In the case of the NFL, the Seahawks won’t win the Super Bowl (and if they do, it will be the Cinderella story of all Cinderella stories) and did not make it to the playoffs instead of a contender. By the time we get to the championship games, no one will remember or care about who made the playoffs.

Now, I am, in no stretch of the imagination, a BIG playoffs guy. The way I see things, there are two types of tournaments:

  1. Those which pit the winners of multiple leagues against each other. The NCAA, and the Champions League are both examples of this where the teams in question don’t play each other much (if at all) outside of the tournament.
  2. Those which follow a regular season and pit teams which have already played each other against each other again. This is the standard playoff situation in most American professional sports.

In example 1, I’m all in favor of having a big tournament. The more leagues involved, the bigger the tournament can become. The only rule I have is that the regular season league champions have to be involved (this is my biggest complaint about the NCAA basketball tournament). But the comparisons between leagues and having additional samples in order to really see how good a league is create a fascinating tournament. Also, this type of tournament doesn’t devalue the regular league season.

In example 2, the bigger the tournament gets, the more I hate it. Divisions don’t count. In the NFL, the 49ers only play 6 divisional games. The other 10 are against the rest of the league. Who cares who wins the division in this case? Major League Baseball is also trending toward this by adding more and more Wild Cards. Give me a real pennant race and if you want to make things super exciting, make the league consist of four 8-team leagues, play a 154-game season like before (no interleague play), and have the four pennant winners face off afterwards.

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