September 21, 2016

Playoffs be damned

by Daniel Conmy

There is an unspoken irony in American sport that needs to be changed. We wipe out the importance of the regular season in mostly every sport for a wild, random setting called the playoffs. As the baseball playoffs are approaching, it is important to remind everyone that five months of baseball is being thrown out for randomization and for teams, who are not as good as others, to have a chance at the only meaningful accolade in the sport. Some of these teams include the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Francisco Giants.

Economically speaking, it would be idiotic to not have the playoffs. Given the extra revenue from the home games in the playoffs, you could not persuade owners to sign off on this idea. Instead, we are arguing that the not playoff system finds the true champion of the sport. It is not fair to the 2001 Seattle Mariners to say they were not a “playoff” team. They won 116 games in the modern era (Even the 2016 Chicago Cubs, who are arguably a better team, won’t be close to that mark) and were taken out by the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) in five games.

Shouldn’t the Mariners be celebrated for more than just a team that had the most wins in a season and blew it in the playoffs?

We will return to that questions, but let’s go across the pond and look at how English Premier League Soccer is run. In the Premier League, you play 38 games, twice against every opponent. The winner of the Premier League is based on whoever has the most points at the end of the season. A win is worth three points and a tie is worth one point. Now, we don’t have ties in baseball, we just play extra innings.

There are some complications to this idea and the first being scheduling and set up of the leagues. First, the schedule would have to reflect what is done in the premier league season: the same amount of games against every team. By wiping out the playoffs, this would create the opportunity to play more games in October. Every team would play six games (three at home and three away) against every team. This would create a 174-game schedule and six more home games for every team, which could possibly raise the revenue league wide.

Another obstacle to the Premier League model is the lack of excitement. The Chicago Cubs are far and away the best team in baseball this year. The mix of superb defense and young superstars has propelled them to eight more wins than the next closest team. There will be years where the excitement at the end of the year does not match the excitement that could be created in the playoff atmosphere. I agree with that concern, but most years, the races are a lot closer than the ones we are seeing in the present. In 2015 and 2014 the team with the most wins only had two more than the those chasing. Also, in 2013 the Red Sox and Cardinals had identical records at 97-65. There will be no co-champions in this model, either.

In the case of a tie at the top of the league, there should be a seven-game series. The reasoning for this is that the teams with the most wins are equal opponents and the randomness and fluctuation should not matter given their level of play. Wouldn’t that bring just as much excitement to the season?

I’m sure many of you are cautious or downright disagree with this stance, but it does not seem correct to state that the 2001 Mariners needed an “ace” and that’s why they did poorly in the playoffs. The system I have proposed, following the Premier League’s model, is a fairer system. Yes, there is randomness that occurs throughout a season, but over the entire season you have to sustain a high level of play and that high level of play should be rewarded.

Last year in the Premier League, Leicester City, a cinderella story, sustained the high level of play for all 38 matches and were rewarded the Premier League Championship. If the Premier League followed the example of Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs, there is no way to say they would make it past the first round. Teams should not have to prove their worth over again for the sake of the spectacle. It seems utterly ludicrous that we wipe away important games because the playoffs are more meaningful. Instead, put meaning back into the full, newly created, 174-game season and watch as the drama will continue to unfold in a new, exciting way. 

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