Tag:March Madness
Posted on: March 21, 2010 3:18 am

Best and worst playoff systems in sports

Here are my picks for the best and worst playoff systems in sports.


#1 NFL

This system is as close to perfect as you can get.  The #1-#6 seeding system insures that every team plays hard to the end (except in the rare case of 2009 Colts).  #1 is a big bonus:  home field through the playoffs.  No #2 wants to slip to #3 and lose that first round bye.  #4 gets a home game.  #5 and #6 are just happy to be there.  2/3rds the way through the season, most teams can still make the playoffs, which keeps it exciting.  You don't even need to run table to get there:  a 4-6 team can win 5 of 6, and maybe squeak in at 9-7.  On the other hand, an overconfident 7-3 team goes just under .500, and they wind up 9-7 too, just on the outside.  It all means almost every regular season game is critical. 6 weeks of games, ending up with your friends at your house eating Doritos and cheering for whoever - it doesn't get better than that.

The rap?  The playoff scenarios at the end of the season get way complicated.  But in fact they are pretty simple:  Win and good things happen, lose and bad things happen.   

#2  March Madness

Cinderellas, buzzer beaters, dominance, Final Fours, upsets:  It's all March Madness!  It's all about the Northern Iowas, George Masons, and other schools you've never heard of getting it done on the big stage.  No second chances or losers brackets - so get it done now!  Once you're in, it doesn't matter if you are from the Big East or the little west - win and move on/lose and go home.  It's as simple as that.  I also love that the whole tournament gets done in just three weeks - it doesn't drag on infinitely like some others (see "worst" list).

The rap?  Those bubble teams always cry fowl.  But come on, it's a 65 team field!  If you can't make that cut, it's because you failed to win - simple as that.  There is some talk of expanding the field - I say leave it alone.  Is there really any team left out that has a legitimate shot at #1?

#3  Major League Baseball

The two team per league format was a disaster: everyone else stopped caring in August.  Once they moved to four teams per league, it all became very interesting.  The list of teams with a chance at the wildcard spot grew, and the season kept interest for about half the teams.

I love the division series and world series - it means there is baseball on to watch every night.  Plenty of games come down to a single at bat.  Even if you don't watch the regular season, you can enjoy a couple weeks in October.

The rap?    The playoff races end up focusing solely on the wild card - Division races fade in interest.  I don't know a good solution:  adding more teams would just make the regular season less important.


#1:  NCAA Football (FBS)

The only two sports where the winner is determined by a biased set of judges instead of the play on the field are women's figure skating, and NCAA Football.  It's a travesty of justice that a team can win every single game, yet still not even have the opportunity to play for the championship.  This is just behind cancer and congress as one of the most unfair things on planet earth.  

The fix?  Every other NCAA division has a playoff.  That would work. 8 teams, 16 teams, 12 teams, whatever.   Even a Bowl + 1 would at least let 4 teams playoff.  Yes, you can keep the bowls - there are plenty of ideas out there that use some of them as part of a playoff system.

#2:  NBA

The NBA playoff system guarantees that at no point in the regular season does the outcome of any one game make a hill-o-beans of difference.  The only difference between a team that wins 84 percent of the games and one that wins 48 percent is, if the series goes to an odd number of games, where the last game is played.  That's it.  There's no real incentive for good teams to keep trying hard to the end, since they are guaranteed to be in the playoffs very early on.  For those bubble teams, there's no real point in getting to the playoffs, since the 7 game series means you are just about guaranteed a first round exit.  

Plus, the playoffs take so long!  March madness goes from 65 teams to 1 winner in three weeks, and is done first of April. The NBA playoffs start in April, and finish sometime before Thanksgiving.  By then I don't care anymore.

The fix?   Get down to 6 teams per conference.  That would mean you actually had to be good to make the playoffs, not just be 2 games below .500.  It also would mean that every team in the playoffs would be competitive, so it would all mean something.  I know 6 teams is an awkward number.  I suggest 3 team round robin play: #1, #4, #5 seeds, and the #2, #3, #6 seeds.  They would play each other until teams lost 4 games:  the last team standing would play in the conference finals.  That also would mean you wouldn't just see one team at your arena.  I'd shoot to get the whole thing done by Memorial Day.

#3:  NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments

It's weird that one sport can have both one of the best systems and one of the worst.  The conference tournaments are a joke.  We all know the whole point is to get your best team knocked out so that you get more tournament bids.  The problem is:  are you really proud that you finished the regular season 6th, but are the "conference champion"?  I don't think so.  Some conferences invite every team in the conference to the tournament - what is the point of regular season play?

The fix?  Declare that conferences that have tournaments only get to send one team to the tournament.  After all, you just proved to us that your other teams aren't as good, right?  Do this and conference tournaments would disappear faster than a fly at a frog convention.  

Category: General
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