There had been some discussion in MLB headquarters about expanding the playoffs. At the time, I mused that they might as well include every team. A playoff system rarely rewards the best team anyway. Might as well have some fun with it. Since then, we’ve had the NCAA tournament, and the madness it brings. I’ve also been talking with someone I know who is a huge EPL fan. Since Fenway Sports bought the Liverpool club, he’s been giving me lessons on English football. Apparently, along with regular league play they have a mid-season tournament. They then crown both a tournament champion, and a season champion. Suddenly, the wheels were turning. I also thought about the Super Bowl. I’ve often said that the Super Bowl had one big advantage over other sports championships. They knew when it was going to be weeks in advance. OK, years in advance. A game seven of the World Series is just as exciting and tense as a Super Bowl. But, nobody knows if there will be one until the day before. That hardly gives enough time to plan a proper party. But, what if the championship game was set? What if we combined the best of all those worlds?
So, let’s take a cue from soccer. We’ll play the regular baseball season, all 162 games, to determine a champion. But, instead of a season-ending playoffs we create a mid-season tournament. That creates a dual championship of sorts. The only tricky part is making them each as prestigious a championship as the other. We wouldn’t want a team giving up on the tournament to save their horses for the regular season. But, that would just take time…or until the Yankees one win it. It seems to work in England. It even works a little bit in hockey, where I’ve seen banners hung for winning the regular season.
So, how would this tournament work? I’m glad you asked. MLB has 30 teams, which isn’t perfect for a tournament. But, it can work. First, the tournament would have to ignore AL-NL affiliations. All 30 teams would be seeded as a unit. There would be a western division and an eastern division. This would cut down on travel times. So, rank the 15 westernmost teams 1 to 15 based on their record through 81 games of the season. Do the same on the east. The number one seed on each side gets a first round bye, to make the numbers work. From there, the games begin.
The tournament starts on the Saturday after all teams have played 81 games. In 2011, let’s say July 3. The 14 teams without the bye in each division play each other, using standard seeding match-ups. #2 plays 15, 10 plays 7, 11 plays 6, 14 plays 3, 13 plays 4, 12 plays 5, and 9 plays 8. The games will be played at the lower seed’s home field. So, a true home field advantage. The winners would advance to the next round, to be played on Monday. The number one seeds would be inserted at this point. If all the favorites win, they would play the #8 seed in round 2. Again, home field to the lower seed. Round 3 would be on Wednesday. The final four would be on Friday. The championship game would be on Sunday. See what I did there? Not only do we now know 4 months ahead of time that the championship game would be on July 10, but I’ve created a fillable bracket! So, set your party dates for that Sunday, and buy your chips and dip. Get your office brackets ready to go. That should bring some interest to this new championship.
The tight schedule is great for a couple reasons. First, this only takes up a week in the middle of the season. The full regular schedule will fit, since we don’t need October for the playoffs. It also means that even first round losers only have a week break. They get that now around the all-star game. It also means the first round bye doesn’t make a team rusty. It’s only a couple days. The quick pace also means you need a pitching staff. You really need the three top pitchers to make the needed rest work. It also gives the number one seeds an advantage in that their ace is lined up for the championship game on regular rest.
The problems? There aren’t many. The travel would be quick. But, teams sometime have games in different cities on consecutive days now. I’m giving them an off day in between. That would be another advantage to having a high seed. If you get to stay at home for three rounds while your opponent has to fly twice, that’s a bonus. Ticket sales would need to be quick too. But, they do that for the playoffs anyway. People buy tickets to games all the time that never get played, and it still seems to work.
The only real problem I have is rain. I’d hate to make the games have to be played in one of the five domed stadiums. For one thing, it would be hard to fit 14 games on that first Saturday. The off day in between games would make it possible to have one rainout. But, that’d be annoying.
But, if that’s my only problem, I say go for it. It brings meaning back to the regular season. The team best built for the long haul would be rewarded. Depth would bring a championship. But, the tournament would give everyone a chance at one of the championships. Would Seattle have kept Cliff Lee last year if they knew the Felix-Lee 1-2 would make for a great tournament run? Maybe. Everyone suddenly has a chance! And, some years a team would win both the tournament and the regular season. Like in boxing, that would create the rare undisputed champion. The best of the best. Fantastic!
How would it not be great for TV? Maybe local networks could keep the rights for local teams. All the others would be on a national network March Madness style. You can even stagger the starts on Saturday to have playoff baseball all day. Get a few networks to carry all the games so everyone gets to see everyone.
Are you reading this Bud Selig? How is this idea not great for baseball?
Seriously, anyone have a reason this isn’t the best idea ever?