KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct. 3, 2012) – I love watching basketball. And next to the MLB, the NBA might be the most entertaining. The competitiveness and athleticism of the game make professional basketball infinitely exciting. But with all the good that there is in the NBA, there is one thing about the league that I absolutely cannot stand: the playoff system. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Out of the thirty teams in the NBA, SIXTEEN make the playoffs. Routinely, there are teams who qualify for the postseason, despite playing sub-.500 basketball over the course of an 82 game season. Rewarding that kind of mediocrity with a chance to win a National Championship is one of the most absurd displays in all of professional sports.
This year, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has implemented an expansion of the current playoff system. Instead of three division winners and one “wild card” winner in each league (a format that has been in place since divisional realignment in the mid 90’s), there will now be two wild cards for both the National and American leagues. These two teams play each other in a one-game playoff to determine who advances to the NLDS. While some may view this expansion as a positive, placing greater importance on winning your division. While I do agree with that argument, the negatives associated with expansion far outweigh the positives.
Anybody with any common sense at all should be able to see the primary reason for baseball’s playoffs expansion. To make the game more competitive? Of course not. No, the main reason for what is occurring this October can be found in Selig’s wallet. Money, obviously. Simple observation shows that 162 games with a “play-in” generates more income than 162 without that game (the added excitement and coverage of the wild card game only adds to the haul). Clearly, more money is better than less money, even if it threatens the integrity of baseball. More on that later.
Now, there is no way for me or anybody else to know exactly how these two wild cards game will be received once October 5th has passed, but I think it is a safe assumption to say that there is going to be at least one fan base that will be very upset as a result of a blown call, in game decision, error or any other kind of variable that can impact a single game. Anything can happen, and I personally guarantee that the best, most deserving team in each league will not advance to the “actual” postseason. I just hope and pray that that team is not the Braves.
Before I continue, a short disclaimer is needed. I am not a die-hard baseball fundamentalist. I believe that changes are necessary to keep the game up to pace with our ever-changing society. But these changes should never challenge the integrity of our pastime. And that is exactly what is happening with current playoff expansion. When the NBA began allowing more than half of its teams, the line between elite and average was blurred. Now, like I said earlier, teams that lose more than half of their games still have a chance to make the playoffs. That’s just wrong. While baseball hasn’t quite reached that point yet, the early makings of it can be seen. This year’s Philadelphia Phillies were one of the many below average teams in the National League all year. At one point, they sat 17.5 games behind in the NL East. A team like that should never have an opportunity to make the playoffs. Yet, in early September, they trailed the 2nd Wild Card leading Cardinals by only 3 games. While the Phillies have since been eliminated from playoff contention, the fact that they were within striking distance was appalling.
Baseball has always been the classiest major professional sport in the United States. This has been achieved largely because of the classic elements of the game, such as a select number of teams playing in October. With the new expansion of MLB playoffs, that element of the game is being challenged. I can only hope that expansion stops here, before the baseball postseason is just another version of basketball.