When I first head that Major League Baseball was going to expand the playoff format to include two wild card teams, I thought “this is a money grab, plain and simple. They see the huge amount of money football and basketball are making, and they want to increase their revenue.” It wasn’t an indefensible position to hold either; after all, the idea of expanding playoffs had come up with the NCAA basketball tournament, where the idea of expanding to 96 teams turned out to be a red herring, but before we knew that, it was accused to being a giant money grab by the NCAA.
However, in this first year with the new format in play, I am starting to like it, and here’s why:
- Winning a wild card slot no longer gives you the equal shot of a team that won the division (long a complaint held by Bob Costas, who I respect greatly). Instead, it guarantees you a chance to get into the tournament, by having to win the play-in game that we will have in its place.
- Conversely, it means that winning one’s division suddenly has a far greater impact. It guarantees you will make it to the divisional round, rather having to put your best foot forward in a one-game, winner-take-all playoff game. It also allows you to rest your best players, and better prepare for the tournament coming up.
- It increases the drama going into late August and September. In the national league, for instance, the Braves have the first wild card slot all but locked up. Without the second, there really wouldn’t be a lot of action to talk about. Instead, we have the second slot, with four teams still in contention for it.
- My initial gripe, that the wild card game was a money grab, really won’t materialize quite that way, at least initially. A one game playoff won’t generate the massive amount of money a three or five game series would.
I think it’s interesting that Major League Baseball did this, from the perspective of someone who is constantly infuriated whenever I hear Bud Selig say that he opposes instant replay (and I’m paraphrasing here) for fear of losing the human element. I’m serious. I hadn’t heard anything about expanding the playoffs to five teams, and suddenly BOOM! It’s not only in place, but is implemented for the 2012 season.
I think that MLB, by pulling this move, did the right thing, not just for the fans, but for the six teams that win their divisions. Let’s break down:
- the NFL: you win your division, you’re guaranteed a playoff game (personally I think this needs to be looked at, but for the sake of my own argument, I’ll ignore that); you get a higher seed, you get a first-round bye; you get the first seed, you are guaranteed home-field until the Super Bowl. Inherent is the de facto reseeding, meaning that should a higher seed fall, the one right below gets their home-field.
- The NBA, where the higher seed you are, the longer you have home court, including the finals, with the three division winners guaranteed the first three seeds (again I take issue, and again I ignore it); comparable rules apply in the NHL
Meanwhile, what does the MLB give? The wild card team has the same situation as one of the division winners, or rather had.
It isn’t often that I say this, but congratulations MLB, you got this one right.