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In Which Tom Verducci Steals My Playoff Idea (That's a Good Thing)

by Mike DePilla
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
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Yesterday I came across the most recent column by Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci, in which he outlines a plan for improving Major League Baseball's playoff system. Not that the current system is broken, mind you. It's more like making a good thing better.

Verducci's plan: "Two wild cards in each league -- the two non-division winners with the best records -- play a Wild Card Elimination Game. The loser goes home. The winner advances to the Division Series to play the team with the best record."

Since the top two Wildcard teams from each league would now be alive, this essentially shifts the regular season focus from the race for the first-place Wildcard team to the race for second-place Wildcard team.

I immediately felt very close to the idea. In fact, I felt like I had written, word-for-word, the article I had just read. It is the exact, and I mean exact, same plan that I dreamed up for baseball two years ago. I think it is a brilliant idea, and everybody needs to read it.

I think it speaks to the validity of the idea that both Verducci and I (along with everyone else who's thought of it) independently came up with this exact same idea. I'm not joking or exaggerating at all when I say his article is word-for-word what I would have written.

I'm pretty sure I have written it somewhere, but it was in a few posts at some Sox message boards from over a year ago. I am just very glad that Verducci is bringing to the mainstream media what I could only write in my small-scale blog, as this is the best way to create a more fair and exciting postseason for the sport without devaluing the regular season.

Not only did I have the exact same idea as Verducci, but I also arrived at it and justified it with the exact same reasons. Some of the main points on why this system would improvement fairness, excitement, relevance and (yes) revenue:
  • Fans like the excitement of one-game, win-or-go-home playoffs.
  • It creates a genuine disadvantage/disincentive for the Wildcard vs. the division winners.
  • More teams would be in the playoff race in September.
  • Division races with two runaway teams (like the current meaningless one between the Yankees and Rays) become important.
There are people who aren't crazy about the idea of changing the Wildcard, but the bottom line on everything: If you don't like it, then win your division. That mantra could replace the current one of "We don't care as long as we get in," which treats the Wildcard as equal to a division title and thus actually does devalue the regular season.

Nothing bad will ever happen to a team that wins it's division. The other playoff team is the wildcard. You shouldn't be able to "clinch" the Wildcard. You shouldn't be able to cruise to the Wildcard. If you don't win your division you should have to sweat it out, and hope you get lucky at the end. Wildcards don't deserve the same advantages as division winners. You want that sense of security? Then win your division! It's the way baseball was intended.

The great thing about this revised format is that, unlike most fads designed to bring in money, this one doesn't cheapening the playoffs; it only adds intrigue and excitement. It rewards teams more fairly based on their finish in the season, while still adding more teams to the playoff mix and throwing in a thrilling one-game playoff without watering down the product or adding more rounds to the existing bracket.

*Now, in an ideal world all this would come with a slightly shortened regular season, a best-of-seven division round and an end date in mid to late October, not November. Of those requests, I do think we will see a best-of-seven division round eventually, but you can forget about shortening the season and reducing revenue for owners.

Baseball is the only professional sport in which winning your division actually means something very significant. Nobody cares about raising banners to division champions in the NBA, NFL or NHL. This is a way to make that even more significant, while at the same time adding excitement to the playoffs and more teams to the chase. What's not to like?

Now how do we get this plan on Bud Selig's desk?

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