MLB Playoffs: Format Needs Fixing Beyond Scheduling Tweak

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MLB Playoffs: Format Needs Fixing Beyond Scheduling Tweak
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
The New York Yankees draw many viewers in the playoffs but having other teams would be a boost too.

In late July, Commissioner Bug Selig announced that the start of next year's regular season would be begin on April 1st, 2011. No April Fool's joke here, only that Mr. Selig would like to move up the season in order to avoid ending the postseason in November in conflict with the start of the NBA and NHL season and the ongoing NFL season heading for the stretch run. 

In fact, last year on November 1st, 2009, in addition to Game Four of the World Series that involved the Yankees and Phillies, there was also a Major League Soccer, National Football League, National Basketball Association, and National Hockey League game also being played the same day. It doesn't happen often that stars align, or this case the leagues for games played on the same day. This happened to be the rare case and the Commissioner wants to avoid a ratings conflict with his World Series and the cold non-forgiving weather of early November. 

If ratings really are the behind-the-scenes reason for such a move in the MLB schedule, then there is more to do than just tweaking the schedule which has a feeling of Daylight Savings Time, only this time is "Ratings Savings Time".

Did it ever occur to the Commissioner that Major League Baseball is notorious for having half the number of playoff teams than the NBA and NHL's 16 and three quarters of the NFL's 12 playoff participants. Currently, Major League Baseball has eight team, two league format (four teams from each league, three division winners and a Wild Card winner). 

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This is why the majority of Major League Baseball teams are considered sellers rather than buyers and you see contending teams get richer, while teams on the fringe trade off their expensive assets simply because they feel there is no room for them once October comes rolling around. 

One solution would be to allow six teams from each league get into the playoffs with the top two teams (record-wise) from each league sitting out a so-called League Wild Card series, similar to the NFL's playoff format where teams get a bye. In order to finish before November, you may keep this series at the simple three game series like in the regular season but with playoff implications.  

It allows for better ratings down the stretch in September and even to start off the playoffs because more teams are involved. What this format also does is it gives team record more meaning. The All-Star game decides home-field advantage in the World Series and while that continues to happen, you might as well give the top two teams in each league a reward for being among the best in their respective league.

After a best of three "League Wild Card Series", you move on to the normal and current League Division Series at best of five games, League Championship Series at best of seven games, and the World Series in its best of seven format. 

In many ways, this "League Wild Card Series" can be better be looked at as the College World Series, which has a three game format for the final two teams. In this case, its the first two teams in each league. September would add more meaning and allow more teams to have hope. It can be seen as a sort of unofficial playoffs before the actual one. 

This format would eliminate these long playoff droughts by many teams in baseball, tell me, when was the last time the Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos made it to the playoffs? How about the Toronto Blue Jays? Cincinnati Reds? You get my point. 

If baseball needs any reason why its attendance is lower this year, the economy isn't the lone reason, it needs teams to feel that they can contend for longer and get people in the seats because of it. More playoff teams equals more money for the team and for baseball and it needs to capitalize on it.

The bottom line is that, while this format would be helpful now, it would fit better in a four division format, meaning that a two team expansion should also take place, the way the divisions are now is like having an incomplete puzzle, but that's another story for another time. 

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