Is expanding the post season a good thing? Or simply too much of one?
Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Jake Simpson, (writer, The Atlantic), and Emma Carmichael (writer, Deadspin) question whether expanding the baseball post-season would be a good idea.
October is nearly upon us. Wild-card races in both the National and American Leagues have been suspenseful, thrilling and down-to-the-wire—or perhaps dreadful, sickening, and down-to-the-final-Pepcid AC, if you're a Boston and/or Atlanta backer. The Moneyball film is actually pretty decent, and better yet, didn't get completely waxed by cartoon lions and trained dolphins at the box office.
In short, it's a great time to be a baseball fan. Now this: As part of a new collective bargaining agreement, Major League Baseball reportedly may add two wild-card teams and a one-game playoff in each league to determine which of the wild cards advances, a system that could be in place as early as next season.
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Question is, is expanding the postseason a good thing? Or simply too much of one?
On one side, there's the same argument often used against instituting a Division I college football playoff—specifically, that making the postseason more inclusive renders the regular season less important. In campus pigskin, we're told, every game is a playoff game, because one loss can all but dash a team's chances of reaching the BCS title contest. (Unless you're TCU, in which case, good luck in what's left of the Big East!) Moreover, a bigger playoff pool increases the odds of fluky results. Invite too many teams to the postseason party, and coronations become crapshoots, in which the best teams seldom win (see the NCAA men's basketball tournament), the hot teams make a mockery of seeding (see the NFL) and literally anything can happen, and often does, except for the Phoenix Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets drinking beer out of the Stanley Cup (see the NHL).
On the other side of the debate, there's, whee! More teams means more fun! In 1995, people grumbled when baseball introduced the wild card and divisional playoff format in 1995; today, everyone loves it. In 1985, people grumbled when March Madness expanded from 32 to 64 teams; in the here and now, is there a single more exciting event on the annual sports calendar? Build a bigger VIP lounge, and more people have a chance to feel special; add playoff teams, and more fans have a reason to care, gamble and tune in.
Of course, that's the deus ex machina: playoff expansion is always, always driven by the desire to make it rain with television rights fees. Which makes postseason creep inevitable. Still, it's worth discussing. Hampton, where do you stand? Are you for spreadin' the playoff wealth around? Or, by allowing more teams behind the postseason's velvet rope, are we—Fox News voice—punishing regular-season success and excellence?