THE COUCH SLOUCH
Expanding the NFL and MLB playoffs? The Slouch is all-in
The NFL and Major League Baseball – two of our floundering nation's most successful, longstanding entertainment entities – each recently decided that it wants to add two more teams to an always-expanding postseason.
Why would they mess with success?
Because they can and they will – and because there's TV gold in them thar playoff hills.
Naturally, everyone is complaining about diluting the quality of the postseason field blah blah blah and how unnecessary it is to add bad teams to the playoffs blah blah blah.
Blah blah blah back atcha.
Playoff expansion is as certain as death and antitrust exemptions.
In U.S. professional sports history, no league has ever said, "Starting next year, we will decrease the number of teams making the playoffs." It would be like 7-Eleven reducing the size of a Big Gulp.
Besides, while many people give lip service to preserving the sanctity of the regular season, most of them want to see their team with a shot at the playoffs and everyone prefers watching the postseason to the regular season.
"Win or go home" is a lot sexier than "Win and catch the 9:40 flight for the weekend Tampa series."
Anyway, let's quickly review our major sports' postseason numbers, at the moment:
The NFL, with 12 teams out of 32, and MLB, with 12 teams out of 30, are the stingiest in terms of allowing you in the playoffs; both want to go to 14. In the NBA, 16 of 30 teams make the postseason, and in the NHL, it's 16 of 31.
(We are omitting Major League Soccer from this discussion for a couple of reasons. MLS has the highest percentage of teams make the playoffs – 14 of 26 – and the league also appears to be endlessly expanding, maybe to as many as 90 teams by 2030. One day, there might be more MLS clubs in Los Angeles than there are Jersey Mike's.)
For being the most popular game in town, the NFL, remarkably, has the shortest postseason – four weekends of games. One more playoff team per conference adds two games to the postseason's opening weekend, then everything else would be the same.
I've always thought it inevitable that the NFL eliminate the first-round byes altogether – from a marketing and viewing standpoint, it makes no sense to sideline your marquee names and best teams for the opening weekend of a rather brief postseason.
Meanwhile, MLB not only is thinking of adding one playoff team per league, but then it takes a turn into Funky Town: The team with the best record in each league gets a first-round bye; each league's other six playoff teams meet in best-of-three series, with the other two division winners getting to pick their opponents in a televised seeding extravaganza.*
* I use the term "extravaganza" loosely here.
My first reaction was, "Huh?"
My second reaction was, "Hmm."
My third reaction was, "Ooh la la!"
I like replacing the one-and-done wild card games with these opening best-of-three series, in which every Game 2 and Game 3 is an elimination contest.
Moreover, I love this crazy-at-a-glance gimmick of having the best teams pick their poison. This adds a layer of strategy in determining your fate and adds an undeniable layer of motivation for the chosen opponent.
"What, you picked us as your first victim? No respect! We are FIRED UP!"
Come on, folks, grab onto the future before it leaves the train station.
Regular-season games are a road to nowhere; postseason games are a path to history. Why not add to the playoff guest list? As Caligula once shouted, "The more, the merrier!"
Yes, this rewards mediocrity. But with the end of American exceptionalism in sight, this is the right plan at the right time. Will more .500 teams make the playoffs? Of course. Then again, these days .500-caliber politicians win elections, .500-caliber fast-food joints do brisk business and .500-caliber fiancés become husbands.
How do you think I've made the matrimonial postseason three times?
Ask The Slouch
Q. I'm astounded at how many NFL coaches' sons get hired to be NFL coaches. Has Stepson of Destiny Isaiah Eisendorf shown extreme proclivity to couch slouching, downing Yuengling, watching the PBA and occasionally writing an 800-word missive? (William Grubb Jr.; Clarksburg, Md.)
A. In a rather transparent attempt to distance himself from me, Isaiah will not sit down, does not drink beer, refuses to watch bowling on TV and never writes anything other than his signature on a credit-card charge he might not pay.
Q. Why does the excruciatingly useless and needless NFL scouting combine still exist? (Bret McRae; Boise, Idaho)
A. The stopwatch lobby remains a potent, influential force.
Q. With no trial in sight, is there any chance that Robert Kraft could bring in the NFL replay team to speed up the already year-long legal proceedings in his Florida solicitation case? (Mike Soper; Washington, D.C.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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