MLB playoff format changes not a good step for the evolution of the game

(Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Last week, Major League Baseball (MLB) floated some proposed rule changes to the playoff format. Naturally, people on the Internet had opinions.

With the Detroit Tigers and the rest of the league taking the field this weekend for the first time in months, baseball is back in the public consciousness. The MLB took advantage of this fervor to propose some alterations to the format of the playoffs, which apparently leaked to the New York Post. These changes include:

  • an expansion from 10 teams to 14 (from two to four Wild Card teams in both leagues)
  • a new first round, a three-game series between seeded division winners and wild cards
  • the team with the best record gets an automatic bye to the (new) second round.
  • the remaining teams get to choose their opponent for the first, three-game series

The playoffs would continue as usual from the new second round. Criticism has abounded, of course, especially concerning the theatrics in choosing an opponent, à la the newest reality show. The reasons for doing so are obvious: more games equal more opportunities for revenue, and the “selection show” would be a conversation starter, in and of itself.

Instead of bolstering support, the floated rule change has engendered a strong debate on the state of the MLB. The league wants to engage new viewers and create more chances to sell tickets, while the purist fans value the unchanging institution of the game. Perhaps no other professional sport is so entrenched in its own tradition.

Since seemingly everyone who cares about this has an opinion on the “correct” way to operate the playoffs, it might as well be time to throw out another “perfect” solution to the (nonexistent) playoff problem. Without further ado, how about this?

  • There are now four rounds of 5-, 5-, 7-,  and 7 games
  • consisting of the three division winners plus three wild cards,
  • where the two teams with the best records get byes into the second round,
  • and the rest of the playoffs occur as usual.

Does this sound familiar? It could be because this is consistent with how the NFL executes its playoffs. Pros for the MLB: there is now one extra team and up to five extra games in both leagues. Pros for the fans: there is rooting interest in being one of the top two teams in the league and wild card teams no longer rely on one game. It really is a ridiculous system when a 162-game season comes down to nine innings.

In all honesty, the best playoff option was the three rounds format of the 90s and 00s. Three division winners plus one wild card team in a simple eight-team tournament.

Trending. Tarik Skubal a 2020 dark horse prospect. light

But it is highly improbable a modern professional sports league would ever regress to a format which loses games rather than adds them. As we are constantly reminded, sports are a business after all. Whatever changes–if any–take place, they are not scheduled until at least 2022. At any rate, this might not affect the Tigers for a long time.