MLB Weighing Big Changes To Future Playoff Format
MLB is "seriously weighing a move from five to seven playoff teams in each league" starting in '22, according to Joel Sherman of the N.Y. POST. In this concept, the team with the best record in each league "would receive a bye to avoid the wild-card round and go directly to the Division Series." Meanwhile, the two other division winners and the wild card with the next best record "would each host all three games in a best-of-three wild-card round," meaning the bottom three wild cards "would have no first-round home games." The division winner with the second-best record in a league "would then get the first pick of its opponent from those lower three wild cards, then the other division winner would pick, leaving the last two wild cards to play each other." The plan is to have this all "play out on a show on the Sunday night the regular season ends and have representatives picking teams on live TV" similar to the NCAA Tournament selection show. Fox' new deal with MLB to remain exclusive broadcaster of the World Series, two Division Series and a League Championship Series runs through '28, but MLB's deals with ESPN and Turner run through '21, so MLB "can time expanded playoffs as a lure for new deals with one of those networks" (N.Y. POST, 2/11). The AP's Ronald Blum notes any proposal "would have to be negotiated" with the MLBPA. The current CBA runs through the '21 season (AP, 2/11).
EXPLAIN YOURSELF: USA TODAY's Steve Gardner notes attendance at MLB games decreased last season for the seventh consecutive year, and league officials are "looking for ways to increase fan interest and make games more meaningful." The plan "would keep more teams in playoff contention later in the season, and would give the playoffs more potential clinching games," thus "increasing the drama on TV" (USA TODAY, 2/11). YAHOO SPORTS' Jack Baer wrote the "one simple word that explains nearly every decision the league has made under Commissioner Rob Manfred: money." Instead of two winner-take-all games for the Wild Card games, MLB "gets at least 12 games and potentially six winner-take-all games before hitting the division series." Plus, one would "imagine the selection show would do quite well in the ratings." Baer: "That is quite a package to sell to television partners" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/10).
MORE ON METHOD: SI.com's Tom Verducci noted MLB "realizes that with more teams competing for playoff spots," the regular season "must be addressed." Such thinking "likely pushes it to a more balanced regular season." The current thinking is that every team will "play all 29 other teams every year, as in an NBA model," and if and when this concept is "embraced, it's more likely that all teams would be playing by the same rules -- including a DH adopted for NL teams." Verducci: "Why offer this format to the players?" There is "more money for them," and from an event perspective, sports fans "increasingly respond to 'events' more than a steady stream of content" (SI.com, 2/10). YAHOO SPORTS' Henry Bushnell writes if looking closely at Manfred's proposal, one will "find method to the apparent madness." A new seven-team-per-league format "fundamentally changes" MLB. It "changes the playoffs." It "changes the regular season." It "changes the way franchises will be run." Bushnell: "It's brilliant" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/11). In Chicago, Tim Stebbins wrote the selection show idea will be entertaining but it is an "unnecessary quirk." Stebbins: "Expand the postseason and keep a traditional seeding practice in place. That will more than suffice" (NBCSPORTSCHICAGO.com, 2/10).
VOICES IN THE CROWD: FS1's Nick Wright said of a potential change to MLB's playoff format, "I love it." Wright: "People say it lessens the impact of the regular season. Well, now the one seed is super valuable because you get a first-round bye, essentially. The two seed is super valuable because you get to pick your playoff opponent." However, FS1's Chris Canty said it is "gimmicky" by MLB, and Manfred "needs to leave it alone" ("First Things First," FS1, 2/10). ESPN's Buster Olney called the potential changes an "anti-tanking measure." MLB has "super teams, like the Astros," but there are a lot of teams "basically looking at those super teams and saying, ‘You know what, we can’t compete. We’re going to dive for the bottom of the standings and we’re going to try to pick first in the Draft or second in the Draft.’ I think this works against that and potentially gives hope to more teams.” ESPN’s Mike Greenberg: “It combats tanking, or at least, takes a step in that direction, and it makes for more interesting games as the season goes on." Olney also notes MLB has "more traditionalists than any other sport." Greenberg: "Sometimes the traditionalists … are the players themselves. They are the hardest ones to convince that any change is a good idea” (“Get Up,” ESPN, 2/11).