Garage Sale: President Cups and Supporters Shields for sale

The St. Louis Cardinals, who only got in to the playoffs after a colossal choke job by the Braves, recently won the World Series, thanks to some timely hitting and pitching. The Cardinals, a Wild Card team, are now World Champions in a league of 30 teams that played 162 games to eliminate 22 teams, then a possible 21 more games to determine a champion in a World Series that had a Wild Card team against a team with the second best record in its own league (to be fair only game behind the Yankees).

Dan Levy recently posted about how regular season success does not translate into post season glory, recapping the last ten years in the NBA, NHL, NFL and even the MLS, which showed that the best team during the season rarely wins in the playoffs. He claims several times during the post that he is not knocking American sports and the playoffs, but that the American way of doing the postseason is “a terrible indication of which teams are actually the best.” Well thanks for figuring that out.

I am here to knock American sports and the playoffs. What is the point of the teams finishing with the best record, pushing themselves day after day only to run into hot bats or lights out shooting or a goalie standing on his head in the playoffs? Look at the Braves, Mavericks and Red Wings of recent vintage. Always in the post season but rarely the playoff winners. The Braves had 14 straight divisional titles, five World Series appearances and one title to show for almost two decades of regular season dominance. How will history remember them? (Choking Dogs) Same thing with the Mavs without the regular season dominance. The Mavericks have made the post season every season since 2000-01, only winning their division twice and having the best record in the Conference once (06-07). For a while, they were in the shadow of the Spurs and always falling apart in the playoffs, only reaching the Conference Finals three times. They finally got to the Finals in 2006 and choked against the Heat. The summer of 2011 was different as they throttled the Lakers and then put Lebron and Co. in their place. But will this success continue or was this a one off? For something a little closer to home, I refer you to the Detroit Red Wings. How many Division Titles and President Cups have they won to be followed by early playoff exits? Since 1988-89, the answer is 15 Division Titles and six President Cups. Only three times did they make the Stanley Cup Finals after having the best record in the NHL and won two of those. Yes they have had success—six Stanley Cup Finals appearance and four Cups—but I argue that surely it could have been more.

I also argue that teams should be rewarded for their efforts. Otherwise the regular season becomes less and less meaningful and not worth tuning in for. Why should I watch Lakers v Heat in January or a three game series between the Red Sox and Phillies in July or the Avalanche against the Bruins in February? Sure it might be a competitive contest worth seeing and end up on ESPN Classic, but it doesn’t affect anything.

The regular season is just a money grab until the post season glory run starts. If you’re towards the top, you make sure you are the #1 or #2 seed and play out the string. If you’re in the middle, safe but can’t get much higher, maybe you try for home court/field/ice for the first round. If you’re on the bubble you fight, scratch, and claw to get in, which, if you succeed, one of two things happens: you flame out, exhausted from the playoff push, or you create an early upset, then lose, thereby letting a second or third place team into the finals. Very rarely do you get all the way to the Finals (Colorado Rockies a couple of years ago come to mind) and even less times do you succeed (see this year’s Cardinals).

Well thanks for all that info, but what are you trying to say? Here it is: That the American view of the regular season is in stark contrast to the European/Global view of the league campaign, where the domestic league champion is a club to be honored. Manchester United finally surpassed Liverpool in top flight English titles and it was a big deal. A game between Manchester United and Chelsea or Arsenal any time during the season is worth three vital points that may determine the Premier League champion, which is a prestigious trophy. In Spain, games among the contenders are even more valuable (considering there is only two of them), as the tie breaker goes to head to head, including away goals. Dan Levy claims that there is something anticlimactic about a system where the champion can be crowned with games remaining in the season. Maybe but rarely is the title decided with more than two games to go, and sometimes the drama goes right down the final day, like in England in 1999 (either Manchester United and Arsenal could have won) or Italy in 2002 (when Juventus leapfrogged Inter while Roma also had a chance) or Holland in 2007 (when AZ, PSV and Ajax all had the same number of points going into the final matchday), that creates tension far beyond a one game playoff. Plus there is the excitement as teams fight for European places or scrape and claw to avoid relegation.

The only thing American sports teams earn during the regular season is Home Field, with very little emphasis placed on being the best team over 80 or 160 games. That’s the bread and butter. The post season is a crap shoot, especially these days, where one bad day can effectively ruin the months of hard work that proceeded. In futbol, every game matters, at both ends of the table, which leads to Grant Wahl’s article, which dreams of integrating promotion and relegation into US sports.

Forget that. I don’t want to see the Toledo Mud Hens against the Yankees or the Sioux City Skyforce against the Chicago Bulls. What I would like to see happen is to weave the post season into the regular season. This is my proposal: take your playoff qualifiers (8, 16, whatever) for the following season. Start the regular season, pick playoff days, say Sunday and Wednesday and play the regular season games around that. As teams are eliminated these become off days (or schedule through Christmas and flex out the rest of the season). As you move towards the of the regular season and final rounds of the playoffs, team are fighting for playoff positions, which ensures their participation in the following season and the last four teams in the playoffs are fighting for a spot in the Finals of that sport. Concurrent competitions would also produce a spark during the dog days in the middle of the season. Yes you are playing game 53 or 120 or whatever but tomorrow you have a conference semi get ready for. Also, coaches would have to balance their squads as they go deeper in the playoffs, possibly even using players on the end of the bench in a regular season game to save players 1, 2, and 3 for the big playoff showdown coming up. Finally the season is the same length for everyone. Yes a 9-73 NBA team will still play 82 games instead of the 106 or however many it ends up being of the eventual champions but their vacations will start at about the same time instead of months of sitting around waiting for the champion to be crowned.

And having said all of that, will anything change? No, but I think the MLS should reflect the European system rather than the American system. I don’t watch or really even follow the MLS, and their playoff revamp is yet another reason why. You play the regular season to eliminate 8 of the 18 teams, then do a one game wild card, which is followed by a home and away conference semi, that leads to a one game conference final, that produces a one game MLS Cup final that has to be scheduled around the International Break. AHHH!!! How dumb are you? 8 teams, home and away, using the away goals rule, and then a one game final. Done. Add to that an Eastern team being Western Conference Champ or two of the best teams playing in the first round and I get very aggravated. Stop effing with the process. Don’t even get me started on not having a single table. I just don’t understand why they have to piss on the years of soccer administration so that they can Americanize things. We don’t even follow the FIFA calendar, which is another source of frustration. Eric Wynalda was on Beyond the Pitch recently and gave his proposal for amending the MLS schedule. Makes total sense, which means it won’t happen.

Just like all of my crazy suggestions won’t happen, which is fine. I’m a big boy and can accept that the titans of industry running the leagues are not going to change. But guess what, I can make choices, and I’ll just choose not to watch your regular season farce. I barely watch the playoffs anyway, so I’ll just be over doing my own thing and you can continue to strike and fight for entertainment dollars and the attention of distracted Americans. Just don’t talk to me about World Champions or upsets or the greatest series in the history of the world. Thanks.

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