Blog Entry

Best and worst playoff systems in sports

Posted on: March 21, 2010 3:18 am
Here are my picks for the best and worst playoff systems in sports.


#1 NFL

This system is as close to perfect as you can get.  The #1-#6 seeding system insures that every team plays hard to the end (except in the rare case of 2009 Colts).  #1 is a big bonus:  home field through the playoffs.  No #2 wants to slip to #3 and lose that first round bye.  #4 gets a home game.  #5 and #6 are just happy to be there.  2/3rds the way through the season, most teams can still make the playoffs, which keeps it exciting.  You don't even need to run table to get there:  a 4-6 team can win 5 of 6, and maybe squeak in at 9-7.  On the other hand, an overconfident 7-3 team goes just under .500, and they wind up 9-7 too, just on the outside.  It all means almost every regular season game is critical. 6 weeks of games, ending up with your friends at your house eating Doritos and cheering for whoever - it doesn't get better than that.

The rap?  The playoff scenarios at the end of the season get way complicated.  But in fact they are pretty simple:  Win and good things happen, lose and bad things happen.   

#2  March Madness

Cinderellas, buzzer beaters, dominance, Final Fours, upsets:  It's all March Madness!  It's all about the Northern Iowas, George Masons, and other schools you've never heard of getting it done on the big stage.  No second chances or losers brackets - so get it done now!  Once you're in, it doesn't matter if you are from the Big East or the little west - win and move on/lose and go home.  It's as simple as that.  I also love that the whole tournament gets done in just three weeks - it doesn't drag on infinitely like some others (see "worst" list).

The rap?  Those bubble teams always cry fowl.  But come on, it's a 65 team field!  If you can't make that cut, it's because you failed to win - simple as that.  There is some talk of expanding the field - I say leave it alone.  Is there really any team left out that has a legitimate shot at #1?

#3  Major League Baseball

The two team per league format was a disaster: everyone else stopped caring in August.  Once they moved to four teams per league, it all became very interesting.  The list of teams with a chance at the wildcard spot grew, and the season kept interest for about half the teams.

I love the division series and world series - it means there is baseball on to watch every night.  Plenty of games come down to a single at bat.  Even if you don't watch the regular season, you can enjoy a couple weeks in October.

The rap?    The playoff races end up focusing solely on the wild card - Division races fade in interest.  I don't know a good solution:  adding more teams would just make the regular season less important.


#1:  NCAA Football (FBS)

The only two sports where the winner is determined by a biased set of judges instead of the play on the field are women's figure skating, and NCAA Football.  It's a travesty of justice that a team can win every single game, yet still not even have the opportunity to play for the championship.  This is just behind cancer and congress as one of the most unfair things on planet earth.  

The fix?  Every other NCAA division has a playoff.  That would work. 8 teams, 16 teams, 12 teams, whatever.   Even a Bowl + 1 would at least let 4 teams playoff.  Yes, you can keep the bowls - there are plenty of ideas out there that use some of them as part of a playoff system.

#2:  NBA

The NBA playoff system guarantees that at no point in the regular season does the outcome of any one game make a hill-o-beans of difference.  The only difference between a team that wins 84 percent of the games and one that wins 48 percent is, if the series goes to an odd number of games, where the last game is played.  That's it.  There's no real incentive for good teams to keep trying hard to the end, since they are guaranteed to be in the playoffs very early on.  For those bubble teams, there's no real point in getting to the playoffs, since the 7 game series means you are just about guaranteed a first round exit.  

Plus, the playoffs take so long!  March madness goes from 65 teams to 1 winner in three weeks, and is done first of April. The NBA playoffs start in April, and finish sometime before Thanksgiving.  By then I don't care anymore.

The fix?   Get down to 6 teams per conference.  That would mean you actually had to be good to make the playoffs, not just be 2 games below .500.  It also would mean that every team in the playoffs would be competitive, so it would all mean something.  I know 6 teams is an awkward number.  I suggest 3 team round robin play: #1, #4, #5 seeds, and the #2, #3, #6 seeds.  They would play each other until teams lost 4 games:  the last team standing would play in the conference finals.  That also would mean you wouldn't just see one team at your arena.  I'd shoot to get the whole thing done by Memorial Day.

#3:  NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments

It's weird that one sport can have both one of the best systems and one of the worst.  The conference tournaments are a joke.  We all know the whole point is to get your best team knocked out so that you get more tournament bids.  The problem is:  are you really proud that you finished the regular season 6th, but are the "conference champion"?  I don't think so.  Some conferences invite every team in the conference to the tournament - what is the point of regular season play?

The fix?  Declare that conferences that have tournaments only get to send one team to the tournament.  After all, you just proved to us that your other teams aren't as good, right?  Do this and conference tournaments would disappear faster than a fly at a frog convention.  

Category: General

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: March 23, 2010 6:39 pm

Best and worst playoff systems in sports

The Best Post-season: Any sport with a play-off which crowns it's champion on the field/court.

The Worst: NCAA D1 Football. How can a team that finishes it's season undefeated not be a champion? Who beat them?
Alabama was probably the best team in the country last season, but they were not the only team left standing at the end.
Play-offs? Play-offs? Yes!!! It's long overdue. 

Since: Feb 14, 2010
Posted on: March 23, 2010 2:28 pm

Best and worst playoff systems in sports

Every other team that has played a strong conference schedule, a decent non conference schedule, won the conference championship, has then played for the national championship. So what's the problem?You really had me until you got to NCAA Football and the above statement.  Now I'm wondering what you are smoking.  Two years ago Utah goes undefeated including a win over non conference opponant, Alabama.  Alabama has not lost a game since, to this day!  They also beat the PAC 10 runner-up on the road and had other impresive non-conference victories like Michigan.  Is it Utah's fault that Michigan had a bad year?  And that was probably because Utah rattled their cage so early in the season.   Did Utah play for a national championship?  I think not.

This past year Boise State goes undefeated and has non conference victories over the PAC 10 champion and an undefeated MWC champion as well as other impresive non conference victories.  Did they play for a national championship?  No again!

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that these were the two best teams the past two years and are indeed the REAL National Champions.  I don't even pay attention to the silly poles.  I'm sure many feel the same way and that makes the current system in college football broken and ineffecfive.

The following is how simple a fix could be:  The bowl games maintain their very traditional quality except for having the teams matched up as to determine who the best two teams are and then have one more game to determine the TRUE champion.  The past two years would have matched up UTAH vs FLORIDA and BOISE STATE vs ALABAMA for the National Championship and it would have been great.  In both situations the East against the West, talk about incredible TV ratings!

Since: Dec 18, 2008
Posted on: March 23, 2010 2:16 pm

Best and worst playoff systems in sports

This is a pretty good list for the most part, but I would add one more to the "best" category, and I think I would put it at the top.  

There is very little better in sports than the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The format, combined with parity in each conference, keeps the season competitive all the way until the end.  Division races are rarely settled before the last week or two of the season.  Cases in point this year: Pittsburgh/New Jersey, Atlantic Division; Pheonix/San Jose, Pacific Division.  The same goes for the other 5 slots.  The playoffs test the depth, strength, and character of your team, like any good playoff system should.  The top regular season team rarely wins it all, so there are upsets, which just about everyone likes.  And there is nothing better in sports than OT in the Cup playoffs.  It is the one sport where sudden death OT works, in my opinion, because neither team is guaranteed the first posession and the puck can change hands at any moment. 

Regarding the NFL playoffs, they are great, but they need to change the playoff OT rule, so I am glad they are likely to do so this offseason.  I like the new proposal (though it would be better if implemented in the regular season as well), and I think it would be a good move.  Always better to let the teams decide it on the field than with the flip of a coin. 

Since: Mar 16, 2008
Posted on: March 23, 2010 1:39 pm

Best and worst playoff systems in sports

Ok best is ncaa basketball how exciting  one and done not oh well we have 6 more games left. Win your in lose your out. Next you have to give it to Nfl i never heard a coach say man we won enough games why are we not in the playoffs the only problem i had was last year when the pats lost 3 games and didnt make it but they never said we got cheated.  Overall  teams know what they have to do to get in. Baseball is third the only problems i have is the season is soo long and games dont mean much they should start memorial day weekend and end labor day how can you play baseball in november no buddy cares once football season starts.  i mean more people watch the lions vs raiders than ny and boston and put a cap on that man come on it so not far ok NY go and buy your next one im not saying thats a bad move if they let you do it than fine. The worst is the NBA by far i mean come on half the teams make it and out of 16 teams 4 teams are any good its so predictable not even funny how can you have a team thats not even 500 make the playoffs. Its too long starts in april ends in june are u serious boring make it 8 teams total divison winners one wild so 4 and 4. Bucks are good but really can they beat cavs,magic,lakers spures,dallas, in 7 games no way best of 3 till the finals than 7 fine i can del with that but like others said the real winner is left standing. Than the bcs who cares about the toilet bowls and playing a month later  if you give belichick a month to statigize against you he is gonna win do we really know if the best team won NO lets share the title how dumb how can u have a co winner i really dont know how to fix it thats the problem kids derserve to play a meaning full game at the end if they won most of there games and alot of teams do and play in the outback bowl a restaurant that payed money to have it named after them no history. I think you can still have the bcs bowls that mean something ie rose bowl and still do the playoffs how cool would that be to see 2 very strong teams that never get a chance cause nobody heard of them to play in that kind of bowl game atmosphere do it for the kids they just want to play and i say say pay in the bowl games most guys thats there last shot give them some of your billions cheap o.

Since: Dec 6, 2006
Posted on: March 23, 2010 10:19 am

Best and worst playoff systems in sports

Obviously this is just biased to the sports you enjoy. I am not much of a Hockey or Basketball fan, what differentiates their playoff system. Top 8 from each conference make it in. Seems pretty reasonable. Plus the excitment of Hockey playoffs far exceeds regular season play. Think this top 3 needs to be redone.

Since: Feb 5, 2008
Posted on: March 22, 2010 7:44 pm

Best and worst playoff systems in sports

The NFL's playoff system does work. Sure, Indianapolis coasted in this year, but they didnt win, meaning we found the team that had the best season and played the best at the end.  Now...The NCAA 65 team tournament does have flaws. It's hard to say it needs changed, though. Win 6 games and you get a title. Don't win all your games, don't win a title. Maybe you had the best season, but you lost at the end. I do love the baseball playoffs.
The BCS needs a better way. Those that deny this are fans of teams in the SEC or...well, mostly just there. They get what they want. Their champion plays for a national title every year, except their the year they may have actually deserved it. Scheduling good teams can be difficult for big schools. For the most part, Florida doesn't want to play at USC anymore than USC wants to play at Florida. Schedules are made in advance of the year, so scheduling a team like Michigan that falls apart 3 years later when you actually play em, just plain sucks. A team like Florida doesn't want to go play in someone's house where they have a chance to lose, unless the conference makes them. Nor do they want the Utahs or Boise States to come play them on their field. They might beat em, at home. Good for Utah, bad for Florida, the SEC, the BCS....etc. So, the problem isn't scheduling. The problem is that the teams don't decide who plays for the national title. Some voters that think they know sports do. Ridiculous. NCAA conference basketball tournaments are necessary. Regular season conference championships can be obtained by schools that only had to play the other 3 good schools once, while they all did a home-and-home and beat each other more times than team A lost. Sure in the tournament the bracket could set up for them to wlak through bad opponents again, but they have to win over someone good at the end(theoretically). And the NBA playoff system isn't really flawed. The amount of travel days and off days they get is, however. In the NHL it makes sense. Taking a beating 2 days, day off, beating for 3 days, day off, 2 more beatings....that would really suck. Why can't the NBA go to the baseball 2-3-2 system instead of 2-2-1-1-1-1-1-1-1....oh wait, only 7 games. They can take a day off between game four and five. But it cuts down travel costs and travel days, and the playoffs wouldn't last so long and you wouldnt cut any teams out.

Since: Jan 4, 2008
Posted on: March 22, 2010 5:21 pm

Best and worst playoff systems in sports

Plus, the playoffs take so long!  March madness goes from 65 teams to 1 winner in three weeks, and is done first of April. The NBA playoffs start in April, and finish sometime before Thanksgiving.
Ya, the NBA playoffs finish before Thanksgiving--June. That's before July.

I agree it takes long, but not 7 months long.

Since: Mar 13, 2010
Posted on: March 22, 2010 4:18 pm

Best and worst playoff systems in sports

great   bcs is dum and who care about fbs

Since: Mar 22, 2010
Posted on: March 22, 2010 2:57 pm

Best and worst playoff systems in sports

OK, lemme see if I understand the NCAA: March Madness might become a 96-team tourney... something no one wants, while football won't institute a playoff... something everyone wants?

Since: Oct 23, 2009
Posted on: March 21, 2010 9:44 pm

Best and worst playoff systems in sports

1.  I like the NFL playoffs, but EVERY year teams that clinch the top spots rest their starters in the last couple of games and coast in.  Even playoff bound teams that don't clinch the top spot but are locked into their playoff seeding also rest their starters and coast.

2.  I love March Madness even if there are too many over rated Big 10, Big East, ACC, Big 12, etc. teams in there.  Yes those are good conferences, but only 2 or 3 of their teams really belong in the big dance.  However if they insist on using slots for the big boys to boost TV ratings, they might as well go to 68 teams and have 4 play-in games.

3.  I still watch the World Series even if its a boring matchup like the Yankees and Phillies.

4. "'Fair' is where you take pigs to win ribbons.  (Paraphrase of the anger management coach on an episode of Becker.)  It has nothing to do with the NCAA FBS process.  Div 1-A football championships have never been fair.

5.  NCAA basketball conference tournaments give every team in that conference a chance to go to the national tournament.  I think of those tournaments as the reason we don't need the 96 team expanded field that the NCAA is talking about.

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