When the NBA started discussing an In-Season Tournament, I remember thinking it was a hilariously dumb idea. As I've grown older, though, I've become more and more open to being proven wrong and boy did the NBA's inaugural tournament -- which ended with a Lakers' championship on Saturday night -- prove me wrong. It's entirely possible it's the excited Pacers fan in me ( during Indy's run to the title game), but I'm so far on the other end now that I'm trying to figure out if this is a good idea for Major League Baseball.
Could MLB stage a similar in-season tourney?
The foundation of the idea fits with Major League Baseball. The hope by the NBA was to breathe extra life into a time period of the season when a lot of casual sports fans were paying less attention to the NBA than the league would like. Think the month of May for MLB. Also, while the big championship is easily the most important thing in the sport and can't be touched, creating a second title isn't a terrible thing. For any wrestling fans out there, compare it to the WWE Intercontinental title. Of course you'd rather be the world champ, but any title is prestigious and worth winning.
MLB cannot play a bunch of one-game series in the season, obviously, so our tournament would be comprised of three-game series. With 30 teams, we need to create pools divisible by five or six. Let's go with six groups of five for pool play, meaning each team would play four different pool play series. Each three-game series would have a winner, so the record after, say, the Braves take two of three from the Angels, would be Braves 1-0 and Angels 0-1. We'd then have six pool winners along with two wild-card teams advancing to the quarterfinals. Tiebreakers can be overall record (not series record) and then run differential.
I'm well aware that if one team wins the first two games of a series, there would then be a third game to the series with the winner already decided, but remember, these are still regular-season games in the standings, too. The game would retain its regular-season importance, it just wouldn't matter for the IST now.
From there, the six pool winners and two wild cards are then thrown into a playoff bracket that won't be re-seeded. They'll play three-game series the rest of the way until a champion is crowned.
The trickiness comes in scheduling around the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship while still making sure that all 30 teams play 162 regular-season games, this in-season tourney included. The NBA has worked around it (the teams in the championship played an extra game, but everyone else will end up with their normal 82) and I'm confident MLB can as well. For example, you'd just have three-game series between teams that didn't make the quarterfinals during that week and those games are simply normal regular-season games.
The logistics would be difficult, but the logistics are tough for many different things the league does, such as the London Series, the World Baseball Classic and scheduling out the new playoff format. This could all be sorted out rather easily, so long as all 30 teams are on board.
As with most new ideas in sports, many will scoff at this upon hearing it suggested, much like I did when I first heard about the NBA In-Season Tournament. Seeing the added excitement during otherwise run-of-the-mill early season games, however, has me believing that this idea would also be rallied around in Major League Baseball.