We are just a few weeks from the scheduled start of camp, and we still don’t have clarity on the basic rules of the coming season. On the one hand, the pandemic clearly creates some unforeseen challenges and bumps in the road are to be expected. On the other hand, we’re a few weeks from camp and teams need to know regardless of how difficult the job may be. And one of the most significant pieces of that is the postseason size. Right now, the postseason includes 10 teams just as the CBA calls for, but the league would like to expand the postseason as they did last year to help offset revenue losses that will come from empty or only partially-filled parks. The players will not agree without signficiant concessions from the owners, and thus we are at a stalemate.
Today, we’re not so much concerned with the negotation part of it as much as what it actually means for the fans and the sport at large, which can often be lost in these discussions. This was the subject of this week’s SB Nation Reacts poll question.
Should the field be expanded in 2021?
Right now, there is no reason to believe we are not going to get a full season that starts on time, because the league has no recourse in delaying the season without action from local or federal government that would prohibit it. That doesn’t seem to be on the horizon, so we should assume 162 games until otherwise. And with 162 games, I am with the 59 percent. That is too many games to then allow like half the league into the postseason. I understand the financial reasoning for it, but as a fan I don’t care about that. I care about the integrity of the long regular season. 162 games becomes meaningful if half the league is making it on to the postseason anyway.
What about permanently?
Same argument here. The only reason I can think to vote yes on the first question and no here is if you’re anticipating a shorter season, which muddles things a bit. But generally speaking, I hate the idea of an expanded playoff field, especially like we saw last year. That said, it’s inevitable. It’s coming in the next CBA almost certainly. Maybe not to the extent of 2020, but it will be expanded in some form. And the players need to ensure that there is some major reward still for winning the division. The worst thing that can happen, both for the players from a financial standpoint but also for us as fans from a competitive standpoint, is there being no functional difference between winning 85 and 95 games. Any system that doesn’t provide some sort of bye for the top couple teams would do exactly that.
How many teams ideally?
Here is where I diverge from the pack a bit. I actually very much like the current system with 10 teams. I know a lot of people hate the one-game Wildcard round, and I understand why. It is unfair. There’s no good counterargument to that. But it’s exciting, and at the end of the day it’s an entertainment product. I love the Wildcard Game every year, and would like it to stick around. I would, however, tweak it so it is based on record and not necessarily division. All division winners should get in, but if the first wildcard, for example, has the second best record in the league, they shouldn’t be in that game. Have the same five teams get in for each league, but then seed those teams based on record rather than divisional standing.