Friday, February 02, 2007

Make it an actual Championship Series

As a St. Louis Cardinals fan I am no doubt happy about last year's the World Series championship. But it feels weird, because the Cardinals were clearly a worse team than in the previous few years, when they didn't win the World Series. There is a feeling (no doubt familiar to NHL fans) that the regular season does not sufficiently count, and the championship is determined by the randomness of a few playoff games and not by who is really the better team. This time, of course, my team took advantage of the system. But that's not something to celebrate, since the clear flaws in the system diminish the significance of what the Cardinals accomplished.

What is needed is a simple but significant change to the first playoff round. Right now the four playoff teams in each league are assigned to play each other essentially randomly. Thus - another flaw with the current system - there is effectively no competition between teams which know they will likely be in the playoffs. I propose, first of all, that the team with the best record of the playoff teams play the team with the worse record (seed 1 versus seed 4), while teams with the 2nd and 3rd best records play each other. Furthermore, I propose that the playoff between teams 1 and 4 go a maximum of 6, not 7, games. Team 1 would start with an automatic "one game advantage", so it only has to win 3 games to win the series, while team 4 has to win 4 games.

Clearly, this would give team 1 a significant advantage over team 4. This in itself would decrease the number of upsets and allow for the better team to consistently advance. Moreover, since team 2 would not have this advantage over team 3, the playoff teams would have strong incentives to compete with each other for the better regular season record. Team 1 would get the one-game advantage which team 2 would not get, and team 4 would get the disadvantage which team 3 would not get. Meanwhile, team 2 would still have the home-field advantage over team 3. So there would be strong incentives for all 4 playoff teams to improve or maintain their position. Instead of the Yankees running away with their division and coasting until the playoffs, they'd have to compete with the Twins or A's or whoever for the important one-game advantage in the playoffs. Thus the regular season would be much more interesting for the top teams.

For reasons of fairness, if there was a tie between teams 1 and 2 or 3 and 4, the one-game advantage would be cancelled. But in all other situations, I think this change would do a good job of making the regular season more interesting, and the playoffs fairer.

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