Monday, March 29, 2010

Wild Cards

There has been a lot of talk in the media this week about wild card formats.

The NFL is talking about tinkering with its Week 16 and Week 17 schedules in order to avoid the situation that occurred last December. The Colts rested their starters in what was, for them, a meaningless week 16 game, giving the Jets an easy victory and the momentum they needed to reach the AFC title game as a wild card.

Major League Baseball is floating all sorts of realignment ideas to break the gridlock where the Yankees and the Red Sox rotate between AL East champ and wild card almost every year. The Tampa Bay Rays, who play in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, are arguably the third best team in baseball. They are playing in a smaller market, and win or lose, will probably have to begin to trade away this group of players at the end of the year. They couldn't possibly afford to keep them all. If the Rays don't make the playoffs this year, they may not make the playoffs for years. Fears are that without hope the franchise in Tampa Bay will slowly implode.

I feel that the purpose of the regular season should be to win the division. If you can't win your division, you should just take what you get and say "Thank You".

In the NFL, all measurements of who is the best during the regular season are approximations. Every year, each team plays only 13 of the 30 or so other teams. More than other sports it seems, the patsy you beat in September is suddenly a monster come December. So even a so-called "balanced" schedule really isn't balanced.

For me, it is more important that Payton Manning is well-rested and gets his best shot to win a title than that the final wild card spot between the 9-7 Jets and the 9-7 Texans (or however it worked out) be fair. Can you imagine the clamor if Manning had been injured in the 3rd quarter of the Jets game?

Baseball has been trying to rein in the success of the Yankees for decades now. It never works. The Yankees have reined themselves in a few times during the 60s and the early 90s -- but that's it. Even as a Mets fan, I like to see the Yankees win. It is an unusual sentiment, I know. However, I love New York more than I hate the Yankees.

Still, I understand that giving the Yankees two chances to get into the playoffs -- as either a division winner or a wild card -- may stick in some people's craw. Plus what I said before about the importance of winnning your division.

I propose the following for baseball:

Three division winners make the playoffs.

The two wild cards play a single elimination game for the last spot, or three wild cards can play a round-robin for the last spot.

The wild cards can either get in by true wild card -- you just pick cards and the team with the high card gets in.

Or they can get in by an NBA style lottery -- only in reverse -- the teams with the best records get more balls in the drum.

I would be happy to allow any team that finished above .500 (82 wins) to be in the lottery. This would help solve a second problem that baseball has, a problem greater than the first -- which is that teams with no chance fold up their tents after July 31. This provides fans in the those cities some additional chance. It also makes it harder for the Red Sox to make that Victor Martinez trade.

And for you non-New Yorkers, I have the following anti-Yankee rule. Any team that is in the playoffs one year, is ineligible for the lottery the next year. So that if the Yankees win the division every year, then everyone else has to suck it up. If the Yankees don't win the division in a given year, they would likely be ineligible for their second chance. On the other end of the lotto, it ensures that we don't see the Houston Astros, with their perennial 82-80 record, get lucky year after year.