Major League Baseball has copied Major League Soccer’s playoff format, and Sports Law Blog’s Howard Wasserman proclaims it to be a good thing:
The difference this year is that both the Rangers and Orioles had a real incentive to catch the team ahead of them on the final day, in order to avoid that one-game playoff. In previous years, by contrast, the Orioles would not have cared about catching the Yankees in the final two days of the season; they only would have worried about staying ahead of the Rangers, then getting to play in the division series. So, credit where credit is due–baseball made changes that create the right incentives.
To relate that to MLS, which has two divisions rather than MLB’s six: The race for third place is important. It’s slightly less important than the race for fifth place (the last playoff spot) and slightly more important than the race for first.
But baseball purists, if any remain, would say 10 teams out of 30 are simply too many to take to the playoffs. In MLS, taking 10 out of 19 is surely too many.
In baseball, the weakest playoff teams have an 88-74 record. That’s not bad. In MLS, the Vancouver Whitecaps are clinging to the last playoff spot with a mediocre record of 11-12-9.
The bloated MLS playoffs are also a scheduling problem. We could be playing another couple of weeks of the regular season this fall, and perhaps that would have left time for a reasonable summer break.
The other issue: Incentives. In each sport, the first-place teams don’t get enough of a reward. If the East ended today, Sporting Kansas City would play the winner of the wild-card game between D.C. United (51 pts.) and Houston (49). For their effort in finishing first, they avoid a matchup with Chicago (53).
If you’ve known me for a while, you know it’s time for my Annual Page Playoff System Push. The incentives for each place would be:
- 1st seeds (best conference champion): Home games throughout, must lose twice to be eliminated
- 2nd seeds (other conference champion): Home games unless paired with No. 1, must lose twice to be eliminated
- 3rd-4th seeds: Home game in second round or semifinal, must lose twice to be eliminated
- 5th-6th seeds: Home game in first round
- 7th-8th seeds: You made it. That’s all
So every place has an incentive.
Next, we’ll figure out how to make this work with a split season!