Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Thursday, September 16, 2010
I have company in disliking the wildcard

In both 2009 and 2007, I criticized the baseball wild card, arguing that it eliminates close races among the top teams in the league, since both will end up in the post-season, in favor of close races among a lot of lesser teams. Turns out I am not alone in this view. Tom Scocca of Slate makes the same argument, pointing out that the intense back-and-forth between the Yankees and Rays (Rays currently 1/2-game up, following a recent Yankees slide) is nearly meaningless, since the loser makes the play-offs as the wild card.

Scocca does something cute here: He shows the would-have-been standings in the pre-1994 two-division set-up. The result: The Yankees and Rays in the AL East fighting for one play-off spot and separated by 1/2-game with 17 left to play and five teams in the NL West fighting for one spot and separated by three games. And both races would be truly do-or-die: Only one team in each division can make the post-season.

Scocca ultimately reaches the same conclusion as me: More teams (and their fans) get into the post-season, but at the loss of truly winner-take-all competition.


The wild card definitely has it's pluses and minuses. Not only do we lose meaningful series' in September (i.e. Yankees v. Rays), but it also creates an unfair playoff system where a wild card team is put in an optimal position to upset a division winner.

But the pluses are great too. It creates more playoff baseball, so more cities & fans get involved in playoff baseball. It also adds a potential September race every few years.

I think the flaws can be fixed by adding another playoff team. It expands the race, revitalizes the division races, and creates a one game playoff to lead in to the post season. I don't see how going backward at this point, with one September race per league for a post season that is only the world series, is best for the game. Instead, baseball needs more pressure games to create a playoff environment more like football.

My baseball blog post about playoff expansion

OpenID diego2thebay -- 9/17/2010 3:47 AM  

I'm not so sure I'd call upsetting a division winner "unfair." Given the 162 game schedule, if the division winner is 87-76, and the wild card team is 86-77, I'd hardly call one a favorite. Last year's AL race saw a tie in the Central (a tie! after 162 games, they needed one more!) and a "wild card" team with 95 wins (Boston).

The NY/TB race right now is far from meaningless, it sets up the post-season schedule for starters, and if both NY/TB make the playoffs - so what? It's not like TB has had a strangle hold on the division year in and year out.

The real shame in the baseball schedule is a team like the Pirates. They're 50 games under 500! They've been out of contention since the middle of Spring Training, yet they have to play 150 or so meaningless games.

Let teams who are statistically out of the running drop out and have the teams that are in contention duke it out the rest of the way.

Anonymous JeffK -- 9/17/2010 10:22 AM  

Great and superb post.

Anonymous Power Strider -- 9/18/2010 3:21 AM  

Post a Comment