When it comes to the playoffs, there are some rules that continue to drive fans nuts. Seeing the Carolina Panthers host a home playoff game despite their losing record is just one of the many playoff rules that need to be changed. Each sport has its share of aggravating rules that leave fans wondering why they exist. Leagues can be very hesitant to stray from tradition, even if the tradition doesn't make sense.
Major League Baseball is a game of consistency and mini-series throughout the season, but the wild card playoffs consist of just one game. Does that really prove that the better team wins or does it just come down to who has the better starting pitcher? The Stanley Cup playoffs have the potential of having four teams in the same division playing each other in the first round. Don't they battle each other enough during the regular season? The NBA playoffs always seem to leave a couple of really good teams out in the West and include one or two teams with losing records in the East. Since seeding doesn't depend on divisions and includes 16 teams, it seems unfair that teams in the stronger conference get punished for having a good season.
Many of these rules are traditional and require pulling a fair amount of teeth to change. Most of the time, the rules are not questioned and fans simply accept them, looking forward to the next season if their team is treated unfairly. The following 10 rules are perfect examples of rules that might be unfair, make little sense or can be downright idiotic. It might be hard to eliminate some of them, but they are certainly worth taking a closer look at.
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10 MLB World Series Designated Hitter Rules
Someday the designated hitter is probably going to be used in both leagues. Up to this point, the American League has been at a disadvantage as its pitchers go through an entire season without ever swinging a bat and then are asked to do so in the World Series. There are some National League starting pitchers who are capable of taking advantage of their chances at the plate. Even a pitcher who can bunt or sacrifice a runner over to second base can make a big difference in a close game. In the American League, pitchers never get the opportunity to practice these tasks.
Purists will argue that the designated hitter has destroyed the game, but having AL pitchers bat in the World Series does little to improve the game. When the DH is being used, the AL team usually often has the advantage of a more productive bat in the lineup, but at least the NL team can improve its odds by inserting hitters who bat from the opposite side of the plate. It would almost be easier to eliminate the pitcher and DH from the lineup in World Series games but baseball traditionalists would flip. That would, however, eliminate any advantages by either team while also ensuring that only players who field are the only players allowed to bat.
9 NHL and NBA 16-Team Playoffs
It is hard enough to stomach NFL teams with losing records getting into the playoffs, but this routinely happens in the NBA and NHL. Is it really worth extending the playoffs to include teams that shouldn't be in the playoffs just to create extra revenue? It starts to make the season less important when over half of the teams get in the playoffs and rewards teams for having less than spectacular or meaningful seasons. About the only positive outcome that usually occurs is that fans of the undeserving team will at least get to see their team get beaten by one of the best teams in the league.
The playoffs should be a reward for the teams that have had successful seasons. When 16 teams out of 30 make the playoffs, there is inevitably going to be at least one team that probably has no right to be in the playoffs. The NFL seems to have the right number of teams making the playoffs (12) and MLB has added two more teams to its postseason (10) to open things for more deserving teams as well as add more drama to the final regular season games. In baseball and football, it gives more meaning to the final regular season games that mean more for getting into the postseason as opposed to jockeying for playoff position.
8 MLB Wild Card Winner Seeding
The MLB playoffs now include a one game wild card playoff that automatically pits the winner up against the divisional winner with the best record. In a sport where teams play 162 games, it is pretty safe to say that a wild card winner that has a much better record than a divisional winner must have had a better and more consistent season. Under the current structure, there is always the likelihood that two teams with the best records in the league can play each other in the divisional playoffs.
Seeding should happen once the wild card winner is determined and the four divisional playoff participants are set. If MLB wants divisional winners to be emphasized, it can be done with home field advantage after the matchups are determined. In 2014, this scenario did not happen and the divisional winners finished with records that were remarkably similar. Luckily in baseball, there is not a huge separation between the top five teams in each league.
7 MLB All-Star Game Winner and Home Field Advantage
In MLB, the league that wins the All-Star game gets home field advantage in the World Series. This means that a team can finish with over 100 wins and demolish people in the playoffs, but still concede home field advantage to a team with a worse record simply because a bunch of stars who were selected to put on a show for fans ended up losing the actual game. This just seems akin to having a coin flip decide this important advantage and seems just as arbitrary.
To start with, nobody knows what team in each league is going to the World Series in the first place when the All-Star game is being played. The irony of having a Yankee home run determine the advantage in a World Series involving the Red Sox and Mets seems somewhat comical at best. What one has to do with the other is hard to understand. With interleague play in effect, it seems easy enough to just give the team with the better record the home field advantage since that team is technically the best team in the league. This is not the type of "meaning" the All-Star game needs to have.
6 MLB One Game Wild Card Playoff
Baseball is a great game of consistency that takes 162 games to determine how consistent its teams can be. In a sport that has two, three and four game sets throughout the year, it is hard to figure out how a one game wild card playoff can determine the better of two teams. A starting pitcher on one team could be the best pitcher in the league, but what about the second and third starters? After all, anything can happen in just one game.
It just seems like a three game series would be more appropriate to determine the better team. It would even be interesting to see this series played in three consecutive days or in a manner that forces teams to use three different starting pitchers. This would eliminate the effect of one team having an automatic ace starter and would also give the opposing team two chances against the second and third starters making it more likely that a victory in the series goes to the better overall team. A series of three consecutive games could be played at the home of the wild card team with the better record to avoid any travel concerns.
5 NHL Division-Centric Playoff Format
The NHL has several ways to screw the stronger divisions. The playoff format not only has the conference issues like the NBA where each conference gets eight teams, but there are more points of contention in the seeding process. The top three teams in each division make it to the playoffs, while there are two wild cards in each conference. The divisional winners will play the wild cards, but the second and third place teams in each division will play each other. This presents a problem for teams in strong divisions who could end up with the second and third best records in the league.
Under the NHL's current format the St. Louis Blues, who have 49 points and have won 23 games, would play the Chicago Blackhawks (54 points and 26 wins) if the season were to end today. This would be a nice first round matchup, but having the season end today would also produce no interdivisional matchups. The potential exists to have the second and third best teams in each conference play each other in the first round. This might go a long way to help develop divisional rivalries, but a more simplified conference seeding might be more fair.
4 NFL Playoff Format
The NFL playoff format has come under fire for having teams with losing records back into the playoffs while leaving out deserving teams with winning records at the same time. In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West Division Title with a 7-9 record and went on to qualify for the playoffs as the divisional winner. The Seahawks were at least 6-6 against teams in the NFC. However, both the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished their seasons with 10-6 records and 8-4 records inside the conference, but failed to make the playoffs.
In the case of the 2010 Seahawks, they had four wins against teams in their division who were in worse shape than they were (inside their own division!), meaning their record against all the other teams was only 3-7. In a sport where each game is so important, it seems devastating to finish the season with 10 wins and see a 7 win team make the postseason. Even winning another game in the playoffs, still leaves that team coming up 2 wins short. The NFL divisional rivalries are alive and well and the playoffs should be reserved for the top 6 teams in each conference, period. Maybe any tie could then go to the divisional winner.
3 NBA Playoff Seedings by Conference
The NBA Playoffs have been a joke for quite some time. While teams with strong winning records continually fail to make the Western Conference playoffs, the Eastern Conference has had spots in the postseason for teams with losing records. Even if 16 teams have to make the playoffs, it seems unfair that teams in the Western Conference that have solid seasons have to sit and watch the playoffs at home while teams in the Eastern Conference that don't measure up end up getting rewarded with extended seasons.
The easiest thing would be to take the top 16 teams from both conferences and do away with the conference championships. That would destroy much of the tradition of the game that includes a history of Laker and Celtic matchups and more. A better idea might be to ensure that only the teams with losing records in the weaker conference are replaced by teams with winning records from the stronger conference. In 2014, this would have meant that only the 37-44 Atlanta Hawks would have been replaced in the Eastern Conference playoffs by the Phoenix Suns who finished the season 48-34 in the West. Thus, the conferences remain more or less intact and the likelihood of the Suns winning the Eastern Conference Championship is still a long shot.
2 NCAA 4-Team Football Playoff
The BCS rankings and all the other polls and rankings have been somewhat toned down from past seasons, but the current format is proof that four teams is simply not enough. The difficulty with football and its demands on the body make it hard to have a playoff bracket as large as the magnificent bracket that works so well for basketball, but a four team playoff is still going to leave one or two worthy teams out. Eight teams would be ideal if the power conferences could eliminate conference championship games in an effort to reduce the overall number of games. Perhaps the NCAA could implement six teams, with the top two earning a bye.
This year's spoiler was TCU, which hammered Ole Miss 42-3 and finished the season with only one close loss to BIG-12 conference champion, Baylor. Baylor was also left out of the party, despite beating TCU for first place and finishing its season with only one loss as well. The four teams who did make it to the playoffs certainly seemed to be deserving, but the question of whether TCU deserved a title shot is still left unanswered. If eight teams made the playoffs, the five power conference winners (PAC-12, BIG-10, BIG-12, SEC and ACC) and three at-large teams could round out the field.
1 NFL First Round Playoff Bracket
The NFL regular season is played each year with the primary goal of reaching the playoffs. For teams in weaker divisions, it often means that winning the division is the only way of making it into the postseason. When a division winner qualifies for the playoffs without a winning record, it is ludicrous to give that team the added bonus of hosting a first-round playoff game. Why not have the wild card team with a better record host that game?
When a team wins a weak division, it inevitably means that it played six games right off the bat against even weaker teams with losing records. If a division winner qualifies for the playoffs with a losing record, it could have six wins out of seven or eight that were against teams in its lackluster division. That team could hypothetically go 0-10 against the rest of the league and still host a playoff game according to the current rules. There is no reason that a Wild Card team with a 11-5 record, that came in second place in their division to a team that was 12-4 or better, should have to travel to that weaker team's home field.
Just this year, the 11-5 Arizona Cardinals had to travel to play the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers in the first round of the playoffs, despite playing in the rugged NFC West. Other examples include the 2010 New Orleans Saints, who were 11-5, but had to travel to Seattle to play the 7-9 Seahawks. The 2008 Indianapolis Colts were a 12-4 wild card team, yet had to travel to San Diego to take on the 8-8 Chargers.
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