We have a Playoff, part 1

29 Jun

Playoffs. If you just heard this in the voice of Jim Mora, you are assuredly not alone. Playoffs seem like the essence of pressure here in the United States. We like to amp up the pressure in a system to determine a champion. We’ve been craving a college football playoff to such a degree that we’ve added one.

Now, I am as excited as the next guy that College Football has added a playoff, mostly because college sports innately are imbalanced. You play your own conference in a balanced way, sure. However, when you aren’t playing an equal cross section, how certain can we be that the best team is the team we think is the best team. But I wrote about that in the past, and my opinion hasn’t really changed.

The question is why do we even do playoffs at all. The English League of Football (what we call soccer) doesn’t have a playoff. The winner is crowned at the end of the season. After a completely even schedule, the team with the best record is the winner. That is just it, and there are no claims coming out of the UK that a playoff is needed.

Before the World Series, baseball champions were determined by the best record after playing every other team several times in a round robin of sorts. The World Series was added to determine which league was better. The World Cup used a round robin to determine the champion for most events between 1950 and 1982. Men’s Basketball at the Olympics did so in 1980. Tiebreakers in many sports (baseball, NBA, World Cup) were at one time a full game to determine who the better team was, but if there was not a tie in the standings, teams were eliminated based on their performance.

I think we like playoffs because it presents a known thing. We know there will be a Super Bowl for us to attend. So we devise a system where we get there by rewarding teams based on unbalanced schedules fueled by our desire to assert rivalries. Then we choose the best from among these rivalries and put them in a playoff with teams who were the best in their rivalry-based divisions.

I think it is easy to see that the best baseball teams can be determined best by having them play a similar schedule over 162 games and then the results are very telling. Nevertheless, there is something cultural about us that we like to see rivals play each other 18 times, because the extra hatred ratchets up the pressure in those games. Then we put the winner of those concentrated match-ups through a series of pressure-filled series the winner in a much smaller sample size determines who is the champion.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the best team will always win, but it does guarantee that the team who responds the best to pressure will win. Maybe this is why, as Americans, we see elevated numbers in heart disease, ulcers, and other stress-related diseases. We know that stress will deliver something. We have incessant arguments about who is more “clutch.” The reality is that we desire this, because we think there is a value to performing well when the spotlights are on.

What we have done, however, is to devalue consistency over time. We have taken away the Cal Ripken mentality as award-worthy. We are not a culture who values the guy who shows up every day for sixty years, but instead we value the guy that when things are at their worst, can pull it together the most. It’s acceptable to have this mindset, but it isn’t essential.


One Response to “We have a Playoff, part 1”

  1. AskThePhatMan August 2, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    More thoughts are herehttp://askthephatman.blogspot.com/2012/07/we-have-playoff-part-2.html

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