We have a Playoff, Part 2

17 Jul

This article is a continuation of Part One.

If culture values “clutch” over consistency, then we should at least realize what the benefits of such a system are and what the detriments of such a system are. The primary value, in my opinion, is that we can have something called a Championship Game and can point to an exact moment when the champion will be crowned. The negative, however, is that we are not necessarily certain that the best team will win,

For example, when the New England Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants in 2008, I don’t believe anyone really thinks that the better team was victorious. Of course, whether the best team wins the finals of any particular sport is not that with which the American culture is most concerned. If it were, we wouldn’t love the NCAA Tournament in basketball. But we do!

The ironic thing is that you will hear people say that they want a playoff so that it can be decided “on the field.” However, often the team that proves the best in the games that are played is required to re-prove it. The obvious example that many will point to is the 2012 BCS championship Alabama-LSU football rematch, but that certainly isn’t the only example. The 2001 Seattle Mariners were a team that proved it over time (record 116 wins), but lost in the playoffs.

So, how can you prove it “on the field”? The reality is that sometimes the playoffs we have devalue the “regular season.” But this phenomenon isn’t exclusive to sports. We’ve all had those classes in school where the grade was based exclusively (or almost exclusively) on a final exam. Is that one test the best way to evaluate one’s competence in a given area? Would competency over an entire semester be more accurate? I used to find myself not worrying about some classes until halfway through the semester, instead building a credit in other classes, so that I could concentrate on others at the end of the semester.

Another comment that may come up is that you “de-value” the regular season. The longer the regular season, the more valuable it should be, but sometimes you end up with a situation like the 2004 Olympics Men’s Basketball. The United States underachieved and wound up 4th in its group of six teams. That meant that they met up with the first place team from the other group, Spain, who was undefeated and had won their games by a considerable margin. The US beat Spain in the quarterfinals, and after winning the positioning game, Spain ended up 7th place after going 6-1, while the USA was called 3rd place after getting three losses.

That wouldn’t be a question of best team, but rather is it fair to Spain that they had to face another team that they were playing because the US had underachieved. A playoff system that seeks to arrange a series of matchups based on the standings also can yield situations where a better team may just struggle to matchup. Nothing wrong with this, but does any playoff system solve all problems?

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