I couldn’t be more excited that the NCAA seems to be extricating its head from its nether regions to finally consider instituting a college football playoff. The only thing better than the thought of the classic matches to come is salivating over the classic matches that could have been. Sure, I know that Michigan wouldn’t have had a chance against Florida in that 2006 matchup but most people thought Ohio State was going to plow the Gators under so you never know. That’s the thing about football and a one-game playoff system. It sucks when you’re on the losing end but it’s great when you win.
But baseball is different. Sure, there’s a thrill to ending the season on a one-game intra-division playoff and some of those games have become instant classics. However, despite being the baseball progressive half of the RSBS duo, I find myself wondering about the MLB expanded playoffs. A play-in wildcard game? Sure, it’s great for ratings. And obviously it means a lot more than something like the NCAA basketball play-in game. But I’m just not sold on it.
On the money side I get it. A one-off play-in is bound to be a huge financial bonus. Last year it would have meant keeping the Red Sox and their fans around for one extra game and MLB loves those ratings bonanzas. But the beautiful thing about baseball is that its also about playing consistently. You have to play well over a 162-game grind, which only gives you the chance to do it all again in grueling 5 and 7 game series. The extended series in baseball are like life while football’s one-and-done playoff model feels more like the movies.
I’m sure I’ll come around. MLB has finally taken care of the uneven league issue and and with even divisions, teams now have more incentive than ever before to win their division. The play-in is great for strong divisions where a couple good teams trapped behind a spectacular team will finally get a chance to make the playoffs. But, do we really need to have 3 NL East and 3 AL East teams in the playoffs every year, even if one of them falls out during the play-in?
Oh man. Can I tell you how much I love that minor league tirade? This guy just understands that bigger is better. And the thing is, if they’re going to toss you, you might as well make it worth it. Why kick dirt when you can throw a base? Why toss your hat when you can toss the entire contents of the dugout? That is the reason why I love America.
And I also love America because of college sports. In general, NCAA football and basketball provide much more drama and interest than do their professional counterparts. Yeah, that’s a factless, baseless blanket statement but my name is on this blog so I can write that. However, most other major college sports pale in comparison to their older brothers. Nowhere is this more true than baseball. Quick, tell me who won the College World Series last year? Yeah, I didn’t think so. And who won tonight’s CWS finale? No one cares. And there’s a reason for that.
Unlike football and basketball, there’s a different route to the pros for baseball players. It’s a much more (dare I say?) European system of small feeder clubs nurturing talent at different levels in order to prepare them for the big leagues. Like the big European club soccer teams do in Africa and Brazil, MLB constantly scours the developing world, trying to get an edge by finding hot new talent in some Latin American backwater. Then, they throw them into the minor league crockpot, set it to simmer and see how it all turns out.
Even homegrown talent is developed in a similar fashion. Do people get excited for a Derek Jeter to head off to the University of Michigan for a year before turning pro? No. He signs with the Yankees and they develop him in their minor league affiliates before bringing him up to the parent organization. So, if no exciting players show up in college baseball, why should we care about the sport?
Simply put, we shouldn’t. At least in college basketball or football, we get to see guys play for one or two years before they head off. Syracuse doesn’t win the 2003 NCAA basketball championship without Carmelo but that was all they got from him. Similarly, Ohio State doesn’t beat Miami in 2002 Fiesta Bowl without Maurice Clarett but that didn’t stop him from heading straight to the NFL (although his life since has been somewhat less than stellar).
So, should we care about this inequity in the sporting system and does it really matter? It seems pretty obvious that the different sports need different systems. Football and, to a lesser extent, basketball are homegrown sports that rely on colleges to develop players and provide them with greater exposure before they begin their professional careers. Baseball, like soccer, is a more international game and so the collegiate development system just doesn’t work. It’s unfortunate for fans of the game but when there are already so many MLB teams playing 162 games a year, the allure of collegiate baseball just seems unimportant. In the end, these systems, kind of like the American primary election system, seem to have fundamental flaws. But, when you consider the alternatives, I guess we’re doing a pretty good job.