Monday, April 26, 2010

The Third Best Playoff

It's rather widely accepted that March Madness is the best postseason in a sport that America watches. After that, America's favorite sport comes in with the second best playoffs, culminating with the Super Bowl. To make things a little more expansive, in the search for the third best postseason, we'll include the NHL, NBA, MLB, NCAA Football, NCAA Hockey and NCAA Baseball. I don't really understand how NASCAR or PGA postseasons work, so they must not be that exciting. I think that European soccer has some cool second seasons but I really pay no attention to that sport besides once every four years.

The NBA and NHL postseasons have our attention now and are the most similar of any of the playoffs with each league accepting 16 teams and having four best-of-seven rounds to determine the winner. They both can drag on forever with at least one day off between games meaning a seven-game series can last two weeks. Comparatively, in 10 days, March Madness takes its field from 64 to 4. The Larry O'Brien trophy is gorgeous, but no trophy, in sports or entertainment, has the appeal, history and aura of Lord Stanley's Cup. There is a lot to like about G7s in both leagues, especially in the NHL, it's just 60 (+) minutes of the highest level of intensity, but there's a lot to hate about leagues who include more than half their teams compete for the 'ship. The NBA's superstars are great enough to win at least a game in each series which ca give life to an otherwise uninteresting series. Hockey starts aren't on the ice enough to have that same control over a game, save the goalies. Watching a netminder stand on his head for 3OTs to will his team to a win is incredible. I give the edge to the NHL because of its OTs and The Cup.

MLB has once of the more exclusive, and shorter, playoffs, with only eight teams invited and the maximum of 19 games (12% of the season length) over three rounds played by the champion. The Super Bowl teams can play in four games, 25% of the regular season; NBA Finals/NHL Stanley Cup teams can play in a ridiculous 28 games, good for 34%(!) of the first season. NCAA Football has the shortest with a one-game championship. Back to baseball, the problem here is it
becomes a very different animal from the season. Teams drop from five-man to three- or four-man rotations and there are often more days off during a single series than were in the final month of regular ball. The big advantage that baseball postseason has over other sports is the aforementioned shortness of it. It's not a two-week plus commitment to watch a series and there isn't ever more than four of them going on at a time. Extra inning baseball has the highest level of sustained stress after OT hockey. We'll keep this one in the bronze medal consideration, for now.

NCAA Hockey and the Frozen Four are great (though not so much to my 'Hawks the last few years) because they have the single-elimination rush of March Madness and the NFL, with the stress level and potential for goalie greatness of a NHL G7. It pits 16 teams against each other in four random first round cities (Ft. Wayne, Worcester) then takes a week off to let March Madness reign before going to a sometimes awesome (DC, Minneapolis, Tampa), sometimes awful (Detroit, Boston) city for the Frozen Four. If college hockey was a big enough deal for people that ESPN would actually send HD cameras to more than one first round site, I think people would love this format. I say we keep it in the conversation for a little while longer based on the potential for ultimate heartbreak/elation at any given second.

The College World Series, the only postseason event in this discussion held at the same place every single year. Very unique in that sense and also very traditional. Until you remember it's in Nebraska. Does that add or detract from its coolness? Even in the most obscure years, the championship game in any playoff is at least played in a city major enough to have its own pro team (Edmonton, Tampa, Orlando, Pittsburgh, etc.). Omaha, Nebraska...really? I don't know how I feel about this until I get up and go one year. I like the potential for something really wacky to happen in the CWS like Miami scoring 35 runs in a game, a Texas closer throwing 169 pitches in a 25-inning classic or a real Cinderella like Fresno State winning it all. This is a phenomenal postseason that I feel gets lost in the fray of the dog days of summer. It's too bad, but between the somewhat confusing double-elimination format leading into a three-game championship and metal bats hurts the overall effectiveness of the idea. Dropping them from consideration.

BCS. I don't really feel like this can be in the conversation for third best playoff, but felt obligated to discuss it because NCAA Football is big business. Well over half (35 bowls = 70 teams) of the 120 D1A/FCS teams are invited to the postseason, but (haha!) only two - sometimes three - teams have a chance at the National Title. It's archaic, traditional, and the source of oodles of controversy, though it is pretty cool that 35 teams can finish their season saying they won their last game and take home a trophy of varying size and significance. Not cool enough, however, to be in the conversation for third.

After considering all of this evidence, the finalists are: the MLB playoffs, The Stanley Cup Playoffs and NCAA Hockey's Frozen Four. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and I'd be happy calling any of these formats bronze medal winners, but this blog is about making decisions.

....Stanley Cup Playoffs! Goalies taking over series; 2OT, 3OT and 4OT games; Handshake Night; Conn Smythe Trophy; The Cup lift. The NHL, as irrelevant as it is during the regular season, it really has it's stuff together come spring.

No comments:

Post a Comment