Let’s face it folks. The old phrase “there’s nothing better than the playoffs” couldn’t be more untrue for a couple sports.
You also hear, “the two best words in sports are: Game Seven.” I couldn’t disagree more.
One advantage the NFL and college football have is the “do or die” aspect of their playoffs. It’s win or go home for every round of the playoffs. No matter what happens. There aren’t any series or groups of games to be played to decide a winner. You have to be better than your opponent on that day, or that’s it.
The only other major sport where you see the greatness of win or go home is the NCAA tournament. March Madness, as it has been known, has been captivating even the most casual sports fans for years.
Take it from me, I am in no way, shape or form a basketball fan. I attribute that to being forced to go to my brother’s basketball games as a kid. Not only was I forced to watch, but I also had to play against him. For those who don’t know, my brother is 6’4” and could easily dunk on a regulation hoop. I am 6’1” and can barely see the ball from more than 10 feet away. To top it all off, the teams my brother played on were god awful and never won more than 5 games. So, not only did I have to watch the sport I liked the least, but I got to watch some horrible games. Needless to say, I was poisoned to the game from a young age.
But even I, the least interested basketball fan, tune in to the majority of the NCAA tournament.
The tournament is a huge media draw. First things first, the sheer volume of games that take place make it a TV ratings cash cow. Having 68 teams in the dance means there are going to be quite a few games. I’m theoretical particle physicist but, if my calculations are correct, that is 34 games just in the first round. That’s just the first round. I had to do some googling to figure out how many total games there are. The whole tournament has 67 games. Advertisers pay out their ears to have their commercials run during these games.
TV advertising aside, the physical bracket itself has become almost as big as the tournament itself.
I can’t tell you how many times I have filled out a variety of brackets without watching a single college basketball game up to that point. Yearly in college, we would all make brackets and post them up on a wall in our apartment and compete to see who could make the better bracket. I very rarely won, but it gave us teams to root for in each game. Seeing how little old division 3 Westfield State wasn’t ever going to make it to the dance, we would each choose a squad to cheer on instead of going to class. Even in the work world, office bracket pools are incredibly common. The NCAA made a piece of paper profitable.
With all of this benefit, you would think some other sports league would take some notes from the NCAA and make some kind of a tournament. A mini tournament even rose from the ashes of the horrendous BCS in college football. They’ve got the right idea.
Looking at leagues like the NBA and MLB, where the majority of the teams make the playoffs, a tournament could be an interesting way to change things up. This Covid situation of 2020 was a great opportunity for leagues to try new things. Take the NBA for example. They were in a bubble down in Orlando, and had every opportunity to try something. Who wouldn’t have watched a 30 team tournament to see who would be the NBA Champions? That would’ve been more of a draw than that summer league tournament they had going.
How about the MLB? The sport is slowly beginning to fade away because of its incredibly slow paced style. A baseball tournament would have been amazing to watch this summer. They could have even tried some new rules to speed up the game and get an idea what that would look like. I get that baseball lends itself to playing series. Don’t worry, I thought of that. What they could do is make each “round” of the tournament a 7 inning double header. If the two teams split the double header, they’d have a third game the next day or so. That would be intense. Perhaps bring some youth to the old man sport of baseball.
I totally understand that these things will never happen. And there may be something to be said about having too much of a good thing. But why the heck not try it? What have these leagues got to lose? If it is a ratings explosion, then keep doing it. If it doesn’t work so well, then, at least you tried something new for once.
So, as I sit here about to make my bracket I give other leagues one piece of advice, take some notes.