Sports commentary: Expansion

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Shocking: MLB's playoff expansion is driven by profit

By Mike Forster

  "Well, they had to go and do it."

I heard those words, stated in those dulcet tones that belong to the wife.

Between my bites of Mini Wheats (the frosted kind!), I heard what was the beginning of a gripe.  Said gripe had to do with the world of baseball.

"They've expanded the baseball playoffs," she explained.  "Great. Now they're watered-down, too."

Having grown up a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, and having taken on the Chicago Cubs since taking up with this columnist, here's a spot o' news for my lovely bride:  They're going to have to water 'em down a lot more before it affects either of your teams.

Nevertheless, water 'em down, they did.  I shall now shock each and every one of you by unveiling the reason for the expansion of the Major League Baseball playoffs from eight to ten teams.  It's money!

That's money, as in making more of it.

This additional revenue, however, is not the kind that comes from adding a mere two  playoff games, my friends.  There are brilliant minds at work on this scheme.

The current plan is to have the three divisional winners and two wild card teams qualify for the American League playoffs.  The AL has 14 teams.

The National League (16 teams) will have the same number of entrants into the post-season fray: three divisional champs and two wild cards.

The wild card teams will face each other in a pair of one-game showdowns.

The teams that win those contests will then go against a pair of divisional champs.  The remaining divisional winners will square off, as well.

Now, on paper, this seems like a more equitable set-up than what we currently have.

We only have to hold up last year as the poster child for the need to change.  That's because in 2011, St. Louis nabbed the NL's wildcard slot on the final day of the season.

The Cardinals then went into the playoffs on equal footing with the division winners.  The Cards proceeded to sweep a trio of division champs en route to a World Series title.

This new system will ensure that any wild card entrants will not have as easy a path.  It will also ensure that divisional champions get a bit of a respite between the end of the season and the start of the playoffs.

Who can argue with that?

I couldn't, if that's all there was to it.

But there are two economic factors at play here.  One will kick in this year, and the other is a more far-off action.

With this season, there is now the opportunity for more drama.  That is, with two wild card berths to be earned, there is a statistically measurable improvement in the likelihood that more games will be "meaningful" during the later part of the season.

That's because there are more playoff berths to be earned.  So, if the Phillies are running away with the NL East in late August, not to worry.  That's because the Braves and the Marlins are in the hunt for a wild card slot.  Heck, both of them might earn them, too.  Sorry, Nats fans, your guys will get there soon enough.

More "meaningful" games translates into more "meaningful" fannies in seats and more "meaningful" eyeballs on TV sets carrying MLB games.

So, in the short run, MLB should see an uptick in tickets and broadcast revenue as a result of this move.

In the long term, I suspect that playoff expansion will continue.  I also suspect that this one-game playoff will be discarded.  After all, after playing a 162-game slate, you get ONE game in the playoffs?

They'll expand the wild card playoff to a best-of-three before blowing open the whole mess.

My guess is, just as with the NBA and NHL, baseball will move to a 16-team field for the post-season.

Certainly, it won't happen in the immediate future.  Also, it will take place incrementally.  This wild-card playoff is just the first step (of many) that will eventually lead to a massive expansion of the post-season.

Regrettably, as with the NBA and the NHL, this expansion will render the regular season nearly meaningless.

When we reach the point that a mediocre Orioles team and a so-so Cubbies squad both make the playoffs, you'll get no joy from this quarter.

Sure, the wife and I would love to see our teams in the playoffs.  But we don't want to see that happen if that requires watering down the rest of the season.

Then, she'll REALLY have a gripe at breakfast.