The NBA is toying with an in-season tournament, while the NFL devises deals with its players to add a 17th regular-season game. It’s all in the name of increasing revenue streams, and if new rumors are to be believed, you can put Major League Baseball right on that bandwagon: a fattened playoff format could be in the works for the 2022 season.
The timing of such rumors is uncanny. With the new season on the horizon, there’s suddenly a distraction from the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. And while a change in playoff format doesn’t quite have the sizzle of one of the most profound transgressions in the history of the sport, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred must be delighted that at least some of that negative attention has shifted towards the never-ending battle between baseball purists and progressives. On Monday the news that the playoffs may expand was enough to light up Twitter, with players such as the normally, ahem, shy and retiring Trevor Bauer speaking out. “Your proposal is absurd for too many reasons to type on twitter and proves you have absolutely no clue about baseball. You’re a joke,” he wrote in a tweet directed at Manfred.
So, what’s the controversy all about? It involves a proposal to up the number of playoff teams in each league to seven from the current five, while adding games to the wildcard round. In a sport that sells nostalgia as part of its package, any alteration of the postseason is enough to draw the ire of traditionalists.
Throughout its history, the league has justified the length of its 162-game regular season by limiting playoff spots, much more so than the NBA, NHL, or even the NFL. The latest change would mean 14 of the league’s 30 teams would make the playoffs, and some believe that undermines the importance of regular season games, which have seen a multi-year slide in attendance, while potentially poisoning the prestige of the postseason.