Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I feel jobbed by sports playoffs

The Major League Baseball Playoffs began yesterday, and I began to watch them but ended up tuning into NCIS instead, a few minutes ahead of the first pitch. Lest you think this is Marty backing away from his ardent support of America's Pastime, I will let you know that I haven't watched the last two Super Bowls (and little of the NFL Playoffs leading up to them) nor very much of the last three or four Stanley Cups. The older I get the more I can't help but feel that we, the fans, are getting jobbed by sports playoffs in all their forms.

With the exception of American Football, which is by its own tacit admission too brutal for such tests of endurance, we find long seasons which are supposed to be so important leading into a relative handful of games which actually determine champions. They're just something silly about that, if not downright ridiculous. Play all these games, and if you win a lot of them, well, you have to play just a few more to prove you're really that good. It's simply dumb, the more I think about it.

Make teams do it to show how they perform under pressure? All right, there's something to that. Maybe. But maybe also all it does is allow overall weaker teams to shorten their benches and appear stronger by what is little more than slight of hand. But that hardly strikes me as fair to the better overall teams. And if sports are supposed to be about the best man/woman/team winning, I think playoffs may in fact lead to situations less than ideal for such outcomes. Were the New York Giants really the better team than the New England Patriots the year the Pats went into the Super Bowl 17-0? Nope. Yet they were the NFL Champs.

I realize that without the allure of playoffs many teams and their fans might quit on the seasons without the promise of something more. And I get that, so far as it goes. But I also get that if you can't survive the trial you shouldn't earn a mulligan for it either. Further, a good team ought to be put on the field first if it wants support. It's really no different a concept than expecting a business to put out a good product or service before it merits patronage.

As we all know, it actually just comes down to the money. Extended playoffs mean more cash for the games and the industries which surround them. I'll admit up front that there's nothing wrong with that per se. But I also think that an honest assessment of the situation should conclude that it is less than ideal for the integrity of our sports and games as sports and games. It teaches whether it means to or not that excitement is more important than the best team winning. Excitement on its own isn't wrong either of course. Yet I just can't help but feel that excitement when it comes more naturally is deeper and more thrilling than when it is manufactured by groups and persons who don't care about my allegiance so much as they do my money. That more than anything else is when I feel jobbed. I think sports fans in general should feel the same way.

To be sure, I'll watch some of the upcoming baseball games as the next few weeks pass. I admit as well that I would watch more ardently if the Detroit Tigers were involved. But my attention will only be half present as I do. Sparky Anderson said it best: the best team in baseball in a given year is the team with the best regular season record, not the World Series winner. He's spot on with that assessment, and I wish more sports fans would think so too.

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