Historic Playoff Hypotheticals
|There have been countless arguments over the MLS playoff system and I'm not going to revisit that today. Rather, I thought I would take a look at MLS history and see just how things would've changed if the league's playoffs were a bit more exclusive. How much change would there actually be if the number of playoff teams was reduced by half?|
Here's what I did. I reduced the number of teams in the playoffs to 4 instead of 8 for every season. I used the rules for each year (so top 2 in each conference except 2000-02), and I assumed that the team which advanced the furthest in the playoffs in real life would win each series. If two teams both exited in the same round, then I assumed the one with a better regular season record would advance.
I also did this for the NBA and NHL, which can be seen below for comparison.
Here's how the MLS Cups look in real life, and hypothetically with half the playoff teams (champions are listed first). Only changed years are listed under hypothetical:
5/14 years would be different, and 3/14 champions:
What about playoff berths? Amazingly, with the number of spots halved, the Rapids would still be looking for their first ever playoff appearance. Meanwhile, NY would only have one (2000):
How does this compare with other leagues? I originally investigated this subject because of the divisional realignment in MLB. There was talk before the season about the AL East and how three of the league's strongest teams (Rays, Red Sox, Yankees) were only competing for two playoff spots due to playing in the same division. A few weeks ago, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports had a great article where he pushed for something I've long thought to be a better system: Just get rid of divisions altogether and take the top four teams by record. That means geography would have nothing to do with a team's playoff chances. By the way, that's a great reason for MLS to go to a single table besides the tradition argument.
Anyway, I was curious how different the World Series would look each year if the strange divisions of the pre-wild card era (Atlanta/Cincinnati in the West, really?) were still in existence. I started looking into it, but it gets a bit messy since you have to deal with the 1998 expansion and assume some things. I decided to leave it out of this post as a result, and also the NFL because I don't know how you could halve the teams there (division winners only?). Also, both of those leagues don't have a lot of complaints about too many teams involved, unlike the NBA/NHL. Those two are much more comparable to MLS, so let's get to that. How would their champions/runners up look with only half the playoffs? I started with the first years both went to the current 16 team fields.
First, the NHL:
10/29 years with a different game, 3/29 with a different champion (1992, 1993, 1995).
Chicago/Detroit get an extra title, while Montreal/New Jersey each lose one.
2/26 years were changed, that's it. Only one champion is different. It makes you wonder why they insist on keeping the playoffs so large. Orlando takes the 1995 title away from Houston (the only non-top 4 seed to win in these years).
At first, I thought that MLS didn't have much change. But it turns out that compared to the NHL and especially the NBA, it is quite a bit.
First column = number of years with a difference in the title game if the league had half the playoff teams.
Second column = number of years with a different champion.
I don't think this post covers new ground, because we all know that the MLS playoff system doesn't do enough to reward strong regular seasons. We also know that best of 7 series lead to better teams winning more often. My main goal here was just to see what exactly would've changed.