Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Playoff Schedule Nightmare

Well, the playoffs are here with us again. That means several precious idiocies thrust upon us for yet another October. TV is in the middle of it, of course. I'll have to explain each item first before I put them together to make my point. Bear with me.

The first idiocy is the homefield advantage brainchild. Another NFL lightbulb. The three division winners in each league are ranked or seeded for the playoffs based on their final records. Home field advantage for each series played is based on a combination of these records and the teams that are remaining (for the LCS). If two teams tie with the same record, NFL type tie-breakers are enforced.

The second idiocy is the TV ratings-based time slots for all playoff games. The top ratings draw team matchups are placed in the top TV time slots. Of course this just guarantees the Yankees the lion's share of prime time, and should I say, sensible, time slots. Eight-oh-five Eastern time is not too different from their normal 7:35 starts. The ratings bottom dwellers have to painfully endure late night games after early day games and West coast twighlight finishes. Not only that, but as each of the ongoing playoff series are concluded, time slots are re-shuffled based on the remaining matchups' ratings potentials. Teams may have no idea when they're playing their next games.

The results of all this? If a high seed TV slot series has a chance of finishing their series early due to a 3-0 sweep, the other series can move up only if that series actually ends. I remember a situation where the top TV seed had the prime time slot (late game, East Coast time) with a chance to end their series that night. Another team would play their game either at 1pm or 7pm the next day, depending on the outcome of the late game in the other league. The late game went extra innings and didn't end until after midnight. So the fans and teams in the time-to-be-announced game went to bed that night not even knowing the time of their game the next day. If you're a fan with a job and you have tickets, you're screwed. Just tell your boss you'll be taking the entire month of October on flex time.

With the homefield advantage pecking order combined with last-minute playoff spot clinches during the last weekend of the season (many times on the last day of the season), and all contending teams jockeying for position, ticket holding fans (season ticket holders are forced to buy tickets in "strip" format, that is, all possible games that can be played at the time of purchase) may not even know until Sunday afternoon who or even if they'll be playing on Tuesday, and even whether the game is at home or on the road, and even the time. The LCS is the same way. If you're a non-homefield advantage division winner, you'll either host games 3, 4 and 5 or 1, 2, 6 and 7 depending on whether the HFA or lower seed team wins.

In 2003, Giants fans found out at the last minute that they would host mid-week day games against Florida in games 1 and 2 of the division series. Not an easy ticket to use or sell even for a team that sells out its entire season. I remember seeing front row seats next to the 3rd base dugout for sale on eBay at face value on the day of the game... with NO offers. I woulda gone, cept'n I hadda work.

Baseball's nightmaringly complex playoff bowl of spaghetti makes it very difficult for fans to plan to go to games. No wonder few LDS games sell out. Baseball's post season used to be very simple and orderly. LCS series alternated home field advantage each year, East one year, West the next. The ALCS started on Tuesday one year, Wednesday the next with the NLCS the opposite. The World Series alternated from AL to NL, year to year. It used to be that a fan could say, "three years from now, game 3 of the NLCS will be in the Eastern city on Friday" or something similar. Now, only God knows.

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