With the end of the National Football League lockout, the public is locked in to football now more than ever. Last week, a record 107.4 million people watched the season’s first weekend of games, and every day the headlines on popular sports news programs are about football.

Oftentimes, come August and September, people forget to pay attention to the twilight of Major League Baseball’s regular season. While interest picks up again with the playoffs in October, football consumes the average sports fan, who was following baseball when it was the only sport going on during the summer.

So, what does MLB need to do to captivate interest?

With 162 games during the year, it’s easy for the league’s best to pull away from the competition by the end of the season. As of today, not a single divisional gap is within 4.5 games, and the only recognizable race is a two-game difference between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays for the American League’s wild card spot.

Unlike the NFL, teams teetering around .500 rarely have any shot to make the playoffs. While we undoubtedly want the best teams to fight for championships, we would rather have our own teams win and have a chance for a title.

Adding more playoff teams, therefore, would not only increase the casual fan’s interest, but it would also enable more teams to be in contention at the end of the year, maintaining further interest in contending cities.

Additionally, increasing the number of playoff teams would bring greater parity to the league, on several levels. With more teams in the playoffs, more teams have a chance to win and there is greater potential for a traditional bottom-feeder to break through.

The Rays, for instance, have emerged as the prototype for small-market clubs — they win while keeping payroll down through scouting and player development.

Unfortunately for Tampa, they play in the ever-contentious American League East with two of the most popular and best-funded organizations in the sport, the aforementioned Red Sox and the New York Yankees. With their history and money comes the ability to lure top free agents every season, offering both huge paydays and consistent, realistic chances to win.

So the Rays’ margin for error is next to nothing. Every year General Manager Andrew Friedman cannot afford to keep players and often has to get lucky with players coming off of down years or injuries. With more playoff teams, that margin for error would expand along with their title chances.

As more teams make the playoffs, it not only means greater revenue for low-to-mid market clubs, but it can also increase their chances to acquire top free agents. Although players often seek top-dollar value on the market, winning is still an incentive. If I were Prince Fielder, I’d be less inclined to join a team like the Toronto Blue Jays or Washington Nationals because of the strength of their divisions year in and year out, but add more playoff teams and I may be convinced.

A major question about expanding the playoffs, however, would be how much? The NBA’s 16 playoff teams (more than half the league) are too numerous, often resulting in sub-.500 teams squeaking into the playoffs.

The NFL’s system, however, works well with six squads from each conference who make it. But that may not work for baseball. In order for a playoff system with 12 teams to work, four teams must have first-week byes so that eight squads would play the first weekend. In the NFL it’s advantageous for teams to get byes for resting and healing, but in baseball, where timing and consistency are paramount, a first-round bye may be detrimental.

At the end of the day, though, baseball must make a change. Football continues to gain greater popularity and although baseball can’t replace it, it can certainly be of greater relevance to sports fans. Increasing the number of playoff teams would increase interest across the nation and may even make for a more compelling October.

Preston Barclay is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. Turning Two in the 202 appears every Tuesday.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *