Baseball Considers Expanding Its Playoff Field
As it looks to expand its audience, Major League Baseball is considering not only expanding the playoffs, beginning in 2022, but also adding a novel element: allowing some teams to choose their opponent.
Under the proposal, confirmed by a person with direct knowledge of it, 14 of the 30 major league teams would make the playoffs, up from 10.
Major League Baseball, like many other sports leagues, is concerned about appealing to younger audiences, and shaking up the playoffs might do that. The N.B.A. has also considered tinkering with its playoffs and adding a midseason tournament.
The expanded baseball playoffs would bring the sport closer in line to many other major North American leagues, which tend to admit about half of their teams to the playoffs: The N.B.A. playoffs consist of 16 of the 30 teams, the N.H.L. 16 of 31 and M.L.S. 14 of 26. The N.F.L. admits a smaller percentage of teams, 12 of 32.
The baseball proposal, first reported in The New York Post, is one of several being considered; no final decision has been made.
Under the proposal, the American and National League would each have three division winners and four wild-card teams. The division winner with the best record in each league would get a bye.
At this point, the proposal’s most novel element would kick in. The division winners with the second-best records would be allowed to choose their opponents from among the three lowest-ranked wild-card teams. Then the third division winner would get a choice of two possible opponents. The highest-ranked wild-card team would host whichever wild-card team remains.
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The selection show could be a made-for-TV event with managers or general managers making their choices live.
Choosing one’s opponent is not a new idea in world sport: It has been tried in Swedish hockey and English rugby, for example. Many times the teams getting a choice have made the safe pick and taken the lowest possible seed, perhaps not wanting to be second-guessed or to fire up an opponent by picking it out of order.
Under this proposal, the six first-round matchups would be best-of-three games, and the team with the better record would host all three games. That would mean an end to the winner-take-all wild-card games that have been faulted by some fans as an unfair way to decide a team’s season after 162 games.
Had the proposal been in place last season, the Indians, the Red Sox, the Mets and the Diamondbacks would also have made the playoffs.
As with all changes to baseball’s rules, the proposal would have to be agreed to by the players’ union.
“Expanding the playoffs in a sensible way is something worth discussing when part of a much more comprehensive conversation about the current state of our game,” Tony Clark, the president of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said.
For decades, baseball allowed only two teams into the postseason, the American and National League champions, who met in the World Series. In 1969, the playoffs were expanded to four teams, and in 1994 to eight. The most recent expansion, to 10 teams, came in 2012.