Commentary: Playoffs need to be more exclusive

jlembo@bradenton.comJanuary 21, 2011 

I’m still not a fan of the prep playoffs down here.

Well, I shouldn’t say that -- I enjoy the playoffs, especially when it gets deep into the postseason and it’s the best of the best.

I’m just not in love with the set-up. It deserves to be tweaked. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, the playoffs should be a privilege -- not an open-invite party, especially when you are talking about the district bracket.

Having seen my share of blowouts involving a tournament’s top seed and its eighth seed, I am all for a shorter, more streamlined affair, one with better competition.

For those not in the know, here’s how it currently works: Everyone makes the district playoffs, and teams are seeded based on their record against district foes during the regular season.

(Some college basketball conferences do this too, I know -- though I understand that even less.)

It sounds fair and just, and it guarantees everyone, regardless of how good they are, one more game.

It also waters down the regular season and makes for long and occasionally boring tournaments.

I had a coach tell me once that in Florida, the regular season is like an extended practice.

And he was right.

Teams can spend the entire regular season -- which lasts about three months -- tinkering and experimenting, all the while knowing that the playoffs are waiting at the end of the schedule.

I have no problem with a coach looking to make his players better -- it just sucks all the drama out of the regular season.

It also leads to some one-sided first-round games, too, where the mercy-rule is occasionally invoked. And the games don’t serve much of a purpose. The bleachers are usually empty, so there isn’t much money to be made. And it can hurt the top seed, too, especially in an eight-team district, where the No. 1 seed has to win as many games as the No. 8 seed in order to win the district.

Doesn’t matter that one team was seven wins better than another during the regular season. In the playoffs, everyone starts from scratch, the exception being a district with an odd number of teams, resulting in No. 1 getting a bye.

How do we fix this? Simple -- these teams have to make the playoffs.

Eight-team district? Four teams move on.

Six-team district? Three teams move on, top seed gets an automatic trip to the finals and the regional playoffs.

Three-team district? Top two teams play for the district title and No. 3 stays home.

Now we get a better regular season and better district tournaments. Now all the games mean something. And now how well you play for three months dictates how hard you have to work to make regionals.

Until then, we’re just talking about practice.

John Lembo, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2097.

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