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Owens: Why baseball needs playoff expansion

Andrew Owens | Wednesday, September 7, 2011

This is the third of a new Observer feature. A series of 10 Observer sportswriters will have columns appear in this space on a bi-weekly rotation. Hopefully some of these writers will grab your attention, and you’ll know when and where to find more of their thoughts.

Even though I am 40 years younger than the average baseball purist, I am typically old-fashioned when it comes to rule changes for the national pastime.

I’m in favor of reducing the amount of interleague play each season.

I cringe every time I think about how the All-Star Game determines home field advantage in the World Series.

I want the designated hitter to be abolished.

So naturally I was not happy when the first murmurs surfaced a year ago that baseball was considering expanding the postseason to 10 teams. How could they water down something so special? Over half the league qualifies in both the NBA and NHL, where you are not required to finish .500 to qualify, and the NFL is only a little better, with 12 of 32 teams making the playoffs.

But baseball only gives eight of its 30 teams a ticket to October, making it by far the most difficult sport to snag a coveted berth in the postseason. Why screw it up for any reason not involving money?

Simply put, baseball needs the change.

Seven years ago, the Red Sox and Yankees competed in one of the most famous series in baseball history, when Boston exorcised their October demons and came back from a 3-0 deficit to top New York and, eventually, win the World Series in a sweep over the Cardinals.

Since then, it seems like the best rivalry in sports has gotten stale. Few outside those two cities even are much about it anymore. Honestly, even those two rabid fan bases have mellowed in their hatred of each other during the past few years.

An expanded postseason would fix this.

Right now, the Red Sox and Yankees are competing in one of the two closest divisional races in baseball, but nobody is paying attention because the loser of the American League East already has a wildcard spot waiting for them.

If a fifth playoff team were added to both leagues, the two wild card teams should compete in a one-game playoff to determine who advances to the League Championship Series.

After all, the only thing that rivals the excitement of a Game 7 is a one-game playoff, and this system would ensure at least two such matchups per season.

The Red Sox-Yankees battle would be intriguing right now if the teams knew the second place team would have to win a one-game playoff to survive, while the division champion would have home field advantage in a best-of-five series. That’s a big difference right there — a big enough difference to bring relevance back to the best rivalry in sports.

Under such a format in 2011, the Rays and Angels would be neck-and-neck for the fifth playoff spot in the American League and the defending World Series champion Giants and Cardinals would be fighting for the final National League berth. All of those teams are playoff-quality and would not dilute the postseason.

Now it’s up to Bud Selig and the owners to adopt this format — a format even purists can embrace.

Andrew Owens is a junior who is hoping to see the Tigers win the World Series  once in his lifetime. He can be reached at aowens2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.