Muller: The NBA Playoff Format Needs Changing
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By Shawn Muller–
CHICAGO (CBS) – If there is one thing I hate about the playoffs–be it the NBA, NFL, or NHL–it is when a team with a losing record makes it in, while a team from the opposite conference–with a winning record–has to stay home.
I’m sorry, but I just can’t stand seeing horrible teams being rewarded for their mediocre seasons by going to the playoffs, while a team with a winning record is punished for playing in a tougher conference.
It has happened in every major pro sport at one time or another: the Seattle Seahawks (7-9) in the NFL last season, the Minnesota North Stars (27-39-14) made the 90-91 NHL Playoffs, and even the Kansas City Royals (50-53) made the 1981 MLB playoffs in a strike shortened year. For these three leagues, however, it is definitely the exception rather than the rule.
The NBA, on the other hand, is quite the opposite…especially for the past ten seasons.
In the past 10 years, the NBA has had at least one team make the playoffs (all in the Eastern Conference) with a losing record. Twice during this time frame (in the 2003-04 season and again in 2007-08), have two teams from the East qualified for the playoffs with losing records.
Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer to keep the NBA playoff system the way it is. I like the tradition of the way it is set up now, but if there are teams that are getting in to the playoffs by default–and not by actual play on the court–then there must be a way to tweak the system a little bit, right?
Sure there is. And here is my solution:
Base Seeding on Overall Record, Not “Conference” Record
It is a pretty simple concept really. The “East”/”West” designation goes out the window come playoff time. Best record in the NBA gets the top seed overall and down the line you go until you reach the 16th and final playoff spot.
Initially, I was leaning towards rewarding the division winners with the top six seeds, but then I realized that having divisions is pretty stupid anyway. In an 82-game schedule, teams only play their division foes 16 times.
I mean really…what does being the division champion actually mean, anyway? It doesn’t get you a better overall seed in the playoffs. Take the Bulls this season, for example. Is it really that big of a deal that they won the Central Division? Sure it is an “accomplishment”–I guess–but it didn’t take much to be the best when Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Indiana, are all garbage.
Not only do teams barely play their division rivals, they barely even play their conference rivals. 30 regular season games are out of conference already, leaving 52 games in conference to fill out the remainder of the schedule.
That is hardly a huge scheduling discrepancy.
I say even out the schedule so that teams play 41 games against their “conference,” play 41 games out of “conference,” get rid of the divisions all together, and just use the “Eastern Conference” and the “Western Conference” (or however the league wants to do this)…strictly for formality purposes.
Of course, the traditionalists would argue that the playoffs need to be the way that they are because some people just like the way things are set up, and can’t stand the thought of change.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love traditions as much as the next person, but when teams are making the playoffs with a losing record more often than not–and doing so for the better part of a decade–isn’t it time to
re-evaluate the way things are set up?
The point of the playoffs is to have the best teams the league has to offer, play for the chance of winning the NBA title. Basing the playoffs on overall record would make the playoffs much more exciting in the first round than they are right now (yes, I know eight-seeds have beaten one-seeds before). Not only that, but I–and I am sure many others–would much rather see teams earn a trip to the playoffs…not by default.
How much fun would it be as a Bulls fan, to see Chicago play the Houston Rockets in round one, as opposed to an Indiana Pacers team that will most likely end the regular season eight games below .500? If they playoffs were set up the way I proposed, this would be the reality. To make it even better, the Bulls would then play the winner of the Oklahoma City vs. Portland matchup in round two, followed by either Miami or Boston in the semi-finals. Now those would be some entertaining matchups.
The nice thing for the traditionalists out there, is that Chicago could potentially still end up playing an Eastern Conference foe for a chance to go to the NBA Finals using a new playoff format?
And, what’s this?
Looking at the other side of the bracket, it appears that the San Antonio Spurs would likely end up facing either the Lakers or Dallas to earn a spot in the Finals?
I would easily sacrifice a guaranteed East-West matchup in the Final using the current format, for a different one that guarantees no losing team will make the playoffs unless it is absolutely necessary.
Do you agree with Shawn? Post your comments below.
Shawn Muller has lived in the great city of Chicago for 7 years. He is a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, in October of 2010, Shawn received his certificate in radio broadcasting. In his free time, Shawn enjoys spending time with his wife Melissa and 3 year old daughter Ava, catching any live sporting event, and traveling. Check out his radio show, Grab Some Bench with Muller and Bangser” every Thursday night at 8:30 P.M., at www.blogtalkradio.com/spmuller24.