Playoffs?!

So I'm watching Dora the Explorer, and she's got a soccer team called the "Golden Explorers" made up of various funny animals. So it's the part of the show where she's bossing the viewers around, right, and she tells us to tell Benny the Bull to pass to Izzy the Iguana. And Izzy is MILES offside. And I'm screaming at the TV, "NO! DORA! DON'T!" But he does anyway! Why did she even bother to ask me? And how are we supposed to teach children the beautiful game if we can't even get the offside rule right?

So, how about that MLS playoff structure? For those of you who haven't read the press release, a helpful chart is provided here. I see a pretty butterfly. ("Watchmen" reference.)

Predictably, the new format has been met with a chorus of boos, catcalls, oaths, and curses. Primarily because the new format deserves boos, catcalls, oaths and curses. I too thought we would finally have fewer than 50% of the league make the playoffs.

The real tragedy is what was kept - and I mean tragedy in its original sense, people in masks killing their fathers, marrying their mothers and blinding themselves in poem form. The stupid two-leg quarterfinals were kept. The concept of the play-in games might be as stomach churning as a bacon, lettuce and tapeworm sandwich, but at least it's a one-off. It's the home-and-home that is sapping this nation's moral fiber.

Then get rid of home-and-home.

You probably have heard of "Scorecasting" by now, and its illuminating discussions on home field advantage. MLS clocks in at a staggering near-70% home field advantage...which the league immediately discards for the playoffs. If the league was serious about giving better teams a leg up, it would let them stay home and have the benefit of referee biases.

So not only is the league annoying the people who believe soccer and playoffs go together like a kosher shrimp salad, they're reducing people who actually like playoffs to babbling incoherency.

Again - the league went out of their way to do this. An eight team playoff makes mathematical sense. Ten teams is a pain in the ass to schedule and bracket.

Let's assume for a moment that the people who are growing a soccer league ITTET are not, in fact, morons.

Unless you truly believe that MLS is being completely improvised day to day, then presumably the league has kept the playoff teams at over 50% for a reason. I think we can go ahead and assume the reason isn't because it pisses us off.

Because, really, what are we going to do? Boycott the playoffs?

But why 50%? Why not 75% or more, the way it was back in 1996?

Probably the same reason that NBA and NHL playoffs keep hovering around that total, despite annual complaints about the ennui of their regular seasons. It makes more money that way.

Ideally, those sports could simply sell the joy of watching professionals play an exciting game...but apparently that boat has sailed and sank. People will watch good teams play because good teams tend to be fun to watch, so playoff tension isn't needed until the actual playoffs. Winning day in and day out is entertaining, which is why people watch the Globetrotters and not the Generals. Even though there's no way that, for example, the Los Angeles Lakers will miss the playoffs, and there's pretty much zero tension for months at a time. Yet people still pay to see them half-ass it until the real season starts.

God, I hate the Lakers. But untold millions don't, and are willing to put up with their nonsense, is the point.

But what about your mediocre also-ran bucket of shaving cream? They're not as much fun to watch, since generally losing half the time, or more, gets tedious.

Well, thanks to the miracle of playoffs, your Milwaukee Bucks have something to play for. Four games out of the playoffs is a lot easier to sell than nineteen games out of first place.

So why not let everyone in? Well, if you stink enough, losing three out of four is enough of a bummer that even fake playoff tension isn't enough to get people out to the arena or stadium.

But this is where our friend parity works its magic. I used to think parity and playoffs cancelled each other out...but with enough parity, even your fourteenth place pile of dog**** New York Islanders can hope for the postseason.

So you have good teams selling tickets to see quality play, maybe with some drama about who gets home field advantage in the playoffs (offer not available in MLS). You have mediocre teams really, really playing hard, because they might slip into the real season - hell, how many teams bill the end of their disappointing regular seasons with "this is our playoff game"?

And for bad teams...well, they can sell tickets to see good teams when they come to town. This, by the way, is not a trivial consideration. It's how the Los Angeles Clippers stay in business.

God, I hate the Clippers even more than I hate the Lakers. But this is why perennially crummy teams, and their fans, don't demand relegation for excitement. Their excitement comes from maybe beating a rival, maybe watching a real team come in with players worth watching, maybe booing their incompetent coach, and maybe, just maybe, hoping next year will be better.

Still unhappy? Well, you've got an uphill battle. If you want the playoff field smaller, you have the examples of baseball and football...but the league needs to draw the kind of numbers to justify trimming the playoffs to match those leagues' percentages.

Ideally, everyone would be like you and me - a happy, fired-up capital-S Supporter who lives and breathes the team and the camaraderie of your fellow capital-S Supporters, most of them anyway. You go to the game because watching them lose is more fun than not watching them at all, and watching them win is the funnest thing ever.

Well, there might well be dozens like us throughout this great nation, but it's gonna be a minute before we have enough to float a league upon.

As far as ditching playoffs entirely - forget it. The Packers and Giants, like the Rapids, were low seeds who made good, and they are unanimously considered rightful champions. The NFL has had playoffs since 1934, and good luck telling them to go back to the good old days of the Great Depression. Baseball had a tradition of pennant winners first, everyone else nowhere - but today they do not. I'm going to venture a guess that they make more money with playoffs than without.

Even anti-MLS must have its American-style playoffs, even if they use European innovations like aggregate goals and fascism and mayonnaise on chips. One wonders who NASL fans would want promoted to MLS, the regular season winner or the playoff champion.

(The answer, sadly, is "the richest," but that's another tale.)

So weep not that ten teams out of eighteen make the playoffs - be grateful that it's not sixteen. You KNOW they considered it.