Wednesday, 03 August 2011 16:11

Opinion: WMBL needs to change playoff format

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By Chris Jaster — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Yet another flaw in the Western Major Baseball League’s organization has been exposed and, once again, the Swift Current Indians suffered because of it.

Last season, the league’s administration did not look good when it did not have any representatives from its front office nor the championship trophy present at Currie Field when Indians won the 2010 league title in Regina.

During the offseason, the league decided to become a college league, which virtually eliminates the value of local players, which the Indians have used for as long as they have been around.

This season, the Indians did not receive home-field advantage for the first round of the WMBL playoffs despite being a division champion and one of four teams with a winning record. There were four playoff series in the first round.

According to league rules, the Central Division champion plays its playoffs in the division — east or west — that has the weaker first place team. The apparent logic must be that it gives the Central Division champ the best opportunity to appear in the championship series.

That logic, however, has a massive flaw that was exposed in the 2011 regular season. Regina, having played fewer games due to the unbalanced schedule as the West Division teams play more games to earn more gate revenue, had the best record in the league this season at 32-10, a .762 winning percentage.

Okotoks, which won the West Division crown, finished in second with a 34-12 record, a .739 winning percentage.

Based on the rule, Swift Current participated in the West Division playoffs.

Medicine Hat, however, had a superior record to Swift Current’s 25-15 mark. That meant the Mavericks had home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs while Swift Current did not.

Meanwhile, out east, the Melville Millionaires received home field advantage despite sporting a sub-.500 record, like every other team in the East Division other than Regina.

That, clearly, is not fair to punish a stronger team because of an asinine rule.

This offseason, the WMBL needs to take a good, long look at their playoff structure.

Instead of looking at how the first-place team did in each division, perhaps the Central Division champion could play in the playoffs in the division with the weaker second-place team.

That should assure the Central Division champ a fairer chance to host a playoff series. It may, however, be a disadvantage if the Central Division champion is the best team in the league, like the Indians were last season.

Another possible solution would be to allow the Central Division champion the opportunity to pick whether it wants to play in the West Division playoffs or the East Division playoffs. That solution, however, may give too much of an advantage to the Central Division champions and not be fair to the other teams.

The most logical solution, of course, is to look at the NHL or NBA for how it handles three-division conferences. Why can’t the WMBL rank the teams one through eight and give each division champion home advantage in the first round? Personally, I’d prefer the NBA approach where if a team has a superior record than a division champion, then the division champ gets the four seed while the better team is the third seed. The soft bracket used in the NHL during the playoffs, however, makes more sense for the WMBL during the playoffs.

Under this format, eight teams will still make the playoffs and it’s fair to all the teams in the league, even though they play unbalanced schedules.

The only downside to this is the amount of travel needed for those series. There is a common complaint, however, that the season is too long as it is, so this is an opportunity for the WMBL to shorten the regular season and re-instate the importance of the playoffs.

Let’s not forget last year’s championship series became a best-of-three from a best-of-five because of time constraints and in 2009 the final ended in a 1-1 series tie so the league declared co-champions.

The WMBL needs to take a good long look at fixing this playoff issue this offseason.

It clearly isn’t fair and gave a huge advantage to Regina this post-season. If something isn’t done, then it will just be yet another mistake made by league officials who have been plagued by problems, poor organizations and massive amounts of criticism for the last three seasons.

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