Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A 16-team model

I recently came across a story on the NFL's offseason rules changes. There were a few changes, though nothing earth shattering. But one area that was not touched was the playoffs. Whatever ideas that were floating out there regarding the NFL playoffs were quickly squashed by the owners, and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said this about the playoffs.

"There’s something to be said about competition at the end of the season, but look at our game against the Giants. Tom Coughlin didn’t hold back and we had something to play for. I do believe if you win a division, it’s good for your fans to know you will have a home game. To win a division, there is a reward and we wanted to keep that.”

I immediately thought about the MLS and their playoff structure. In MLS, each playoff team gets to host a home game, so the bar for MLS is much lower than the bar for the NFL. It's a reward to reach the playoffs but it's somewhat of a punishment for certain clubs once you get there. Results in April and May matter somewhat but it all gets trumped by whatever team has the hot hand in September and October.

So I figured, what system would work in order to make it rewarding for clubs to reach the playoffs and feel good about it. I came up with something that in theory might work but wouldn't if the league is set on reaching 18 teams.

Now, I do feel that a single-table top-six-teams-get-playoffs format would work best, but it's not realistic. MLS officials are bent on Americanizing the sport, that is adding elements fans of other American sports are familiar with such as conferences, divisions, all-star games, playoffs, etc. etc. that you may not see in foreign soccer leagues. The game itself can't and shouldn't be changed (I shudder with the thought of overtime and shootouts) but these other elements can and are modified.

Thus, with a 16-team league, the teams can split up into two conferences the way they are but then could be further divided up into divisions.

Thus, in 2010 the league could look like this:

Pacific Division
Chivas USA
Los Angeles
San Jose

Mountain Division
FC Dallas
Real Salt Lake

Central Division
Kansas City
Toronto FC

Atlantic Division
DC United
New England
New York

In this format, each team would play each division rival four times. Each team from one division would their counterparts in the other division within its conference three times. Thus, Pacific teams would play Mountain teams three times apiece and same for Atlantic and Central teams. Additionally, each team from one conference would play one game against each team from the other conference.

For instance, Colorado would play four games apiece agaist thier divisional rivals, three games apiece against teams from the Pacific Division and one game against each Eastern Conference team. Maybe they host two teams from each division and play away at the other two, or something similar. The season would go back up to 32 games, though. It's the only way I found this to system to work.

As far as the playoffs, the driving force behind this model, the division winners would get a spot. Plus, the best second-place team from each conference would go as well. So if RSL finishes second in their division but has more points than the second-place team in the Pacific, they'd go.
Best team in each conference gets a bye, the other division winner would host the wild card in a one-off conference semifinal match with the winner traveling for the conference final. I think that may make the regular season much more interesting and competitive.

It won't work with 18 teams though. You'd have to either keep it the way it is right now - with two conferences only - or go with one table and the top six or eight get in.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but although I like the theory behind your setup, ultimately it would be a poor idea for the league and fans both. Why? You only have 1 interconference game vs each opponent.

The benefit currently to having season tickets and to going to matches in this league (and only in the NBA as the other example) is that you get to see every team in the league AND, by extension, all of their stars and excellent players. Your setup would inevitably have certain teams not visit certain other teams.

Since you are in LA, I assume you see what this leads to. Can you imagine LA not visiting NY (or any other market) in a season? Or Chicago not visiting Chivas (or any other market)? There's no way the owners would ever approve of this. Plus, the fans would be out in the cold: "Sure you love Beckham/Blanco/Whoever, but they're not coming this year"

The Soccer Source said...

I wouldn't like that set-up either. I really like a single table format or anything close to it.

Anonymous said...

thanks for taking your time to come up with that theory but it's way too complicated/divided IMO.

MLS is already complicated enough.

I understand the European Mode (most points = Champion) is not gonna happen, but I tried to make it even, simple and fair.

2010 with 16 Teams

no extra derbies/foes stuff
no conference split
single table

1 home & 1 away game against each team = 32 games

8 teams with most points enter knockout stage and later aswell CONCACAF Champions League

Quarter Finals - free draw, where the play 1 home & 1 away game.

same for the 1/2 Final (Top 4 teams would then participate additionaly in SuperLiga)

single game Final at predecided location.*

(if it's an all West or all East matchup play it on their coast)

the Finalists would enter the PanPacific Championships on top of it.

why no extra derbies/foes stuff, conference splits and why a single table.

granted derbies are the spice in the soup, but if it's played too often in 1 season it does loose some of it's magic (imagine Barca playing Real 10 times a season in the league)

what if your foe team is a strong/good one for you and an "expansion" or bad team for some other teams...

the free draw ensures that you can't calculate against who you will play and therefore could loose some games in order to get a weaker opponent at the end of the season.

derbies or big match ups would have an extra spicy flavour since nothing was tampered with, influenced to make it happen.

Playoff Spots and all KnockOut stages get rewarded.


Anonymous said...

sorry I meant 30 games a season.


Traveler47 said...

One of the benefits of Luis' model would be the building of divisional rivalries. In other US professional sports, such as the NFL or NBA, I believe these rivalries help drive fan interest and so could further stimulate attendance and support for the team.

The Soccer Source said...

I don't think divisions are needed to foster local rivalries. In fact, in certain instances--if the teams play each other too often--it can minimize the rivalry. Look at the Knicks vs. Nets or Rangers vs. Islanders (or Devils). They play so often it's hardly a big deal anymore. Now compare that to the Yankees and Mets, who meet twice a year but have the biggest rivalry of the aforementioned teams.

Bottom line though, you don't need divisions to foster rivalries. The New York City derby will be huge (if it ever happens, that is if NYC gets a team). Galaxy-Chivas will always be big as well.

Beax Speax said...

I wonder what division Chivas USA will end up in when they get relocated???

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing St.Louis would be a good place to send them to.

just another one of you said...

Luis, isn't this all solved by tying participation in extra tournaments (Superliga, Champions, PanPac, eventually Liber) to the regular season standing, and letting the playoff just be about the cup? By doing that the regular season still has built in rewards outside of playoff seeding.

scaryice said...

Horrible idea. We need fewer divisions, not more. Single table FTW.

AsuntoNica said...

Since MLS wants to include the "American element" into the league, why not have the MLS Cup with the best 8 or 6 teams in a one table format. We would have meaningful games every week, just as in the rest of the world. Just as the current system, the MLS Cup would be as complementary competition. Yes, just as they do in Mexico with the Liguilla.
Implement the away goal rule in the play-offs.
I would also suggest to not reward the mid table teams for a MLS Cup play offs spot. Do the MLS with six teams. Top two get a bye. The other four would play a one game play off. The winners will play with top two in semifinals and winners go to a one game final, just as it is now.
So, we have a league champion and a MLS Cup winner. Oh, we also have a US Open Cup winner, which most probably will be a top six team.
MLS will have to determine who goes to the Champions League, Super Cup and other abroad competions.
Have MLS Cup winner and league champion play each other a week or days before the next season start. Sort of Community Shield in England.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking about some format a few months back that would still be 8 teams, but the top two seeds get a bye into the semis and the 3rd and 4th get byes to the quarters. Seed 5 plays seed 8, S6 plays 7. Winners play seeds 3 and 4. Winners of those rounds play seeds 1 and 2. Rewards the top two finishers by putting them one game from the championship, and one of the lower four seeds actually wins, they do it by having to go through two of the top four teams in the league, which seems fair.

Only problem I have with my plan is that the top seeds have a pretty big gap before their first playoff game (although, with schedule congestion, that may not be such a bad thing...)

toro_SF said...

I've also been thinking about the MLS playoff structure for a while now. Like many (most?) current fans of the MLS, I would much prefer a single table without conferences or divisions. But apparently, the MLS top management are opposed to that, so it may never go anywhere. There may, however, be some other ways to make the regular season league outcome matter more.

I completely agree that spots in Superliga or the new Champion's League should be awarded on the basis of regular season performance, and not to the top finishers in the MLS Cup postseason. Last year, Chivas and D.C. United deserved to have gotten something for their regular season accomplishments.

Another idea I had was to move the MLS Cup competition to the following year to be played at the same time the regular league competition is going on. Isn't that what UEFA does with the Champion's League and UEFA Cup competitions? Each year's participants would qualify on the basis of their league performance from the previous year. That would put much more of a spotlight on the regular season finish.

Moving the playoffs to the next season would also allow enough time on the calendar for home and away ties for the semifinals as well as the quarterfinals, another big beef of mine. Last year, both Fire and Wizards deserved another chance at home in the semifinals to try and come back from tough away losses.

Beax Speax said...

toro sf...how do you know 'most MLS fans' want a single table? Have you conducted a definitive survey?