Rumored new playoff system is too complicated and creates meaningless matches

MLS apparently has a fancy new plan for the playoffs:
To its credit, this system solves some problems including the lack of real advantage for the Supporters Shield winner and winner of the other division – fair enough. It also helps build more conference rivalry by keeping the divisions “intact” up until the final.

And before I get to trashing it, let me just say, I could live with this solution. But here’s what’s wrong with it:

  • It’s too long. Monster gets this right in his post where he says, “you’re adding a date at a time when people want FIFA dates to be cleared. That won’t be accomplished by making the post season longer.”
  • Two playoff teams would end up without a home match. From a competition point-of-view, this is acceptable, but financially, I suspect it wouldn’t be. I think it’s telling that only the NFL (with its many revenue streams other than the gate) has a system where a team would not host a single game after qualifying for the playoffs. I suspect MLS owners would want a home date as a reward for making the playoffs too.
  • There are many good reasons why “pre-selected” site finals make sense, even if it leads to occasionally crummy crowds. It makes every single thing other than the match on the field easier – from the sponsor banquets and get-togethers, to fan travel and accommodations, to the pre-game and halftime shows where MLS likes to show off a bit of pizazz. I suspect much of that would have to be scaled back vastly.
  • It’s just too complicated. I want a system that can be explained in three sentences or less. We’ve been through too many systems that require a white board and a process diagram to explain.
  • Only MLS could come up with a playoff system that creates meaningless matches. This system does that.

Yet again, I present to you my solution, cribbed from Jeff Bradley’s long-standing plan for the playoffs.

Six teams total in playoffs:

  • Division/Conference winners get byes into second round…
  • Next best four teams play aggregate goal first-round series to get to second round (conference finals)
  • Second round (conference finals) are one-game at higher seed
  • Single game final, neutral site works better for commercial aspects like sponsor soirees, etc.

Here’s why it works:

  • Gives teams real incentive to win conference/division in order to get the bye AND a home match
  • Gives each and every playoff team a home match to sell
  • Gets percentage of teams making playoffs down to a more reasonable level and creates a better playoff race towards end of regular season
  • Could work with almost any divisional setup or a single table. How you get those next four teams is flexible. It could be the next best two in each division or it could just be the next four teams regardless of division. It doesn’t really matter.
  • It’s easy to market and potentially to schedule be cause there are no games “as necessary.”
  • It’s simple. It can be explained in 2-3 sentences without a slide-rule or a spreadsheet.

I get the sense that this group phase idea solves many of the problems the “Bradley/Stollar” plan solves, but while keeping the playoff team number at eight, which appears to be a big priority for someone right now. The Bradley/Stollar System is a far simpler, more elegant solution.


21 thoughts on “Rumored new playoff system is too complicated and creates meaningless matches

  1. I would really rather just have a single table, with the top 8 making the playoffs. This is an awful idea, IMO.

  2. Although after reading over Aaron’s six-team proposal, I like that too. Though I’d rather keep the 8 teams, especially since we’re going to have 18 and probably more in the next few years.

  3. Group phases are silly. Here:
    per conference:
    -1st round: 3rd hosts 4th on Wed. after last week of regular season.
    -1/4 finals: 2nd hosts winner on Sat.
    -semifinals: 1st hosts winner on Sat.
    -final: Winners on Sunday

  4. A single table top six would work, but just make it all single elimination.

    However, with 20 teams almost upon us, just keep it as top 8, current system, or even better, top four per conf, no wildcards jumping from East to West or vice versa. Once you get to 18 clubs that top four out of 9 per conf is fine.

  5. This looks like the same system that’s used at the World Cup, the European Championships, the Confederations Cup and, I think, all the other continental championships. I don’t understand what you consider so complicated about it (and why you think only MLS could come up with it).

    Three sentences: In the group stage, the first four teams in the East and the first four teams in the West play round-robins. In the semifinals, the winner of each group plays the runnerup of the other group. In the final, the two semifinal winners play each other.

  6. I’m a fan of the Page playoff system, myself (but that’s my curling coming out). The way it works for a 4 team playoff (say the Eastern Conference).

    1st round- 2@1 and 4@3 (Yes this is correct)
    Winner of 1v2 game goes straight to the final

    2nd round- Loser of 1v2 vs winner of 3v4 (I’d rather the winner of 3v4 get this game, but whatever)

    3rd round- Winner of 2nd round game @ winner of the 1st round game.

  7. This system leaves money on the table which absolutely means that the BOG has no plans for doing this whatsover. Also, this system has already been bandied about on BigSoccer, which means this rumor is nothing more than a fanboys wet dream posted on a blog.

    Also, the problem with giving byes to the conference winners in a six team set-up is that those teams either have to be off for two weeks OR the first legs of the first round must be midweek (thus killing lead time to sell tickets) OR the first round would have to be a single match. Any one of those reasons kill byes in the playoffs.

  8. This is a very interesting rumor and I thought your summary of it was well written.

    I would hate this system if it meant lengthening the season, but I also don’t see the league reducing the number of regular season games to compensate for the additional time it would take to complete this new cup tournament.

    I do like the basic idea of a round-robin opening round; making it more like a regular cup tournament; and I very much like the idea of keeping the conferences intact.

  9. Yes, conferences have to stay intact, otherwise you eliminate the very rationale for having playoffs in the first place.

    So long as MLS wants to have playoffs, MLS has to have conferences.

    As for the notion that this new proposal is too complicated: I just don’t see it. It seems pretty cut-and-dried to me: The regular season ends, and MLS stages a tournament. The MLS Cup truly becomes a cup competition.

  10. Well said, and it seems there is also no “bleeding” of conferences either, in other words it is a straight “top 4” of each conference, which I like better. It also ensures you only play your conference in the round-robin tournament, which I also like.

    American sports require regions/conferences to help combat extensive travel and develop regional rivalries in such a vast country. England doesn’t have this problem, but we certainly do and I think conferences help soothe the issue.

  11. Too complicated? Please. Adding a week or two to the schedule is problematic, clearly, but let’s not write off this idea, or previous ones, as too complicated. No MLS play-off system has ever been the least bit difficult to explain.

    Besides, how is the World Cup so popular? It’s system is no more complex.

  12. Conferences in MLS do almost nothing for travel. That is a myth. Every team in the league is playing every other team twice — then one or two conference teams a third game? How can that matter at all?

    Having said that, I’m fine with conferences.

  13. i think a neutral final site is a dumb idea…say my team finally makes it to the final and im in new york and the game is in la…id rather look for fan appreciation then the league lookin for an extra buck

  14. I generally don’t like the MLS Cup system at all. I think it extends the season to the point that it’s too long. The one benefit that it brings however is an element of the promotion / relegation battle though.

  15. Sounds interesting; but for me, I like the immediacy of the single-elimination.

    And I’m coming around to the idea of one of the teams hosting the final instead of playing at neutral sites.

  16. Well, really, I can just stop reading right there, can’t I?

    I mean seriously, MLS is not going to reduce the number of teams in the playoffs. In fact, I doubt there’s been even one example of a stable or growing league that has slashed its number of playoff teams.

  17. You mean like last year? When over 1,000 New Yorkers made it to LA?

    Yea. Somehow, I don’t think the diehards are going to be too affected. Maybe they should focus more on the middle of the country so it’s easier for both teams to travel (e.g. Utah, Colorado, Columbus, Shitcago, Houston, when they get their new stadium, Dallas, etc.).

  18. I like the idea, including the idea of the team with the better record hosting the games. I think all soccer fans (including the casual ones) are used to the round robin format because of the World Cup.

    I doubt this will happen though. It almost makes too much sense.

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