Category Archives: playoffs

You kidding me? Playoffs?

The Washington Football Team ended the 20-21 season with a 7-9 record.  Normally, this means an early start to the off-season. But Washington will host a playoff game. 7-9 was good enough to win the pitiful NFC East this year, and so not only does Washington make the playoffs, they also, as division winners, host the 11-5 Tampa Bay Bucs in the Wild Card Round.

This doesn’t happen too often. The Carolina Panthers won their division and made the playoffs in 2014 with a 7-8-1 record and the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West in 2010 with a 7-9 record. Both went on to win their Wild Card games and lose in the Divisional round. (The strike shortened season in 1982 also had teams with losing records in the playoffs.)

On one hand, there is no basis for an objection. The conditions for qualifying for the playoffs are set prior to the season and a winning record is not a condition for winning the division. The division winners make the postseason and host the game.

On the other hand, this just seems wrong. The postseason is supposed to be a tournament of the best teams in the league to determine the champion. Shouldn’t a winning record be a pre-condition for qualifying? Isn’t this unfair to teams with better records who don’t make the playoffs?

This year is not as egregious as previous years. In 2010 while Seattle hosted a playoff game, the Giants and the Bucs stayed home, both with 10-6 records. In 2014, Philadelphia had a 10-6 record but didn’t make the playoffs. This year, of the teams not making the playoffs, only the Arizona Cardinals have a better record. But at 8-8, they also failed to have a winning record.

Given the way the NFL schedules its games, there is a case to be made for the way the NFL does things regarding the playoff qualifications. If each team played each other at least once, then the Eagles, Bucs, and Giants would have a better case. But with the unbalanced schedules, the divisional structure, and the fact that some teams do not play each other in a given season, what is ‘fair’ here gets very murky very quickly.

Still, I’d favor adding some kind of rule that requires all playoff teams to have winning record (and maybe allow for .500 teams) and only allow a team with a losing record in when no teams with winning records remain. The team with the best record (or tiebreakers) that otherwise didn’t make the playoffs would get the playoff spot instead. The teams would be re-seeded with this newly qualifying team being the lowest seed.

For example, under a rule of this sort, in 2010, Seattle wouldn’t have made the playoffs. Instead the Giants would have qualified (based on tie-breakers). They would have then been the sixth seed.

Maybe this wouldn’t work or would introduce other problems. Still, at the very least, the team with the losing record shouldn’t be able to host the playoff game. That’s just embarrassing.

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Filed under Football, NFL, playoffs

Leicester City Semantics: Upset? Champion?

(With the end of the semester overload, I didn’t get to write this up last week, so here it is this week.)

jamie-vardy3_35303_3551503bLeicester City winning the Premier League is very cool. I think it’s great for soccer/football. It’s great for the EPL. It weakens the claim that money = wins in sports. It is an inspiration to witness the achievement of a team that had to battle up from the lower divisions and then stare down regulation last season. And they were a fun team to watch. Jamie Vardy is a little crazy, but an exciting player to watch play.

And as every commentator from here to Mars has pointed out, the Foxes were 5000 to 1 to win the league at the start of the EPL season. And their championship is being hailed in the media as the greatest upset in sports history. Upset?? Don’t make me go all Inigo Montoya on you all.

It’s an amazing feat. It’s unheralded. It’s a “Cinderella” story even. But “upset”? No.

Leicester were in first place for the last third of the season, and despite a few slips here or there, they’ve pretty much been top of the table since November. They were in the top 5 wire to wire.  By January, the odds of the Foxes winning had come down from 5000 to 1 to 8 to 1 and by February they were one of the favorites, if not the favorite, to win the league.

I am not sure how a team that is one of the favorites to win becomes the greatest upset of all times.

As in so many things, this turns on what we mean by “upset”. I take an upset to refer to a situation when the unexpected team/player wins; when the team or player that is not supposed to win, that is not favored to win, wins.

This doesn’t seem to apply to Leicester City after January. From that point to the end of the season, Leicester was top of the table and one of the favorites. So they were not unexpected, not the underdog.

Sure, back in August Leicester was not expected to win, they were not supposed to win, they were certainly not favored for anything but regulation. That is part of what makes their championship so amazing and historic. But by January, we knew that Leicester was going to at least challenge for the championship. And by April it was nearly (unless you were a Spurs supporter) a foregone conclusion. So I ‘upset’ doesn’t apply.

Speaking of Championships. I’ve also seen some criticisms of crowning Leicester City a champion without a championship match. Granted this usually comes from quarters less familiar with the structure of European soccer/football, but it is an interesting question. Does a champion need a championship match?

I don’t think so. There is nothing incomplete about a league crowning the league winner as its champion. Playoff systems are exciting and thrilling, but they have their own concerns. (Podcast: The Value of Playoffs and Championships) One major one is that a weaker team can win if it gets lucky, gets hot at the right time, or because it gets an easier bracket.

If a league doesn’t have a well-balanced schedule, then there is a good basis for needing a playoff system/championship game to determine the champion. If there is a team that the eventual champion didn’t play, that raises questions about the legitimacy of the champion. But in the Premier League every team plays every other team home and away. The EPL is a really long round robin tourney, so in many ways a championship match would be superfluous. And European soccer fans hungry for a playoff system get that in Champions league, the FA Cup, and other similar tourneys.

Recap: Upset, no. Champions, yes.

 

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Filed under Achievement, Football, playoffs, soccer

Aaron Harper on Playoffs

One goal of my work is to promote and develop the field of philosophy of sport. This informs why I organized the Sport Studies Symposiums at Rockford University and continue to organize panels for IAPS at the APA. It is also part of why I write this blog, do a podcast (on hiatus currently), and tweet. It is a great pleasure to see a colleague whose work in its early form was presented in one of these avenues be published on a major platform.

The most recent case of this is Aaron Harper’s new publication: “”You’re the best around”: an argument for playoffs and tournaments” in the latest issue of the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport. Aaron criticizes the arguments in the literature critical of the value of playoffs and offers a defense of what he calls Championship Pluralism. This is the view that there are multiple worthwhile ways of determining and deciding the best team or player.

Aaron presented an earlier version of this paper at the Central APA IAPS meeting in 2015. He and I also discussed the issues raised by his paper in a podcast in 2014. All the credit for this achievement is Aaron’s, but I am glad to have helped Aaron in a small way to develop his work from an idea to a publication.

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IAPS at Central APA: Additional Commentator Needed!

The IAPS session for the Central APA meeting in St. Louis, Missouri is scheduled for Thursday, February 19 at 5:30.

Aaron Harper of West Liberty University is presenting: “‘You’re the Best Around’: Reconsidering Athletic Excellence in Seasons and Playoffs”. Craig Carley of Phoenix College is scheduled to provide comments.

Craig, however, might not be able to attend for personal reasons. I am looking for anyone who would be willing to comment as either a replacement or in addition to Craig.

Maybe you are already attending the APA and would like something else to do? Maybe this topic interests you and this is a quick way to jump into the discussion?

Please contact me ASAP sklein@rockford.edu if you are interested and I will send you the paper (you can also check out Aaron and I discussing some of the ideas from the paper in my Sports Ethics podcast with Aaron on the Value of Playoffs and Championships).

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Sports Ethics Show: The Value of Playoffs and Championships

New Sports Ethics Show Episode
Baseball playoffs are in full swing with both American and National League Championship Series opening this weekend. For baseball fans, this is one of the most exciting parts of the baseball season. But are we getting something wrong? Is there something wrong with having playoffs decide champions? Are there better ways of determining champions and organizing sport competitions? Dr. Aaron Harper of West Liberty University discusses these questions and related issues with Shawn E. Klein.

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes: iTunes Subscribe

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Filed under baseball, Football, NFL, playoffs, podcast, soccer