The Australian Football Grand Final, take two, which was the subject of my last post, is tomorrow night/early Saturday morning at midnight Eastern on ESPN3.com and ESPN Classic… and will be joined in progress at 1:00 am on ESPN2. My DVR is locked and loaded.
The Grand Final is the last match of a Finals Series (Aussies don’t use the word “playoff”) that is one of the most unique around – the revised McIntyre Finals System involves 8 of the 16 teams in the AFL. What’s interesting is that the first week of the Finals Series involves all 8 teams – but only 4 can be eliminated. The top 4 teams play off to determine who gets week 2 off – but all 4 are ensured one more home game in the Finals Series. The bottom 4 teams play a regular playoff round, losers go home. The two “bottom 4” winners play the two “top 4” losers in week 2 (at the home stadiums of the two “top 4” teams). The two week 2 winners play the week 1 winners in the semi-finals (at the week 1 winners’ home parks). And, finally, the Grand Final matches the two semi-final winners at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on the Last Saturday in September (a phrase that I believe the AFL has a trademark on)… and, again, on the first Saturday in October if there’s a draw.
You know who the revised McIntyre system would work for? The National Football League. At some point, the NFL will have to expand the playoffs to 16 teams – finances will dictate it – but would be loathe to have the #1 team at risk in the opening week. So… why not the AFL McIntyre system?
Here’s how it would have worked in 2009 (of course, it takes one week longer than the AFL does, because there are 16 teams – in this example, the top 4 would be the four division winners; the bottom 4 would be the wild cards, but I wouldn’t argue if you simply ranked the teams 1-8 in standings order):
Division Playoff 1 – #4 Arizona at #1 New Orleans
DP2– #3 Dallas at #2 Minnesota
Wild-Card Playoff 1 – #8 Carolina at #5 Green Bay
WC2 – #7 Atlanta at #6 Philadelphia
DP1– #4 Cincinnati at #1 Indianapolis
DP2 – #3 New England at #2 San Diego
WC1 – #8 Houston at #5 NY Jets
WC2 – #7 Pittsburgh at #6 Baltimore
Remember, these are bonus home games for New Orleans, Minnesota, Indianapolis, and San Diego – all of them will get one more home game… and Dallas, Arizona, Cincinnati, and New England still have another home game ahead…
Losers of the Wild-Card Playoff games are done for the season.
Conference Playoff (CP) 1 – Carolina/Green Bay (WC1) winner at Arizona/New Orleans (DP1) loser
CP2 – Atlanta/Philadelphia (WC2) winner at Dallas/Minnesota (DP2) loser
CP1 – Houston/NY Jets (WC1) winner at Cincinnati/Indianapolis (DP1) loser
CP2 – Pittsburgh/Baltimore (WC2) winner at New England/San Diego (WC2) loser
Notice the bracketing – you’ll see why it’s set up this way in week 3. From here out, it’s a standard single-elimination tournament.
Conference Semi-Final (SF) 1 – CP1 winner at Dallas/Minnesota (DP2) winner
SF2 – CP2 winner at Arizona/New Orleans (DP1) winner
SF1 – CP1 winner at New England/San Diego (DP2) winner
SF2 – CP2 winner at Cincinnati/Indianapolis (DP1) winner
This is crossover week… so that there’s no Week 1 rematches this week, the week 2 winners cross over to play the division playoff winner from the other bracket.
Conference Championships at the higher-ranked team in each conference.
Positives: More teams in the playoffs. Division winners can’t be eliminated in the opening week (a fair tradeoff for giving up the automatic bye) and can earn a bye in week 2. Wild-card home games in week 1. A total of 19 playoff games, instead of 15 (in a traditional single-elimination 16-team tournament).
Negatives: More games, so more injury risk. A bit confusing to understand at first. Loss of the two-week hype period before the Super Bowl (I’m not sure it’s a negative, but the media would think so).
Open question: NOW where do you put the Pro Bowl? I vote for “out of its misery”.
Television: With 8 games opening weekend, there’s some creative scheduling needed – either the NFL would have to regionalize TV coverage… or they could finally give ESPN two playoff games. With ESPN, NBC, CBS, and FOX each carrying two games, you could have ESPN doing a Monday night doubleheader (probably Wild-Card games, giving the short-week disadvantage to the Wild Card winners for week 2). NBC would get two Saturday day games (as they do now). CBS and FOX would divvy up the Saturday prime-time and Sunday tripleheader games (ideally, each gets a primetime game, and both should be Division Playoff games). After that, all games belong to CBS and FOX (and, of course, the Super Bowl rotation includes NBC).
Sure, it’s not a traditional American-style single-elimination tournament – but do you think the fans of the 4 new Wild Card teams would complain? And the division winners know that they can’t blow their chance in their first game – those fans would like it, right?
I guess the biggest complaint would be that it’s “different”.
What’s wrong with “different”?