The Conference system in professional sports is something that has always frustrated me. While I understand that on most levels that the organization of teams by region is necessary, I never quite understood the need for conference alignments.
The NHL has recently proposed a system similar to they used until the 1993 Stanley Cup Playoffs; however, instead of 2 conferences and 4 divisions, the new proposal would split the league into 4 distinct conferences. Again, similar to the old system, 4 teams in each conference would advance to the playoffs and the first two rounds would be intra-conference match-ups.
While this proposal isn't changing the world, it is a step in a right direction, if not for only the fact that there is change. In professional sports, change seems to be a very scary word. And, considering the amount of money made by everyone involved, I can certainly understand that. But, there are still many ways to improve these sports leagues.
Over the years, I have been a big proponent of contracting teams, shortening league schedules, and shifting the league calendar to present the best product out there. Fewer teams means less fringe talent in the league, more talent on each of the existing teams, and higher possibility for more/better rivalries... shortening schedules means freshers legs and better games... and shifting the league calendar means extending the NFL further into March and pushing back the NBA season to avoid football. While some changes are easier to consider than others (*cough* money), change needs to be considered everywhere.
The most unique suggestion I have would be to eliminate the two conference system altogether in the four major sports. Here's how I would break it down by league:
Major League Baseball - I would have four "leagues" each with the DH. Each of the leagues would have the league winner with a bye and the second best team in each league would make the playoffs. While, the next four best team records in any league would be "Wild Card" teams. Tie-breakers would be a one-game playoff. I would break down the leagues as follows:
League A: Mariners, Giants, Athletics, Dodgers, Angels, Padres, Diamondbacks, and Rockies
League B: Rangers, Astros, Rays, Marlins, Braves, Royals, and Cardinals
League C: Twins, Brewers, Tigers, Cubs, White Sox, Indians, Reds, and Pirates
League D: Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Phillies, Blue Jays, Orioles, and Nationals
The teams would be ranked #1-#12 with league winners being #1-#4 and #5-#12 ranked by regular season record regardless of division placement. Each division winner would get a bye. I would also give the leagues cool names (cool names to be determined... suggestions accepted), and re-seed after every round.
How cool would it be to see the Dodgers and Angels play in the playoffs? Or, the Yankees and Red Sox play for a World Series?
National Basketball Association - Can you name each of the six divisions in the NBA? Could you fill out where each team fits in? Can you tell me more than a few division winners from the last few years? Does anyone care? For the NBA, I keep the conference format and get rid of the divisions... in the NBA they are dumb and don't matter.
I would guarantee the top 6 seeds in both conferences make the playoffs, with the last four teams being entered into the playoffs by record regardless of conference. The conference leaders would be ranked #1 and #2, the automatic conference qualifiers would be #3-#12, and the wild cards would be #13-#16. I would then rank the teams #1-#16... if Miami has the best record and Portland is the #16 seed, so be it (though, I might suggest shortening the first round back down to 5 games... four rounds of super travel might be rough). I would not re-seed after each round (brackets, baby!).
National Hockey League - I would go with the leagues four conference plan. The top four teams from each conference would make the playoffs and the first two rounds would take place within the division. The four division winners will make the Frenzied Four, with the last two playing for the cup. Would it be cool to see the Rangers and Flyers or Blackhawks and Red Wings playing for the Cup? Sure. But, I'm willing to give this system a roll.
National Football League - Two conferences, eight divisions, four teams in each division... even the schedule shapes up nicely (it's easy to figure out who you're playing the next season the day the season ends). My proposal would be a fun twist, I feel.
The eight division winners make the playoffs. The six wild card teams can come from any division. Only the two division winners with the best record get byes. Division winners will fill in spots #3-#8... #3 plays #14, #4 plays #13, #5 v #12, #6 v #11, #7 v #10, #8 v #9... with re-seeding after every round. Last two teams make the Super Bowl.
Now, I understand what I am suggesting here is radical, no more conference winners and all, but it freshens up the system and sets up the possibility for each league's biggest rivals to play for the ultimate prize... isn't that something we could all get behind?
I'm curious what you think. Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter.