February 22, 2009

The Final Four: all-American style

Yesterday I showed how the Euros conduct their tournaments. In league competitions, the team with the best record wins, no extra games, no brackets and extra games to consider. Now here's how the Americans do it.

The European prototype was the one first applied in the States at the mid-1800s, but there was one problem: since the U.S. was so big, travel expenses would had been very expensive. The primary redeeming factor on the Euro model was that since every team played each other twice home and away, it can be said that all teams played the same strengths of schedule; no team had an advantage on playing a weaker set of opponents since they all played the same teams on the same places.

Now to remedy on travel expenses, Americans devised the "division", the teams that are closest geographically are grouped together, and teams of one division played each other more times than teams from other divisions. Divisions grouped themselves into "conferences" or "leagues", and teams of the same "conferences"/"leagues" played each other more times than those from the other "conferences"/"leagues".

Although this solved the travel expenses problem, this opened a new problem: this caused the teams to have different strengths of schedule. So what should be done? They took the best teams from all of the divisions, and they made them play each other in a new tournament, usually in a bracket format. (Note that this is essentially the same as the "cup competitions" yesterday.) Of course, the teams with better standings were given an inherent advantage, such as more games will played at their stadium. So these games are held to "play off" for the championship. Hence, we all know the "Playoffs".

So essentially, the "Playoffs" are only appropriate if and only if the teams have differing strengths of schedule. Hence, playoffs always happen after the "regular season". European competitions had adopted this format when the teams have different strengths of schedules, such as when the teams play games exclusively from their own group. Since there are several groups, and you can't just name them all as "co-champions", or pick one as the sole "champion" considering they haven't even played the teams from the other divisions. They'll have to "play off" for the championship.

Remember yesterday I said that "Europe and elsewhere aside from the Philippines, North America and Australia". We already know what happens here, in Europe, and in North America. In Australia, surprisingly and independently, it is basically the same as the Filipino format, despite it being a former British colony. However, the catch is the winner of the "regular season" wins something. Like a trophy or some remembrance that they've won the regular season. This has been emulated by two North American leagues: in the NHL they award the "Presidents' Trophy", while the MLS awards the "Supporters' Shield", all for the teams with the best record regardless of conference.

Now tomorrow, let's see how silly the Filipino format has become, and on how we should emulate both the Euro and U.S. formats to suit our cravings for more games that count.

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