Fisher: Playoff Problems

May 10, 2013, 12:52 a.m.

Tuesday night felt like déjà vu. I sat in The Daily office and watched the Warriors take a big lead over the Spurs and then start to blow it. The Warriors held on to win, which gave some relief, but it still felt like déjà vu.

I’m going to say it. The NBA and NHL playoffs are too long.

Don’t get me wrong. I love sports as much as—let’s be real, way more than—the next guy. But two months of NHL and NBA playoff games pretty much every night is ridiculous. And it’s unfair to the best teams in each league, for very different reasons.

Let’s start with hockey—well, that’s something nobody’s ever said in America before. In this year’s lockout-shortened season, it took about 24 wins to make it to the postseason. It will take 16 more to win the Stanley Cup. Isn’t that a little crazy?

I don’t want to make too much of a fuss over the one shortened season. Critics will point out that last year, the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup. Surely this debunks any argument against the current playoff model, doesn’t it?

I would disagree, and to do so, I’ll use the argument against Virginia Commonwealth, which made a similar miracle run a little over a year earlier in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament to reach the Final Four.

Many people argued that VCU was unworthy of a tournament bid based on its resume. There were other teams, many argued, that had done more to earn the opportunity.

Then VCU started winning games. The Rams took down USC in the First Four, Georgetown and Purdue to reach the Sweet 16, and then Florida State and Kansas to earn a trip to the Final Four. Obviously, VCU showed that it was a much better team than its 11th-seed signified.

However, it does not mean that VCU had any more right to be in the NCAA Tournament. As much as we all love underdog stories—and I jumped right on the VCU bandwagon—doesn’t a team have to earn its chance to be that underdog? Otherwise, the regular season is just a waste of time, and nobody wants that.

With so much parity, and 16 playoff teams, I feel like the NHL’s regular season takes almost no value. You just have to get into the tournament. So, for everyone besides the few teams on the bubble in the final weeks, the regular season lacks much excitement. There’s a reason so many people turn on hockey only when the postseason begins.

The NBA, on the other hand, has a very different problem. There just isn’t enough parity to support a 16-team field. The top few seeds have overwhelmingly large odds to advance, making the first round or two pretty hard to watch.

But even more importantly, the large field provides too many opportunities for bad things to happen to the best teams.

I don’t like the NBA very much at all, but I have to admit, even I was excited about the prospect of the Heat taking on the Thunder in the NBA Finals for the second season in a row. Then Russell Westbrook blew out his knee in the first round against the Houston Rockets, and my interest vanished almost as quickly as the Thunder’s NBA title hopes, which really is too bad.

And don’t tell me that the San Antonio Spurs would be just as intriguing of an opponent for the Heat. After two games at home against the Golden State Warriors, it has become pretty clear that the Spurs aren’t close to the Heat. Barring something crazy, like another fluke injury, I would be stunned to see anyone besides Lebron James hoisting the championship trophy once again in a few weeks.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the system is the way it currently is. Playoff games mean more money, and more playoff games means even more money. As long as people keep treating the first round of the playoffs as if they are the playoffs—and with so few other television options in late April and early May, who can blame them—then nothing will change.

So I guess with both of my teams falling short of the postseason, I’ll have to take the NCAA Tournament approach.

Bring on the Madness.

Sam Fisher is really just mad that he hasn’t been able to watch all the latest episodes of “Chopped.” (Don’t) send him spoilers at safisher ‘at’, and follow him on Twitter at @SamFisher908.

Sam Fisher is the managing editor of sports for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 244. Sam also does play-by-play for KZSU's coverage of Stanford football, Stanford baseball and Stanford women's basketball. In 2013, Sam co-authored "Rags to Roses: The Rise of Stanford Football," with Joseph Beyda and George Chen.

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