Simplify the playoff system

Doug Close, Sports Editor

With regular seasons coming to their ends, Chapman teams are preparing for their final games in the hopes of earning a coveted playoff spot in their respective postseasons. This weekend, women’s water polo ended its postseason journey with a sixth-place finish, while baseball and softball have their sights set on playoff qualification. Women’s lacrosse plays its opening playoff game April 29 against Occidental College at home.

Each of these teams’ roads to potential championship games are different. While water polo uses a double-elimination format with eight of the nine teams making the conference playoffs, baseball and softball use a double-elimination format with only the top four teams in the standings eligible for postseason play.

While lacrosse is the same as baseball and softball in that only the top four teams qualify, the games are single-elimination. Each game is a winner-take-all scenario. The single-elimination system makes more sense in the long run for conference playoffs, even if that means fewer teams can make the playoffs.

Double-elimination is not an intuitive concept for those not highly invested in college sports. Essentially, it gives teams that lose in the first round of a tournament the chance to redeem themselves.

Water polo certainly has the most bizarre postseason format of the spring sports. Because there are fewer water polo teams in the western NCAA compared to other mainstream sports like football and basketball, Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) water polo teams only play each other once in conference play (with the vast majority of these conference games taking place during the second half of the season). The rest of the teams’ season is made up of nonconference games, often against larger Division I schools (Chapman played and lost to Brown, Bucknell and the University of California, San Diego this season).

Eight of nine teams in a conference making the playoffs is dumb. Why even have a regular season if you could, theoretically, lose every game in your regular season, win the play-in game as the ninth seed and then theoretically have your first three wins of a season not come until the play-in round, semifinal and final of the playoffs? Yes, it’d be a great upset story, but that has never happened in SCIAC water polo.

A better use of time would be having each SCIAC team play each other twice, just like women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball already do. That would also spare the expenses of these East Coast Division I teams from coming in and consistently steamrolling smaller California Division III teams season after season. Changing the format to a home-and-away regular season format followed by a single elimination playoff system, in which the top four teams qualify would save time and money, and it would reward the teams that put together consistently strong seasons.

I understand that some sports, like baseball and softball, aren’t necessarily one-game sports but are more series sports. In the case of these sports, instead of single-game elimination, single-series elimination (best out of three) would also streamline the playoff system.

As for lacrosse, they’re already doing it right. A top-four, single-elimination format promotes competition during the regular season because every team is aware that each conference game has long-term playoff implications. I’d argue that this system is a bit more competitive than one where 88.8 percent of the teams in a league makes the playoffs at the end of a season.

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