The Inside Track ~ Nov. 9, 2010

I don’t know if you noticed but the Major League Baseball playoffs just came and went, passing you by in a flash compared to the regular season. Almost overshadowed by the debut of the big three in Miami and the NFL season.

The Major League Baseball playoffs were over and done with in less than a month when the regular season stretches from April to October, in which, each team plays 165 games.

I’m not a baseball purist but I do like to watch from time to time. However, it gets harder to really be into it when a single game doesn’t mean much in the standings.

Sports is all about making the most of your opportunities. That’s a lot of opportunities to give teams.

Even with the short, decisive playoffs, no one watched.

This year’s World Series TV ratings tied for the all-time low, according to the Associated Press. Fifteen million watched game five, the deciding game. Not exactly Super Bowl numbers.

It’s easy to blame the match up. The San Francisco Giants prevailed over the Texas Rangers. Both aren’t considered “big market” teams like the New York Yankees and LA Dodgers. But, if America considers baseball one of its traditional sports, then why don’t more people watch when the games really matter?

Maybe it’s a matter of people caring less and less about baseball in general.

The National Football League doesn’t have much trouble finding viewers at all points of the season. But, the NFL’s regular season is only 16 games long, played from September to December. The league wants to extend it to a 18-game season like the Canadian Football League.

But of course when we talk more games we talk more revenue. Money going to the teams and the leagues. Isn’t that what drives it? Money.

In the NFL, four games is a quarter of the season. There’s little chance of recovering from an early season slump. If teams fall behind four, five and six losses to start the season, the rest of their games become formalities.

Every week when fans get together to watch football games they know the game is important. There’s no game on Tuesday and Thursday to make up for Sunday’s loss. Football does it right.

The NHL and NBA have basically identical seasons. Eighty-two regular season games, four rounds to decide the championship, each a best of seven series. They both run from October to June (including playoffs).

I hear that a lot of people, not obsessed with hockey, only “really” start paying attention at playoff time. Also, isn’t it a little odd to be going to games in T-shirts because the season lasts well into spring.

It might make more sense to end by the beginning of May, at the latest. How about making those Saturday night games worth more by playing fewer regular season games.

The regular season, in almost every context, needs to be condensed. The chase for the championship should be a long battle. It should be the part that’s drawn out. In the playoffs every game is important. That’s what makes it so enthralling. The long playoffs is what the NHL and NBA have gotten right.

Playoffs. That’s what people get fired up about. So play that up and scale back the regular season. The team that ends up winning the championship is always regarded as the best team of that year. The team that finishes the regular season on top but falls short in the playoffs is never crowned the best team of that year.

Professional sports seasons have become like a book read by an impatient person. The reader just wants to skip ahead to the end of the book to find out the ending. So give them a more meaningful beginning a middle.

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