The NHL and NFL re-seed teams as they move through the playoffs.
The NBA and NCAA basketball do not, opting for a bracket system.
MLB, because of its limited playoff pool, don’t really face the issue (though they certainly have their own issues with seeding).
NCAA football… well, NCAA football is still using the bowl system. Let’s just pretend that silliness doesn’t exist.
Which approach is right?
First, let’s make sure we all know what we’re talking about here. Leagues that re-seed guarantee that the highest ranked team plays the lowest ranked team, the second-highest ranked team plays the second-lowest ranked team, and on and on through all rounds of the playoffs. So, in the NFL, the #3 seeded team plays the #6 seeded team in the opening round. If the #6 seed wins, they play the #1 seed in the following round. If the #3 seed wins, they’ll play the #2 seed while the #1 seed plays the winner of the #4/#5 matchup. Leagues that use a bracket system have set brackets that are static. Should an upset occur, match-ups don’t change. So, in the NBA this year, we see the #2 and #3 seeds face off in the second round while the #4 and #8 teams play each other.
As I see it, here are the pros and cons of each system:
Re-seeding Pros/ Bracket Cons:
- The best teams are assured of an easier route, something they theoretically earned as a result of their regular season performance. In a bracket, a worse team might have an easier route to advancing than a better team.
- You are less likely to see “flukey” results, as weaker teams will have to beat the best remaining competition at every turn in order to proceed.
- It seems more “fair”. Why should the Heat, the #2 seed, have a tougher second-round opponent (the third-seeded Pacers) than the #4 Celtics (playing the eight-seeded Sixers)?
Bracket Pros/ Re-seeding Cons
– There are a wide variety of logistical and scheduling issues, as matchups often can’t be set until all series are completed. This means travel schedule and hotel reservations can become problematic. This isn’t really an issue for fans, but can prove a burden for the league and theoretically could impact the scheduling of games, which does impact fans.
- Fewer upsets. Fans love upsets (or at least claim too… ratings numbers seem to indicate otherwise). You are less likely to see Cinderella teams make deep runs in the NCAA tournament if they keep having to play the best competition. Of course, the LA Kings are disproving this right now, making a run to the Stanley Cup finals as a #8 seed, but hockey lends itself to such things.
- March Madness brackets are made possible only using the bracket system. Goodbye pools if a re-seeding system is employed.
So which system is better? I personally prefer re-seeding. It just seems silly to me that many of the supposed benefits of achieving a higher seed disappear once the first round is over. And as much as I enjoy individual game upsets, I prefer to see the best of the best play each other for the title. An NBA finals matchup between the Heat and the Thunder would be more exciting and compelling to watch than a Cinderella matchup between the Sixers and Jazz would have been. What do you think? Are there pros and cons to either system I’m ignoring? Is there something about specific sports that lend themselves better to one approach than another? Is there a third alternative out there (perhaps in soccer) or one someone is willing to propose?
EDITED to fix some formatting issues. No content changes.