Fenway Park, Boston

Split the season in Major League Baseball

The idea: Split the MLB regular season into two halves of 81 games. Just like in the 1981 season, the first-place teams from each half in each division (or a wild card team if the same club won both halves) would meet in a best-of-five divisional playoff series. The four survivors would then move on to the two best-of-five League Championship Series.

Why it makes sense: The sheer length of the baseball season (162 games) means that the sport can at times lack urgency. By splitting the season into two halves, each game would be instantly elevated in importance, and the excitement that is ordinarily reserved for August and September would be a feature of the game in June. Splitting the season would also give fans – and players – a reason to stay engaged after a disastrous start – and more engaged fans leads to higher attendances and better TV-deals.

One legitimate criticism of the split season is the fear that best divisional team over 162 games could risk missing the post-season should it fail to win either half-season crown. In order to prevent such an occurrence, MLB could simply stipulate that if the best team overall fails to win either division title, it should enter the playoffs in place of the division’s half-season winner with the worst record. So, for example, if the Red Sox went 93-69 overall, but the Yankees won the first AL East half-season 50-31, and the Orioles won the second half-season 46-35, Boston would enter the post-season in place of the Orioles.

Could it happen?  The introduction of a split season would constitute a seismic shift in the structure of the game, and there’s no sport (and no set of fans) more resistant to change than baseball. Traditionalists who view the 1981 season as an unhappy aberration would be deeply resistant to the implementation of the split season format, and it could be just as difficult to sell such a significant shake-up to casual fans.

An additional reason why this is unlikely to happen is scheduling: It would be difficult – if not impossible – to secure the proper balance between home and road games, divisional and non-divisional games. Certainly, inter-league play would have to go.

That said, the commercial future of MLB is by no means secure. If the sport continues to struggle against the hyper-urgent NFL and the highlight-friendly NBA, a major shake-up in league-structure could be viewed as a panacea – and a risk worth considering.

Likelihood of happening: 25% (wouldn’t bet on it).

Read more.

Picture by Dustin Gaffke. 


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