Down with Divisions!

(something I found in my archives tonight, originally posted to the Sharks list in April, 2000)

I’ve decided I want to do away with divisions. they’re arbitrary, they set things up so that good teams like Detroit get stuck down in the seeding below teams with much worse season performances — and they really don’t serve a useful purpose, other than allowing teams to hang a meaningless banner up in the rafters (we’re the champion of the western-pacific-northern-california division! yipee!!)

It’ll never happen, but… Here’s my proposal.

Two conferences. West. East. With expansion, 15 teams in each conference.

Here’s shock #2. Every team plays every other team twice a year. you get a home and home with every team in the league. No more only seeing boston on alternate seasons unless it’s a leap year. At the same time, you want to focus on your conference, where the seeding goes.

So here’s my proposal

First, with 30 teams in the league, you play each of the other 29 teams twice, once at home, once on the road. That’s 58 games.

Then, to focus on the playoffs and seeding, you play each of the 14 teams in your conference 2 more times, for a total of 28 games.

this makes the season 86 games long. I hear you gasping already. Yes, the season is already long, and tickets expensive. but… I think it’s worth it. We’re talking about squeezing one extra game into the schedule every 5-6 weeks, not an exceptionally nasty change — and not nearly as bad as the deathmarch they put the players through in the lockout year. No need to stretch the schedule. and with intelligent scheduling of road trips, you can cut some of the current travel disasters (like, oh, San Jose playing Anaheim/Toronto/Washington/Ottawa with two border crossings and two cross-country flights…)

Further, those extra games come at the END of the season. That’s right, the last 26 games of the season are all in conference. the first 60 can get mixed up in any way, but starting about February, you’re playing the guys you plan on knocking out of the playoffs.

Tough schedule? yup. But so is the current one, and it has all sorts of inequities, both for teams and for fans. And the WAY it’s scheduled creates problems. Yes, there’s all sorts of issues involving building availability and the like, but — in 60 games, a western conference team can make three road trips into the East, of, say, 4-5-4 games each, regionalize each trip (one for Atlanta/Florida/Tampa/Carolina, another for Montreal/Toronto/Ottawa/Buffalo, a third for NYR/NRI/Wash/NJ/etc…) and cut out a lot of the silliness. It might take a human instead of a computer to make a sane schedule, but we all have to make sacrifices (and I’m available on a consulting basis. have white board, will eat tums)

End result?

Everyone gets to see everyone.

SEason results mean something: the best teams get the best seedings. Can you imagine in tennis a 3rd seed being told he has to play the #1 guy instead of the #7 guy because it’d make for better television? But with the divisions….

And you build into strong, hard-core playoff runs, because for the last couple of months of the season, that’s all you see.

And with some thought, you can cut some of the travel problems, despite the extra games.

And each team gets two more home game’s revenue…

And you don’t have Detroit seeded under Colorado because of artifacts of geography instead of how they actually played.

thoughts?

(update)

Interesting thing on this. Yesterday on HNIC’s After 40 minutes, John Davidson went into a rant about how the league needs to play more rivalry games (using NJ/Rangers and Buffalo/Toronto as examples) because those are games where the excitement and electicity flow, adn get away from games nobody cares about (which, in his mind, includes pretty much everyone in the west coming east).

someone else (I don’t remember his name) noted that the league has done a study and it shows that very few *players* are significant attendance draws — but rivalry games are a strong draw. Makes sense if you think about it. Mario or Gretzky are draws, but how many people still show up JUST to see Teemu Selanne?

Al Strachan (rightly, for once) jumped J.D. for being New York centric and forgetting the rest of the league — but I think J.D. is right in general, but looking at it the wrong way.

Rivalries are good — but once you get away from the no-duh rivalries, it’s not so easy. There are some trivial-to-choose ones, like toronto/montreal, buffalo/toronto, new york and New jersey, or Calgary and edmonton. But when you get away fro the northeast, it’s a lot iffier. What is the natural rivalry for the Canucks? For the Coyotes? For the Stars?

The answer is — it depends. The rivalries change over time, because out here in the west, rivalries tie more to playoff fights than georgraphy. five yeasr ago, San Jose and Detroit was a pretty big rivalry, but over the last few years, that’s migrated to San Jose and Dallas. San Jose has a decent rivarly right LA, but the rivalry with the Ducks is pretty dead — but San jose and Phoenix? they don’t like each other. San jose and Colorado, also, because of the players moving between the teams (look at the Nolan hit on Foote this week).

Another thing J.D. missed badly — when you work with an Original 6, and spend your time mostly in the Northeast, you tend to forget that it isn’t the only part of the hockey world. It one thing to say “the rangers fans don’t care if Anaheim comes to MSG” — it’s a much different thing to explain to fans in San Jose why toronto isn’t visiting (again), or why we won’t see Boston for two years. His idea makes sense for New York (maybe), if you ignore that over time rivalries change (will he still want to play NJ 10 times when the devils fade to 10 games under .500? doubt it…). It makes no sense in most places in hockey — where having the original six teams visit is a big thing for a big part of the fans, and a significant draw. Don’t believe me? Just come to San Jose arena any time toronto or Boston comes to town. Better yet, come to San jose to explain to them in person why we don’t really need to see them.

I’m all for an unbalanced, conference-heavy schedule. But I still think it’s crucial that the league understand how important it is for these teams to visit. It’s that “we’re in new york, and it doesn’t matter to us” mentality that gave us the current schedule — which disenfranchises the western fans from key teams in the east, and which really shows that they don’t understand how important those aspects are to us out on the west coast.

chuq

This entry was posted in Sports - Hockey.