Earlier this week, the National Lacrosse League announced its playoff format for the upcoming season. There was some mystery about that, since the league had lost the Boston franchise in the offseason. That left nine teams spread over two divisions in the NLL, and an existing format of eight teams.
What to do? The league opted to again have eight teams qualify for the postseason. However, since the East only has four teams, it added a wrinkle. The fourth place team in the East actually will compete for the playoff spot with the fifth-place team in the West. The team with the better record will gain the spot, so a West team could in theory cross over and grab the fourth slot in the East.
I'm not so sure I like the idea of playing 16 games to eliminate one team. I remember when the NHL used to be criticized for playing 80 games to eliminate five of 21 teams from the postseason. Two alternatives no doubt were considered:
* Cut the playoff teams down to four, two in each division, and have the top two in each division play for the division title, and then have the winners meet for the league title.
* Give the first-place teams a bye, have No. 2 play No. 3 in each division, the winners move on to play the division winners, and then those winners meet in the final.
The adopted system does give us three weekends of playoff action in May, with extra home dates for teams and possible television opportunities. Still, that's a lot of lacrosse in order to merely decide home-field advantage in the postseason. Bottom line -- I'd feel better about the league if it were at least 10 teams (and 12 would be even better).
--- Budd Bailey