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On Tuesday, the athletic reported The NBA is considering implementing an in-season tournament to be held separately from its regular season and postseason structure. American sports viewers may not be familiar with this concept, but soccer fans know it well.
The most famous example is England’s FA Cup, an annual knockout tournament featuring the best professional clubs in the country, which, considering the stature of English football, makes them some of the best teams in the world. It also includes semi-professional “out of league” teams made up of players who have to work second jobs to make ends meet.
The magic of the FA Cup, which consists of 14 rounds, lies in the premise that each of the more than 700 participating teams could end up lifting the trophy. Actually, no team outside the top two divisions has ever done it, or even reached the final. But the opportunity is there.
I’m not sure that concept is particularly compelling for American basketball, since the NBA only has one affiliated minor league level (the G League) and essentially uses college as its strongest training ground for the pro ranks. Where else are they going to get teams besides the G League? Your local YMCA? But I know of another popular sport here in the US that could make use of that idea.
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This sport has 120 teams in its four major minor league levels, which were decimated by ruthless team reduction and could surely use an influx of cash. The sport is having trouble establishing many of its young stars as commercially marketable, in part because they are buried in the minors, away from the public eye, for a few years after their selection. And this sport, crucially, from an entertainment perspective for this endeavor, has a penchant for unexpected results on any given day (just last week, the pirates took two out of three of the Dodgers).
I’m surprised the powers that be haven’t put themselves to the test with this yet (although I’m far from the first person to release it). You’d think Rob Manfred would get an easy win anywhere he could get one right now. And it really is just that, at least from the fan’s perspective.
Implementing a cup competition would open up game prospects to see at MLB parks, play against MLB players and help start their hype train when they are usually out of sight and out of mind of the fan. casual. Rather, it would bring MLB teams to iconic minor league parks. Imagine, say, a confrontation between the Boston Red Sox and Durham Bulls at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home of the Blue Monster. The novelty factor of watching the sport’s biggest stars play in some of the country’s friendliest minor league venues can be even more entertaining, as we saw with last year’s Field of Dreams game.
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Speaking of which, how about the newly built Field of Dreams stadium serving as the venue for the championship game? MLB should use that beauty more than once a year. If we really want to go crazy with it, the competition could include independent clubs and the Savannah Bananas. Imagine Shohei Ohtani playing Banana Ball! Even the random drawing to determine matchups could be an event for fans to tune into on MLB Network. Let Portland Pickles Dillon T. Pickle mascot announces the results! (Teams would be blocked from playing their minor league affiliates.)
There would be logistical problems to solve. The regular baseball season already has 162 games. Even if major league teams have byes in the first two rounds and would only be required to navigate a six-game path to the finals, it might be hard to find room on the schedule for those additional contests.
To that, I say: shorten the regular season to 154 games. Or maybe just cut a week or so out of spring training and start the season earlier; cutting much more than that this spring didn’t seem to affect pitchers’ ability to develop their arms too much. Perhaps a reduced measure of both would do the trick. Then, once a month or so, have a collective day off to play in the league and use it to play in the American Cup of Baseball, with another day off before or after the cup game to ease travel worries.
Side note: I initially thought a mid-season tournament during an extended All-Star break might be an option, with the early rounds between the lower-tier teams during the early part of the break and the later rounds drawing teams of the MLB. after the All-Star game. But travel would be a nightmare if you want to give fans from all over the country the chance to see these games, and I don’t think there’s a potential host city with enough baseball venues the size to play every game in a metropolitan area. I guess it’s possible if the All-Star break was something like two full weeks, but I prefer the concept of spreading this out on occasional Mondays from spring through fall. And broadcasters would love to bid on a full list of elimination games throughout the year.
Some may argue that an American Cup of Baseball would not be necessary. One of the reasons these domestic cup tournaments are attractive in European football is because those leagues don’t have playoffs at the end of the season; whoever wins the de facto regular season is crowned champion. Single-elimination tournaments provide some competitive variety and give teams other competitions in which they can be successful, even if they have been out of competition for a long time in the league.
But couldn’t we say the same about baseball? Wouldn’t that be good for Reds That fans have a cup race to dream of this year to distract them from the team’s historically terrible start to the season? Ultimately, a new competition with the potential to create fascinating underdog stories and function as a showcase for the game’s future stars feels like something to be explored.
To encourage MLB players and teams to give ABC the time of day it clearly deserves, offer a cash prize of [insert obscenely large amount of money here] to be divided between the winning players and a reward for the victorious team in the form of a competitive advantage. Perhaps a compensatory first-round draft pick?
MLB teams, players and fans have just endured the most contentious labor negotiations in decades. With tensions between the owners and the union still high, ironing out the finer details of this operation would probably not be a piece of cake. But the end result would be sweet enough to seriously explore the possibility.
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