Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Play-offs Schmlay-offs

Fantasy football team owners everywhere are furious with the Philadelphia Eagles Brian Westbrook. To make a long story short, Westbrook had a chance to score a touchdown Sunday, but intentionally stopped himself from doing so because he realized that if he stopped at the 1-yard line his team could run out the clock without giving the ball back to Dallas. While this was great for Westbrook's real team, it was horrible for many fantasy teams that had him on their roster. What made it even worse is that this time of year, fantasy leagues are in the play-offs, and therefore his move likely cost the season for some owners.

I have no sympathy for anyone who lost in the play-offs this week, because I think the idea of having play-offs in a fantasy league is absurd. I realize it is standard procedure, but it shouldn't be. It is ingrained into the mind of the American sports fan that every season must culminate with play-off games, but no one questions why. The truth is that play-offs are simply a marketing gimmick. This truth briefly flickered into public consciousness when NASCAR, of all sports, added a play-off component. Fans saw this for what it was-an arbitrary move that serves to increase interest and TV ratings while not actually moving toward a more fair representation of who should be crowned the "champion."

In truth, the other sports with play-off systems are not really any better than NASCAR, it's just that we've had generations to become accustomed to them. The longer the regular season is, the more accurately we can read who the best team is. From a purist's standpoint, the team with the most wins in a 162 game baseball season is the best team. The NFL is a little bit harder to justify, though it's hard to argue with the need for a play-off this year to determine that the New England Patriots are the best team in the league.

All that said, I can see why we have play-offs, and as a sports fan, I won't call for their abolishment. However, there are two inescapable conclusions to be drawn: first, play-offs in fantasy sports should be outlawed, and second, we live in some kind of a weird world where the one sport that legitimately needs a play-off is the one holdout that resists one.


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