Why we should add a 7th Playoff spot and how to do it fairly

With fourteen weeks of the CFL season played (and in particular, with Hamilton's victory over Winnipeg) the likelihood of the fifth place Western team having the sixth best League record has moved from what seemed at one point to be a near certainty back to a meaningful probability. That said, even if the second place Eastern team does eventually end up with the sixth best League record, the debate on what to do with the CFL's unbalanced and unfair Playoff format must not come to an end with that.

For future seasons, what is at issue is this: the CFL's current Playoff format was designed specifically for an eight team League, and as long as there were eight teams in the League the format worked just fine. But now that there are an odd number of teams in the League once more, a glaring inequity in the format has once again been exposed.

For me, this argument has nothing to do with how bad (or how good) the East is compared to the West. It is a matter of basic principles. I have heard and read alot of people on this forum, on the radio, in the stands and in the bars who have intimated that if you finish dead last in your Division then you shouldn't get in the Playoffs, period. That would be a fair point - IF it applied equally to both Divisions. But, as things stand today it doesn't. Suppose in some future year, the tables are turned and the East is dominant, then their "dead last" team will have every chance of making the Playoffs -displacing the team that finished in the middle of the Western standings in the process.

Furthermore, if a team finish third from bottom in the East, they are absolutely assured of not only getting in the Playoffs, but also getting a home Playoff game. BUT, finish third from bottom in the West, and not only will a team be on the road - they might not make the Playoffs at all if the West happens to be particularly awful in some future season.

Having said all this, I am not arguing for the abolition of the East-West dynamic to the CFL's Playoff format. There is tradition to think of for one, but more importantly we have to consider television. The current Divisional alignment and Playoff format is particularly appealing to TSN because it assures them a Playoff game in both rounds will be played in the Eastern Time Zone. With TSN now putting a significant enough sum of money into the League, their opinion on this matter cannot simply be ignored. With that in mind, the current system of ensuring that the second place teams in each Division host Division Semi-Finals is unlikely to change.

What I am arguing for is for the League to find a way to make the Playoff format fair again without alienating any interested parties, and after considering a few alternatives - even Page Playoffs - I have come to the conclusion that the only logical solution is for the CFL to add one additional Playoff berth to the League.

First off, let's look at the CFL Playoff berths in terms of percentages. In an eight team League, CFL teams have had a 75% chance of qualifying for the Playoffs. In a nine team League, CFL teams have - on average - a 67% chance of qualifying for any of six Playoff berths. Now, if we add a seventh berth, the chance improves to 78% - much closer to the original 75% compared to what we have currently. Of course, I'm sure some people will argue that even two thirds of the League qualifying for the Playoffs is too many, but I would argue that with the CFL still being in large part a gate-driven League, its business interests demand that ensuring that all teams at least almost always have something to play for right up until the end of the season is far more important than trying to ensure that teams with mediocre records can't qualify for the Playoffs.

So for the next question, who would get the seventh Playoff berth? The only answer that is fair to both East and West is that the team with the seventh best record gets the berth, with standard tie-breakers used to break ties, period. I would agree that in case of a multi-way tie for the last Playoff spot then the intradivisional tie(s) should be broken first, then if necessary break the tie for the last Playoff berth between East and West. But the whole notion that the team having the better divisonal placing should always get preference in a tie-breaker is a very messy one once the Divisions are no longer equal in size. Before this season, there was no question that a third place Divisional finish was better than a fourth place Divisional finish. But, as it stands now, is third place in the four team East really that much "better" of a placing than fourth place in the five team West? I for one do not agree that it is.

Add a seventh Playoff berth while still trying to give preference for Divisional placing and it gets even more controversial. Suppose in some future season under a seven-team Playoff format, Ottawa finsihes with a 6-11-1 record and finishes fourth in the East, and suppose Winnipeg finshes fourth in the West with the same record. Now suppose that Ottawa had won one game and tied one game against Winnipeg. I am guessing that under this hypothetical scenario, there would be a very strong disagreement between Redblacks fans and Bombers fans as to whether Ottawa's fourth place Divisional finish was as "good" as Winnipeg's fourth place Divisional finish. On the other hand, if the League is of the opinion that under such a circumstance it is the Redblacks who ought to make the Playoffs, can they still reasonably argue that a team that finishes dead last in the West but tied for seventh overall with an Eastern team that they beat in the Regular Season should not have the same chance of making the Playoffs?

Changing Playoff qualification to the top seven teams overall without preference for Division is the only format I see being fair to the West without compromising Eastern or overall League interests.

So, how do we do all this while maintaining a Divisional basis for the Playoffs - and how do we determine which of the two Division winners gets the first round bye? The answer to the latter question is obvious - the team that finishes first overall in the League should be the team that gets the bye, regardless of Division. Once again, in case of a multi-way tie for first overall, simply break the tie(s) within the Divison(s) first, then break the tie between the resulting Division winners to determine who gets the bye.

From there, we would have a handful of possible scenarios depending on how many teams qualified from each Division and which Division the first overall team played in - here is how it could work:

  • The easiest scenario is if the first overall team comes from a Division with a total of three qualifiers, in this case the Division Semi-Finals and Division Finals would stay strictly intradivisonal;

  • The other likely scenario is if the first overall team comes from a Division with a total of four qualifiers, in this case there would need to be a cross-over. In such circumstances, the Divison winner that is contesting a Division Semi-Final would host the team that finished seventh overall. If the seventh overall team was also the fourth place team from the other Division then the other two Division Semi-Finals would remain intradivisional, but if the seventh overall team instead was the third place team from its own Division, then the Divisional runner-up with the better record would host the fourth place finisher and the other Divisional runner-up would host the other qualifying third place finisher;

  • In the (hopefully rare) instances where five Western teams qualified under this format, then the fifth place Western team would invariably play whichever Divison winner was contesting a Division Semi-Final. The other two Division Semi-Finals would be paired in the same manner as the previous scenario;

  • Division Finals that involved two teams from each Division would remain intradivisional;

  • Where only one team from a particular Division qualified for the Division Finals, that team would host the surviving team with the worst record from the other Divison in cases where the team had the best record of all surviving teams, otherwise it would host the surviving team with the second best record from the other Divison;

  • In the (likely very rare) circumstance where no Eastern teams qualified for the Divison Finals, the Division Finals would be scrapped for that season in favour of Grey Cup Semi-Finals between the surviving Western teams.

Let all the teams in. Everyobody get's a medal :thup:

oye vey

That is not what I have suggested here. Two teams would still miss the playoffs - same as recent previous seasons up to this season. Rather, I am suggesting that we ensure that no team is let in at the expense of a better team elsewhere in the League.

This is a more complex way of just eliminating the divisions and taking the top six teams.

What, are we the NHL now?

Yeah...no. Everyone I know wants to see 10 teams with 6 making the playoffs or 12 teams with 6 making the playoffs.

Leave the format the way it is.

In the NHL only 16 of 30 teams make the playoffs - or 53.3%. That's reasonable. We are already at 66.7% making the playoffs and under this proposal would be up to 77.8% making the play-offs. That would be rewarding mediocrity.

No thanks!

Yes, just because there is one bad year and the East is week, doesn't mean that they have to go and re-organize the playoff format. Trying to work out percentages of teams making the playoffs in a 9 team league and comparing them with other leagues that have 30 plus teams doesn't make any sense. NHL can milk the playoff system by playing the best of 7 games, do they really need 7 games to decide a winner? how about 3?
If you want to compare the NHL then how about back in the 60's they had 6 teams and 4 made the playoffs, that's the same percentage as the CFL right now.
If you want to have a longer playoff system , how about the CFL going to a 2 game total point for the final? both East and West finalists would get a home game.

If you want to do this, you are saying you are fine with rewarding teams with horrid records for making the post season. This is exactly why the CFL started the crossover. The 7 team thing has been done, and the league was humiliated witha 4 win team making the post season in 93. Can you imagine how many defectors there would be if a 4 win team went on a run and won? The league would never ever ever be taken seriously.

I am fine with adjusting the post season, but this is simply a horrid idea.

If the CFl ever gets to 12 teams, I could see 8 making it....no bye week in the first round.

Yeah, please no more playoff spots. Especially and odd number. Almost reminds me of the short sighsted plan in 1993 when the league grew to 9 via the Sacramento Expansion.

Allowing 4 out of 5 in the west to make it while 3 out of 4 in the east. What's really the point of the regular season with those kind of guarantees? The best team in the league had the ebst record but no bye.

In short, keep it as is. If the league gets to 10. Still have 6 teams make it, 3 a piece and hopefully the East-West competitive balance grows closer and the cross-over can be put away with.

7 teams out of 9 making it would be a joke and rendering the 18 game reg season useless and make it boring .6 is perfect , why fix something that isn't broken ? Thankfully this will never happen !

I understand the objections but I stand by the main point which is that if you have six teams getting in, then as long as you have uneven divisions then it is not in my opinion justifiable to leave the sixth overall team out just because they're from the West, while letting in the SEVENTH overall team repeat SEVENTH overall team make the playoffs! Whether or not that actually happens this season is not the point.

It would be different if it were a 10 team league because at least then the principle of the dead last never qualifying would apply equally to East and West - fair enough.

Until that happens though, I would at least suggest that the qualification criteria be altered such that, if you finish second in your division, OK you get in and get your home playoff game regardless of overall league placing - BUT, if you get at least an outright sixth overall finish in the league, you get in regardless of divisional placing, even if that means we have to put a seventh team in the playoffs for that particular season.

Had that format been in effect for the last 40 years, it would have only resulted in a handful of seasons with seven teams in the playoffs. The most recent season it would have made a difference was 1993, but even then, the 4-14 team wouldn't have got in, Sacramento would have. And, it would have been Calgary that got the bye instead of Winnipeg.

Another thing I muse about for this season is whether a Western team that is out of the running for a home playoff game might not be tempted to tank its last game provided that would ensure they finish fourth and not leave them at risk of finishing fifth, thus allowing them to cross-over to the Eastern bracket. Under the playoff format I suggested that incentive wouldn't exist, just saying.

Sorry, there is no problem.

This was the format for years when there were 5-west, 4-east teams. This is NOTHING new, it is just going back to the way it was for a long time.

If we end up with 10 teams do you want 8 in the playoffs? No.

That’s not wholly unreasonable - especially from a TV revenue generating perspective. I’d still prefer to leave it at 6 even with 12 teams. but money talks. but wouldn’t it eliminate the bye for 1st in the division? oh well, no point worrying about it until a decade or two after Halifax get’s it’s team.

Baseball "for years" had a divisional alignment that had six teams in one division and four in another, and a playoff format that gave every division a playoff berth regardless of the number of teams.

Then, finally, they realized that far from there being "no problem," they realized that their format was just plain stupid, so they changed it.

um 7 of 9 teams making the playoffs? no thanks.

whats the point of a regular season? even more sub .500 teams will make it

6 of 10 teams making the playoffs would be perfect IMO

If the league did go to 10 teams then the current playoff format is more workable in terms of fairness, however, I would point out that if the schedule was left at 18 games then Eastern teams would still be playing 10 games against the West and only eight against the East, and vice-versa. So you would have even greater potential for even a fifth overall team missing out, and the thing is all of the teams would be playing the same balanced schedule so is that really fair?

So, as a 10 team league the current format would probably work better if the league also expanded the schedule to 20 or, better yet for a good balance in the schedule, 22 games per team.