Today, the NRL was canvassing feedback about the new finals format.
In case you are unaware, it means ten of the sixteen teams will make it to the next form of the season. Granted, teams one through six would get a first-week bye. This system would leave teams ranked seven and ten to contest and eight and nine to play each other for the right to progress to the current top eight model.
The NRL have a voting system on the article they released, and at one point it stood at just over 1,000 votes at a 50/50 split. However, this is one idea that I feel they should consign to the dust bin.
I get their arguments and they sound solid.
These include allowing teams the chance to remain in the finals hunt for longer, therefore, killing the possibility of dead rubber games.
The theory is that with more live matches, this keeps fans interested, viewers watching and consequently, keeps money coming through the gate. These arguments sound fine in theory, but they neglect many issues.
If the NRL provide the opportunity for more than half the competition to make the finals, they weaken and devalue the importance of most regular season games.
With such a long season, this creates the possibility fans during the season not caring as much because they have a feeling that the game they are attending or viewing do not matter as much and the reason is simple – you can lose more games than you win and still make it.
It is true that this has happened before, but having just short of three-quarters of the teams progressing reduces the respect factor for making the semi-finals.
If fans think that all is required is a tenth place finish, then you are minimising the intensity of the game and experience.
It should be challenging to have the chance to play finals football. This challenge is what can give the season structure, the teams and the players respect. Ultimately, ten from sixteen teams qualifying for finals weakens the intensity of every contest.
The NRL may reference American sports as examples where a wild-card game works, though this point is misleading.
The NFL has a short season, so every match is an event of high importance. The Major League Baseball which despite having a very long season also has a division based system. This system, in turn, creates the need for a wild card round.
The NRL does not (and should not) have a division based system. Hence, with a single tier table, there is no need for a wild card round.
If the NRL ever expands to 18 or 20 teams then fine, consider the wild card round. Otherwise, the NRL is diluting the entertainment product and removing the integrity of an elite sporting competition that only allows the best teams to play finals.
I do get the sense by announcing it now, the new system will be a fait accompli by next season, but I plead to the NRL not to do it.
Ultimately, to play finals football should be considered an achievement. If more teams make the finals than do not, then the NRL kill that sense of accomplishment for teams and fans. Thus, you remove a layer of respect to what is currently an extremely tough competition.