Playoff change matter of when, not if

Bodley: Playoff change matter of when, not if

ORLANDO -- If baseball is really serious about adding two teams and another round to its postseason format, it shouldn't stop there. The two Division Series desperately need to be best-of-seven tournaments.

The general managers are meeting this week at the posh Waldorf Astoria Orlando and will soon join Major League owners, who arrive Wednesday for quarterly sessions.

There's been a lot of chatter about adding two Wild Card teams to the playoffs, and although it's not on the agenda, I guarantee you that Commissioner Bud Selig will informally work the room and learn how much the GMs favor the change.

There are currently two Wild Card teams (one from each league) and three division champions each from the American League and National League.

The Commissioner said weeks ago that he's "intrigued" by the idea.

"We'll talk about it," Selig said. "We only have eight teams [in the postseason], the least of any sport. So even if we went to 10 teams, we wouldn't be abusing anything."

Players union chief Michael Weiner said during the World Series that players are receptive to the idea of considering revisions to the postseason format. Any change must be negotiated with the union as part of the collective bargaining agreement. The current agreement expires on Dec. 11, 2011.

It's virtually assured that the playoff format will remain the same for next season.

But if a 10-team postseason with another round becomes a reality in 2012, as I expect it will, more credibility could be built in by expanding the two Division Series to best-of-seven.

Veteran managers have been pleading for this for years. In fact, if I had my choice of adding two teams or making the two Division Series best-of-seven, I'd go for the latter. Playing in the current three-of-five arrangement is like Russian roulette. After the 162-game regular-season marathon, facing being ousted in a best-of-five is unfair.

Mets GM Sandy Alderson told me on Tuesday, "[If] "you're going to add playoffs, you're going to have to keep that round short -- and the subsequent round short, too. At some point the appetite on television or by television becomes an issue."

Another issue is figuring out a way to schedule the postseason so it doesn't extend into November. Selig has repeatedly said that he doesn't like playing the World Series in November.

No exact format for adding two Wild Card teams has been outlined. The obvious choice would be to have the two Wild Card tams in each league play a best-of-three series, with the six division winners (three from each league) having a bye. Another suggestion has been to make the first round a one-game playoff, but that doesn't make sense to me. That would be like finally getting to the prom and being told to go home after just one dance.

"I wouldn't want it to be more than two out of three," said Cubs GM Jim Hendry.

A best-of-three also seems unfair, but maybe not for Wild Card teams that go in through the side door anyway. A best-of-five is probably too long if for no other reason than the division winners would have to be idle too long.

Alderson agrees that adding two teams dilutes the postseason, but says that expanding the playoffs "is a legitimate consideration, keeping more fans and more teams involved. It could have a potentially positive impact."

In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. In the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 advance.

I really don't think baseball should be compared with other sports, because its season is so much longer.

One way to expand the two Division Series would be to shorten the regular season to 154 games. That's the way it was until 1961 when, after expansion, the AL went to 162 games, with the NL doing so the following year.

Reducing the number of games to improve the postseason is a legitimate proposal, but it's not going to happen. Selig loves the 154-game schedule, but his owners are not about to forfeit the income from the eight extra games.

Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president and chief labor lawyer, spent Tuesday discussing upcoming CBA negotiations with the GMs. He refused to address the specific issues discussed, but he did say it is unlikely for a change in the playoff format to happen before 2012.

He also asked the GMs not to discuss with the media the closed-door discussions, including postseason possibilities.

But to make it happen next season, the current CBA would have to be re-opened and negotiated.

"If there were to be a change in 2011, it would have to be done as a midterm modification," Manfred said. "That's a difficult trick to pull off."

Selig will take the sentiments of the GMs to heart, as he did with instant replay. Ultimately, however, his year-old Special Committee for On-Field Matters will likely make the final recommendation to him.

Manfred said, that once it reaches that stage, "The labor policy committee would bring to the clubs as a whole a suggestion for some change in the playoffs, whatever it is, as an issue that should be pursued. Ownership would endorse that bargaining proposal and we'd discuss it with the players association and hopefully reach an agreement."

As he says, whatever.

Regardless, I believe it's a given that the postseason will be expanded. I just hope they figure out a way to make the second round more credible.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.