So in order to avoid a long rambling blog post, it has been suggested that I use a couple of shorter posts with my thoughts on some topics after Don Garber gave the "State of the League" address and the following Q&A session.
Let's start with the one that I believe will have the biggest impact on fans, the new schedule, of course all of the comments made are pending approval by both the MLS Board of Directors and the MLS Owners (both of whom will meet next week) and neither of which are likely to question or demand any changes. The first thing we know is that there will be 34 matches, so that means that the schedule will be unbalanced (no longer will each team face every other team twice a year). Now I think adding two more regular season matches would have been fine, heck even when we get to 20 teams a schedule with 38 matches doesn't seem to be an impossible thing.
However for Don his points are that the travel requirements are too much to allow so many matches, and when questioned on perhaps there are better ways of scheduling so there would be less travel, he quickly defended the past scheduling and pointed out that the league has a full time person doing schedules(with league for 15 years) with various outside consultants helping. None of that means much to me, it seems rather simple if you simply cluster teams that are the furthest away (Seattle, Portland, Vancouver)(New England, New York, Philly)(DC, Columbus, Toronto)(Chicago, Montreal, Kansas City)(Dallas, Houston) into Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday road trips. You could probably save some money, and eliminate some of the miles traveled. After all it was Don who commented that the days of midweek matches being death on attendance have ended, we also know that it is likely our new TV partner NBC Sports Net (currently Versus) will probably want midweek as well as weekend events to fill available time slots.
more after the jump:
Of course we could go the other way as well, if we are going to keep geographic based conference then how about we shorten the regular season and make the playoffs longer? Since we only have 19 teams for 2012 this would require a bit of "creative" scheduling but with 20 teams wouldn't it be easy to play the 9 other teams in your conference twice (home and away) for 18 matches, and then play the other 10 teams (or 9 next year) once each year (alternating home and away) for 10 more matches. 28 seems a bit shy, so in order to keep Don's "rivalry" vision alive each team then gets another home and away with their top rival for a total of 30 regular season matches. This cuts down on travel (only half as many trips to opposing conference), allows for no matches during FIFA dates, allows teams to focus on US Open Cup and Champions League, and it allows all 3 rounds of the playoffs to be home and away.
I understand that most sports in the US have unbalanced schedules, Don made that point clear but around the world soccer is a bit different and while I am not supporting a balanced approach to scheduling because of some Euro-Complex, I am doing it because it means that the regular season has real value. It means that every team has faced the same opponents and thus the top team is really the top team because of what they have done and not because of a favorable schedule.
Think about the controversy of NCAA football, can you compare the schedule of LSU with Boise St? Nope and each year there is a fight over the BCS and who gets to play in what bowl game, and for the life of me I have no idea why we would ever want MLS to fall into that type of thing. So while 38 matches with 20 teams may seem impossible for Don and his 15 yr. veteran of scheduling to grasp, if they simply can't get their hands or minds around it, fine but don't give us some crappy schedule based on your beliefs of rivalries, where RSL plays Colorado 4-5 times a year but doesn't play New York or LA, give us a schedule that is fair and as balanced as can be. Get over your personal desire for "rivalries" and do the right thing for the sport and the fans, there is a reason why most fans support a balanced schedule.
This is one where I simply believe that MLS is going to make a mess out of things, when I hear the leader of the league start talking about TV ratings do well when there is a hero and a villain, it makes me think he wants to turn MLS into WWE . This is a sport and as I explained to RSL fans after the loss in the Western Conference final, soccer is never about one match, or even one season, it is about a lifetime of passion for your team. Removing the purity of a balanced schedule will bring in far too many subjective decisions about scheduling, it will add elements of questioning a playoff system that already is questionable. Yes I understand that MLS is a sports league in the United States and Canada but that doesn't mean we need to embrace the mistakes other sports have made just for the sake of making things easy.
Well there is part 1, there are a couple more parts coming like my thoughts on the TV deal and TV ratings, on NY2 and expansion, and one on some of the smaller points of the State of the League address. Not all of them are negative but in each I try to put on my thinking cap about what might be best for the league.
OFF MY SOAPBOX