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Postseason leaves some grumbling, some ecstatic

[Toe to Toe] The postseason is all about pressure, where legends are made.

Nov 20,2009

It’s that time of the year. A chill is in the air and Christmas is around the corner. The start of winter means one thing to football fans: the K-League Championship. With the first round set to kick off this weekend between third to sixth ranked teams, nothing else matters for die-hard fans at this time of the year.

The passion for the game also leads to discussions about the K-League playoff format. It seems like it is customary for football fans, managers and players alike to discuss the merits of the current postseason format. The current system, which was introduced in 2007, is similar to the one used by the Korea Baseball Organization. The first round pits third and sixth placed teams against each other in one game, and fourth and fifth placed teams against each other in the other game. The winners of the two single elimination games move onto play each other in the second round. Then the winner of the second round gets a chance to face the second-placed Pohang Steelers in the semifinals. Then the winner of the semifinals moves onto the finals to play the team with the best record in the regular season in a home and away series, which happens to be Jeonbuk Motors this season. While giving the two teams with the best records during the regular season byes in the postseason makes sense, the current format forces the top teams to wait three weeks for their first match in the postseason.

Is there a need to tweak the current system? While change is good and perhaps necessary, there are also benefits to the current system. So, which is better?





• YES

Yes, change is needed. Ever since the current playoff format was introduced in 2007, there have been grumblings from the manager of the top ranked team in the regular season. Suwon Bluewings manager and former national team manager Cha Bum-keun raised the issue at the end of last season and Jeonbuk Motors manager Choi Kang-hee did so earlier this month. And rightfully so.

In using a playoff format similar to the one used in the Korea Baseball Organization, the team with the best record in the regular season is given a three-week bye. They must wait until Dec. 2 to play in their first game. This can throw the higher ranking team off their rhythm but it can also be tiring for the lower ranking teams that must fight up to three games before the finals.

While the current playoff format should be changed, this is not to suggest that league officials should scrap the postseason altogether in favor of the single calendar format being used by most of the football leagues around the globe. The single calendar format rewards the team with the best record in the regular season. Of course there are FA Cups and other in-season tournaments but there are no meaningless regular season games - this is precisely Choi’s point. The leagues that use such formats all have relegation systems in place and with lower divisions holding elimination format playoffs to decide who gets promoted to the higher ranked league.

Since Korea does not have a relegation system in place at the moment, it would be meaningless to scrap the postseason and take the fun out of what most fans wait for all season. Postseasons are where legends are made. People pay big money and forgo more important chores on their daily schedule to take in the underdogs. Fans eagerly await for an unsung hero to make a clutch shot or make a key save in the dying minutes of an elimination game. This is why March Madness, NFL, NBA and MLB postseasons are so fun to watch and in turn attract so many fans.

While the KBO needs the playoff format because it only has eight teams, the K-League has 15 teams and can invite six teams to the postseason and stick to the more familiar system in which the two teams with the best records in the regular season are given byes in only the first round.

The regular season record indicates a team’s ability to put up wins on a consistent basis and the postseason is all about pressure.jason@joongang.co.kr





• NO

When the K-League football playoffs begin tomorrow, Jeonbuk Motors will be watching the action. In fact, Jeonbuk, who finished with the best regular season record, will be watching until the championship round starts on Dec. 2.

In the quirky playoff format, the regular season champion gets the bye all the way to the final and awaits its opponent. It could be the No. 2 seed Pohang Steelers, fresh off their AFC Champions League title, or the Chunnam Dragons, who squeaked into the postseason at No. 6.

Coaches of the first-place clubs haven’t always been fond of this. Choi Kang-hee of Jeonbuk said earlier this month that he wished the league awarded a separate championship trophy for the regular season winner. Last year, Cha Bum-keun, coach of the eventual champion Suwon Bluewings, said he believed the No. 1 club from the regular season was the true champion.

That’s just nonsense. We’ve got a unique playoff system that has given teams the chance to make the postseason exciting for fans. They shouldn’t blow it.

A lower-ranked team can ride into the final against a top seed and have a decent chance for an upset. Don’t we all love underdogs anyway? In 2007, the Steelers clinched the playoffs as the fifth seed on the last day of the regular season, steamrollered through the playoffs, and overwhelmed defending champs Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma with a 4-1 aggregate score in a home-and-away series.

Being in first can be a double-edged sword in sports but you have to overcome certain challenges to be the champ. In golf, the third-round leader plays in the last pairing of the final round. By the time the leader tees off on the first hole, dozens of golfers will have stomped on the greens. Tiny spike marks will have just enough effect on putting that you could lose a couple of strokes. But it’s a challenge golfers take in stride. Has Tiger Woods ever complained of playing in the final pairing?

In figure skating, the short program leader is the last to perform in free skating. It’s not just the sloppy ice surface - you’d have to watch about a dozen skaters do their programs while you wait helplessly for your turn. It must be a nerve-wrecking experience, but that hasn’t kept Kim Yu-na from winning the world championship and seven Grand Prix events in a row.

If you’re coaching the K-League regular season champ, quit your whining, savor your regular season title while you can, and be prepared to face some pesky team in the final.



By Yoo Jee-ho, Jason Kim [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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