The NLL Season had been building to a point for weeks, and I honestly didn’t think it was going to happen. But, it did. With only one more weekend of games on the regular season slate, there was not a single Eastern Division playoff team locked in. Before the weekend, Evan did a great job outlining the NLL Playoff Scenarios over here: (https://laxallstars.com/random-thoughts-eastern-division/) in case you need to look them over, and I suggest you do.
But when we talk pro lacrosse and tiebreakers, most people that know me are aware that I LOVE THEM. Seriously, tiebreakers are one of my favorite things in the world. And having so many teams still alive in the final weekend is just great. So inevitably I am always brought back to the most ridiculous tiebreaker scenario ever. That is of course in 2016 when the MLL had their entire playoff field determined by a 7-way 8-6 tie (https://laxallstars.com/mll-playoffs-2016/).
The main difference between the MLL and NLL structure, aside from more games indoors, is that the MLL has no divisions and as much as possible, each team plays each other team twice. With 9 teams and 14 games, that isn’t possible, but it’s the goal. So when they select their four playoff teams, it’s a reasonable assumption that everyone has played everyone, so the best four records advance. Easy. But their tiebreaker scenarios don’t account for teams playing the “easy” teams twice, while other play their toughest opponents twice. They also remove teams already in the playoffs from the record comparison, so beating better teams does not help you as the math evolves. It got messy.
So as we entered the final weekend of play with the Eastern Division being crazy, it made me curious. What If?
What if the NLL had no east or west? What if the MLL had divisions in 2016?
First off, let’s look at the MLL.
MLL With Divisions
With Ohio, New York, Rochester, Florida, Boston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chesapeake, and Denver at play, I don’t see East vs. West making much sense. So let’s do North vs. South. New York, Ohio, Rochester, and Boston. I’ll throw Chesapeake into the south because they’re even further south than Denver who has to go somewhere. We’ll also assume the same schedule since reimagining an entire season hurts my head too much.
So the MLL south would be easy. For the NLL’s playoff system of 6 teams, the south had 5 and only three in the tiebreaker with 8-6 records. Denver, Chesapeake, and Charlotte. Denver and Charlotte made it in the real world anyway. But, as luck would have it, Chesapeake gets the #1 seed in the south by way of their head to head record with Denver. Cool, they go from eliminated to hosting. Denver swept Charlotte, so they’d get the two and would host the Hounds in round 1. In the real world, Denver played New York in Fairfield, and won their way into the championship game.
For the North, things are dicier. All 4 teams are tied at 8-6. Ohio still gets the overall #1 seed, as they did in 2016. That only makes sense. For the second spot, things get crazy. It comes down to Boston and New York, who split the season series and were dead even in margin. It then falls to best overall margin, which gives us Boston the #2 spot. New York swept Rochester, so it would send New York to Boston in Round one for the hopes to play Ohio in the Division Championship.
Now, had we just reduced this to the MLL’s four teams, you would have 2 brand new teams and 2 teams that actually made it. It’s worth noting that both teams that played in the championship game were also in this theoretical mix anyway. So perhaps it did nothing but generate interest for the fans. This also has to keep in mind the massive caveat that schedule wouldn’t change to better suit divisional play.
Now, that’s the MLL.
NLL With NO Divisions?
What would happen if the NLL moved to this 4 team setup with no divisions? Again, keeping the schedules completely the same, we’ll take a look. First of all, the Stealth probably would have been eliminated from contention much sooner. With only four spot for 9 teams, that gap would grow much too quickly. Going into the final weekend, your standings would have looked like this:
The Rush would still have the top overall seed clinched. That wouldn’t be changing. Vancouver would certainly be eliminated. But all of a sudden Calgary and Colorado would be in Jeopardy rather than making playoff beard grooming plans for the past several weeks. Here’s how this past weekend’s scenarios would look for those final three spots if we had the MLL’s division-less format.
If they lost and finished 10-8, they could wind up in a four way tie of Rochester beat Buffalo, New England beat Georgia, and Georgia beat Vancouver. In that setup, New England gets the #2 seed, Rochester would get the #3 seed, and Colorado gets the final seed and the ticket to Saskatchewan in round one. So, Colorado is clinched in this world. A win would give them a home game. So they would still have something to play for!
With two losses, they would finish 9-9 and would be within striking distance of everyone. With two wins, they’re in the playoffs and would host a game with a Colorado loss. Two wins and a Colorado win sends them to Colorado.
A win over Vancouver and a loss to New England would:
– With a Rochester loss: give them the fourth seed and a trip to Saskatchewan.
– With a Rochester win: Eliminated from playoffs.
A win over New England and loss to Vancouver would:
– With a Rochester loss: give them the third seed and a trip to Colorado
– With a Rochester win: give them the fourth seed and a trip to Saskatchewan.
Two losses would send things into a tailspin and leave everyone fighting for one final playoff spot. Two losses with a Rochester win would just eliminate them from the playoffs.
Now if they lost two and Rochester lost, things can go crazy, but Georgia’s in. You can get anything from a Georgia Rochester, Buffalo tiebreaker to a Georgia, Rochester, Buffalo, Toronto, Calgary tiebreaker. But in all of those, Georgia is in.
For New England, things are a little cleaner. Like in the real world, a win and they’re in, but as a three seed going to Colorado. A loss and a Rochester win would eliminate them. A loss and a Rochester loss would create an up to five way tie for the fourth spot with Rochester, Buffalo, Toronto, and Calgary.
In those situations:
A five way tie: Toronto is in.
If just Calgary lost: Toronto is still in.
If just Toronto lost: Buffalo is in.
If Toronto and Calgary lost: Buffalo is in.
They need to win and have Georgia lose to New England to be in.
For Rochester fans, this is much simpler.
Toronto needs major help. And wants the crazy 5 way tie scenario to happen as noted in the New England section. But they would still need to beat Colorado.
Buffalo is in the same boat as Toronto. They need New England to lose, Vancouver to win, and Colorado to win. Assuming they beat Rochester to start with.
Calgary is now eliminated from playoff contention. This makes more sense mostly because of the divisional scheduling gives other teams more opportunities for wins against the group, and because I took the number of teams from 6 to 4. But even if I ran through everything for 6 teams, Calgary is consistently at the bottom and likely eliminated.
So what actually happened? As we know, Georgia won twice, while Rochester and Colorado also were victorious. Saskatchewan still would be the top seed, but Georgia and Colorado would be tied with identical records. Colorado wins the head to head matchup, giving them a home game against the swarm. The final spot then goes to Rochester at 10-8.
So now, both Georgia and Rochester would go on the road rather than real life where they both will host games. If we upped it to six teams just for fun, New England is included ahead of the three way tie at 8-10 with Toronto, Buffalo, and Calgary. When looking at those three teams, Toronto would get the nod for the final spot.
Did you actually make it this far? Good work! You have now officially spent way too much time in hypothetical tiebreaker land. If I were to pick, I would say the divisional setup creates a much cleaner setup for fans. Fewer teams to worry about, more games against each other, and significantly less math. But more than anything this was an interesting exercise to walk through to see how just shuffling teams around can have major impacts on how actually gets into the postseason even though records and results are the same.