Holbrook: Where postseasons fall on the grading scale

Eric Cooper, an Iowa State alumnus with a degree in transportation logistics, entered umpire school after graduation and is now a Major League Baseball umpire. He has been an umpire for 30 years, and he is one of only 68 MLB umpires.

Trevor Holbrook

Temperatures are dropping across the Midwest, and October is in full swing. As a result, sports fans get to enjoy the best month for games.

Postseason baseball ramped up this month, the College Football Playoff rankings come out at the beginning of next month and the NFL standings are beginning to weed out the pretenders from the contenders.

As I intently watched my beloved St. Louis Cardinals’ comeback against the Atlanta Braves on Monday, I thought to myself, “Can it get any better than October baseball?”

Now, no playoff system is bad, but some are better than others. Below are grades for the MLB, NBA, NFL, college football and college basketball playoffs.


During April, the NBA season shifts to the playoffs before wrapping up in June with the NBA Finals. The NBA playoffs are a blast with jam-packed action early on, followed by elite basketball later.

An issue with the NBA recently has been a lack of parity with the Warriors and Cavaliers arriving in the finals often, but the Raptors bucked the trend with an appearance and win last season.

This year appears to be wide open, and the Western Conference is poised for a major upset in the first round with the depth of quality teams in the conference.

The NBA playoffs benefit from being the only thing on television during the majority of the run besides baseball.

The downfall of the NBA is the length of the series and the amount of series. April to June is a long run for playoffs, and at times it can drag on — especially with lopsided series where at least four games still have to be played.

Grade: B

March Madness

Often seen as the best postseason format, March Madness is great action. It sets up so most of the action is on the weekends, and it’s a mostly dead period for other sports.

While the upsets and Cinderella teams create the fun that makes the event what it is, it does lack sample size with only a one-game guarantee for teams. Personally, I like this because it creates more parity and college basketball can be pretty lopsided with established blue-blood programs going against small schools.

The only knock on college basketball is the players aren’t as skilled as NBA players, obviously, so there’s a lot of missed shots and the basketball product isn’t as good. I think March Madness makes up for this somewhat with contrasting styles and creativity that isn’t seen in the NBA.

Grade: A-

College Football Playoff

This might be the newest format on the list. The BCS has been dead for five years now, and the College Football Playoff has received pretty solid reviews during that time, I think.

I enjoy the four-team format because two teams is too narrow. The best team often has a hiccup throughout the season, and the playoff provides an opportunity for a second chance.

The biggest issue for the format is: Is four teams the right number? Should it flip to six? Eight? 16?

I don’t know what the right answer is, but I’m not 100% sold on four teams. I think that the lingering question drops the ranking a bit.

Grade: B-


I love the NFL, and I think the playoffs are solid for the league. The timing of the playoffs is great because it’s normally freezing outside in Iowa and where some of the games are played.

The elements put teams to the test, and with less of an emphasis on running the ball and playing defense in recent years, it’s interesting to see how certain teams and quarterbacks respond to weather conditions.

Outside of those factors, the six playoff team per conference ratio is perfect, and it creates an opportunity for wild card upsets.

Overall, the Super Bowl is mostly a letdown, in my opinion. The halftime show is generally mediocre and the commercials are bad. On the field, football’s been plagued by poor officiating and weird rules in recent years, and I think that’s harmed the game some.

I think the playoffs are often better than the Super Bowl.

Grade: B+


Maybe this is recency bias, but I think baseball features the best postseason (and I personally like the NBA and NFL more). I think the advantage baseball has over basketball and football is the pacing. Basketball is fast with breaks only for fouls, timeouts or quarters/halftimes. Football is similar, but it does have quick breaks between plays.

Meanwhile, baseball’s intensity builds with each pitch, and clocks aren’t a factor unlike in basketball and football.

Teams can’t sit on a lead and run out the clock; they’re forced to be better than the other team to finish out a win.

I think the pacing really hurts baseball during the regular season when there’s less at stake, but baseball truly shines with postseason hopes on the line.

Grade: A