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Swing Thoughts: The FedExCup: Failure from the Start?


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By Erik J. Barzeski via TheSandTrap.com
The 2007 FedExCup details are now known, and all they've done is firm my belief that it will be a massive failure.

fedex_cup_logo.jpgAs I write this, a ticker at pgatour.com/fedexcup informs me that I have but 184 days, 1 hour, 22 minutes, and four seconds until the start of the 2007 PGA Tour season and, by implication, the beginning of a "New Era" in golf - the FedExCup.



Earlier this week, Tim Finchem laid out the rules, points distributions, and the other mundane details of what will certainly become the most mundane "playoff" system in all of modern sport. It is, after all, the only playoff system in which nobody is eliminated and which accepts participants who won't even be in the league the following season.



The announcement has stirred the pot of discussion, and though everyone from John Hawkins to us here at The Sand Trap has an opinion, I've yet to see one supporting the plan.

The FedExCup will work as follows:
  1. Players will earn points from a pool of roughly 25,000 per tournament in which they make the cut. Points are assigned in a distribution roughly matching the manner in which prize money is distributed.
  2. These points determine a player's seed in a three-tournament "playoff" system beginning in late August. The #1 seed is assigned a points total of 100,000 and the #144 seed is assigned 84,700. #2 through #143 are spread evenly, eliminating large gaps.
  3. The three "playoff" events are each worth 50,000 points with 9,000 for the winner.
  4. The top thirty points earners after the "playoff" events gain entry to the Tour Championship. This final event offers 10,300 points to the winner and 395 to the last-place (30th) finisher.
  5. The top points earner after all of this wins $10M.

It may be a simple enough concept, but my problem is not with the lack of complexity. My problems with the FedExCup "playoffs" are threefold: there is no playoff, there is no incentive, and there is no cup.



There is No Playoff
playoff_bracket.gif144 players will make their way into the PGA Tour's "playoffs." The first event, the Barclays Classic, will be a normal full-field event with a 36-hole cut. So too will the next event, the Deutsche Bank Championship. And so too will the third and final "playoff" event, the BMW Championship.



In any normal playoff scenario, teams or players are eliminated as the playoffs move on. On the PGA Tour, nobody will be eliminated. What's worse, only the top teams make normal playoffs - only 12 of the NFL's 32 teams make the playoffs, for example. In the PGA Tour's version, even players who are in the process of failing to keep their PGA Tour status are granted access to these "playoffs."



Finally, the winner of the Tour Championship may not even win the FedExCup, making this system even worse than the BCS system for college football. Imagine the NFL declaring the Indianapolis Colts the "winner" of the 2005 NFL season despite their failure to advance to (and win) the Super Bowl? Though the same thing can happen in the Champions Tour's Charles Schwab Cup, the triple point values available in the final event virtually guarantee that a win on top of a solid regular season will net you the championship.



One could argue that the PGA Tour does not share one thing in common with a "playoff," and that person would be right.



There is No Incentive
Given the re-leveling and "seeding," what incentive does the FedExCup provide Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, or any other player? In a mock simulation of the points system, Phil Mickelson leads #2 Geoff Ogilvy by 1,685.5 points and #144 Jason Gore by 16,410.1. If the "playoffs" began today, his lead over Ogilvy would shrink to 1,000 and his lead over #144 to only 15,300. (For those interested, Phil's lead on #30 J.B. Holmes would fall from 11,622.2 to 6,750.)



money.jpgOne might suggest that 15,300 is a lot of points, but imagine this: Tiger Woods plays and wins every event leading up to the "playoffs." He amasses an astounding lead over not only second place but over #144 as well. Yet, due to a small bungee-jumping/stock-car-driving injury to his left pinkie finger he finishes only T20 in the first three "playoff" events while player #144 rides a hot streak to a win and two top-3 finishes. Guess who will have more points going into the Tour Championship? Not Tiger.



Tim Finchem was once fond of saying that "the FedExCup is going to incentivize the top players to play often and play well."



But the FedExCup system doesn't offer incentives; it offers communism. The FedExCup does not "incentivize" top players to play more frequently because any lead they build up will be knocked down by the re-leveling of the seeds. It doesn't encourage the rabbits and journeymen on Tour to play any more frequently than they do already in attempts to slide into the top 125 - it only encourages them to play better during three particular events.



There is No Cup
stanley_cup.jpgHas anyone seen the FedExCup? Can you tell me what it looks like? Why does Tim Finchem keep saying things like "a player trying to win the Cup?" There is no cup. The "cup" is a $10M first prize - a lot of money to be sure, you bet - but no actual cup.



The winners of the Super Bowl, the World Series, etc. win money, but it's the trophy fans care about, it's the trophy teams show off, it's the trophy from which the winner drinks champagn.



The FedExCup isn't an actual cup. It's an idea, a myth, a legend. It's $10,000,000 at the end of "playoff" system that has nothing in common with a playoff system.



Failure to Get It
During the press conference, Finchem relayed that several top players had asked about the re-leveling of the points and whether that system was fair, and he responded by saying "if the New York Yankees win 115 games and win the American League East, they start over." This, Finchem told us, resulted in the appeasement of the top players.



tim_finchem_2005.jpgBut it doesn't appease me becauase it doesn't make sense. Were I a top player, I'd have asked "but the Yankees only got into the playoffs because they played well all year - why are we letting in guys who won't even keep their card? And if the Yankees lose to the Red Sox, they don't go to the World Series - why aren't we eliminating guys who can't make the cut in these "playoff" events?



What's worse, the FedExCup system provides no guarantee that those top players will play in all of the "playoff" events. If Tiger Woods wins the first one and places well in the second, tacking 14,000 points onto his 100,000, who says he won't take a week off before the Tour Championship? Who says Phil won't decide that spending time with his family trick-or-treating isn't more important than a playoff system in which he can't be eliminated?



My Proposal
I'm of the belief that if you're going to complain about something, you should have an idea of your own. My proposed solution is simple, and I'm sharing it here simply for debate, not because I think anyone at the PGA Tour will actually listen. It goes like this:

  • Leave the "regular season" points totals as they will be in the 2007 FedExCup.
  • Do not "re-seed" going into the playoffs. Leave the points values alone.
  • The top 100 points earners get into the first playoff event. A 36-hole cut reduces the field to 70.
  • Those top 70 advance to the next event, where they're cut to 50. Those 50 move on to the third playoff event, where they're cut first to 40 on Saturday and 30 on Sunday.
  • Those 30 make the Tour Championship.
  • The top point earner, after the Tour Championship, wins the fictitious "cup" and the $10M.

My system has a flaw as well - Tiger Woods could fail to make a cut and to advance in the playoffs, and in doing so, he may even finish the season with more points than the eventual winner of the $10M. So be it. The Yankees, sometimes, lose to the Pirates despite outscoring them 55-27.



My system differs from Finchem's in that it creates an actual playoff that rewards strong regular-season play with a ticket into the post-season, yet places tremendous pressure on players once they get there. Unlike Finchem's 2007 model, I think my system would create more excitement, more incentive, and more drama. Think of it: players will be faced with putts to make the cut and continue on. Top players who have bad weeks will face elimination. Every shot will matter - both throughout the year and in the playoffs - but more so in the playoffs.



In the End…
Unfortunately, in the end, it's not my Tour. It's technically not Finchem's tour either, but as the elected commissioner, it's a good bit more his than mine. Finchem has laid down the law on the 2007 FedExCup, and all I can do at this point is sit back and watch it fail. Sure, the FedExCup may be a good "branding initiative" for the "PGA Tour platform," and it may succeed on some scale Tim Finchem has in his mind. FedEx may get the advertising value they foresee. It may "succeed" there too.



But in the eyes of the fans, and many of the players, I cannot see how this will be seen as anything but a dismal failure. Given the opportunity to do something great, Finchem seems to have managed only the mediocre.



Photo Credits: © Gregory Smith/AP.

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