Is A Playoff System In MX Worth Considering?
We’ve been down this road before many times before when it comes to designing the perfect motocross points system. I feel the formula we have now is good. It’s not perfect, but it’s been working pretty well for a long, long time. If it never changes, I wouldn’t be disappointed, and life would go on just fine.
That being said, I’m not opposed to trying something different, though. I think change, in general, is a good thing. Every so often, the idea of a playoff points system in motocross comes to the surface, especially after when both the 2019 FIM MXGP and MX2, and AMA 450MX Championships were clinched at least one round early this year. (It was actually four rounds early in MXGP and three rounds early in MX2. This isn’t good for any championship. And, Cooper Webb came within just three points of clinching the 2019 supercross title a round early, too.) So, I admit that I’m open-minded to a playoff system in motocross (supercross, as well), as long as it isn’t always meant to whittle everything down to a single, winner-take-all, final-round showdown to determine a champion. I do not want that to happen, just something to prevent championships from being clinched before the final round.
When it comes to an individual sport, such as motorcycle racing, championships should not always and purposefully be rigged to be a final winner-take-all race. If it so happens that way like it can now with the current system, great! Pre-designed winner-take-all championships, however, are fine for football but not motocross. Yes, it might be exciting for the fans to have a final-race, you-win-and-you-get-the-number-one-plate system, but that’s not fair for the racers and the teams they represent. A real championship needs to be played out over multiple rounds/races/motos. I guess that’s why I’ve never taken the Motocross of Nations too seriously as far as being a genuine championship. Don’t get me wrong; the MXoN is a fabulous race; I love it. It’s entertaining to watch, there is tons of pride on the line, it’s fun to be patriotic and cheer on your country’s riders, and I look forward to it every year. It’s a race that proves who has the best three motocross riders in the world—on that day, on that track. MXoN winners deserve to celebrate hard, cheer loudly, brag boldly, and wave their flag proudly when it’s over, but, to me, the MXoN doesn’t always prove which country has the three best motocross riders in the world, which some people take to heart. If the MXoN played out over several months, on a variety of tracks, with plenty of variables (weather), then I’d buy into it. Until then, the MXoN is a very prestigious one-day race that is, without question, worth pursuing and winning. Come Monday morning; however, it’s back to reality.
We just had an excellent example of why an all-or-nothing, winner-take-all, final-race format loses its luster. What if the Budds Creek National was the final round of the series, and everyone on the starting line began the day reset with zero points or something like that. Shane McElrath would be the 250MX Champion right now. Up until Budds Creek, however, McElrath was not on anyone’s radar and not a championship contender. I’m not taking anything away from McElrath, he’s championship material, that goes without saying, but just not this past season. For whatever reason, he was having a tough time up to the Budds Creek race. His best finish before Budds was a fourth and his average moto finish going into Budds was around 10th. If Budds were a one-day, winner-take-all championship, well, he would be wearing the number-one plate right now, and that would feel a little weird to me, especially after having watched Adam Cianciarulo and Dylan Ferrandis battle it out so hard for wins all summer long. No, I’m not hip to a playoff system that leads to a one-race, whoever-wins-takes-the-championship final. At least in NASCAR’s playoff system, you don’t have to win the final race to take the title but you do have to finish ahead of the four other qualifiers.
However, I wouldn’t be opposed to trying some playoff-type system in motocross. Perhaps make the first six, seven, or eight rounds (whatever you chose) of a 12-round series, as we have now in MX, a sort of “qualifier” series for the remaining however-many rounds. The qualifying riders—perhaps 10-20 of them—would then be eligible for championship points (using the same system we have now) given away during those remaining rounds. (Non-qualifying riders would still be allowed to race the final six, five, or four rounds and go for points like they usually do. This would be good for privateers and their resumes.) You could also throw in some bonus-point system for the top riders from the first six, seven, or eight rounds, and that would keep them interested in doing their best even after they’ve already qualified for title contention early in the season. With this system, riders would still be rewarded for being consistent and adapting best to ever-changing racing conditions over the summer months; these are two things that I think are essential elements when it comes to granting something championship status, especially when it comes to outdoor MX. Keep in mind that even if you went with just, say, four rounds, that would still amount to eight motos; five rounds would amount to 10 motos; six rounds 12 motos! That is still a lot of racing. Also, multiply all those motos by 30-plus minutes, and you still have what I feel qualifies as constancy status for a motocross championship. Perhaps you could have one throwaway moto in the championship rounds so one first-turn pileup or one loose radiator hose doesn’t end your title hopes right then and there.
Plus, with this system, you still have to be fast, consistent, and you’d always have a handful of deserving riders still in the championship hunt at the final race. This system might sound a little familiar; it’s somewhat similar to what the AMA Arenacross Championship utilized during its final few seasons. It wasn’t perfect, I know, but it did keep my interest in the series right down to the last race, which I couldn’t say happened many times before going to their playoff method. NASCAR’s playoff system seems to be working well, as does NHRA’s.
Unfortunately, no points system is going to be perfect. You’ll probably be able to poke holes in whatever formula you come up with, and unseen flaws will inevitably pop up no matter how hard you try not letting that happen. Still, I’m okay leaving things the way they are now. It’s not a broken system by any means; as I said, it’s worked pretty well up to this point. But, hey, could something be better? I’m open to ideas. Got any? CN