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Opinion: A Bundesliga playoff system would work

How postseason glory might be the way to keep 50+1 and bring excitement back to the league.

Thomas Müller lifts the trophy over his head with his teammates looking during the championship celebration
Müller has a little fun with the Bundesliga trophy on May 15, 2022 in Munich
Photo by Thomas Hiermayer/vi/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Bayern Munich CEO Oliver Kahn made waves this February by signaling openness to the prospect of a Bundesliga playoff. With the German Rekordmeister now at ten titles on the spin, speculation about the shape of the league’s future will only continue. Let’s dive in once more.

The merits

The Bundesliga is, ultimately, a product: sold as much to fans as to sponsors and broadcasters. Perennial dominance bolstered by structural advantages — even if they are earned — can degrade it.

Playoffs make for compelling television. Many of the biggest sporting products in the world come down to a decisive championship tilt. These are the indelible moments woven into legend, whether it’s David slaying Goliath or the illustrious — but, key word: rare — three-peat. The extra games themselves would boost revenue.

In fact, top-flight leagues in Europe already rely on playoffs to inject liveliness and renewal to their product, albeit indirectly, through promotion spots. This helps vault up a more diverse cast of teams; may the best stay.

It’s a creative and sensible solution, especially in the face of resource imbalance.

In the end, what holds more value? An interminably long streak, or consistent elite status to any who can maintain it in a hard-fought, top-notch league?

The alternatives

The likeliest current path to a Bundesliga shake-up involves Bayern simply fall flat on their faces. But self-destruction of the best would injure rather than enhance the league, or any of its other teams.

Another team tapping into a rare golden generation? Sure; the last time that happened, it proved awfully ephemeral. We could be — we have been — waiting a long, long time.

50+1? Far more a sledgehammer to the culture than a playoff! And the EPL would still be the EPL. You can sell your soul only to find there are others who can do it better.

To advance league goals requires initiative, intent, and intervention. Of course, doing nothing is intent in itself.

What could it look like?

Here’s an idea: a top-six playoff with two coveted byes, meaning at max three additional games — for a league with four fewer matchdays than its competition. This year, it would have looked like this:

Seeding: 4 - RB Leipzig vs 5 - Union Berlin, winner to face 1 - Bayern Munich; 3 - Bayer Leverkusen vs 6 SC Freiburg, winner to face 2 - Borussia Dortmund
A 2022 Bundesliga Playoffs Bracket
generated by

How about a potential Cinderella run for Union? Or Nico Schlotterbeck cementing his legend at Freiburg, perhaps keeping that crew together. A Bayern collapse that results in a proper inquest into issues its annual, inexorable march papers over. To the victor the spoils.

It would be must-watch television, and not only for the individual team markets.

At least initially, Bayern would be strong. Any streaks it can achieve would be all the more impressive. But there will be the prospect for other teams to get hot at the right time, go on a nice little run — and jumpstart to greater glories. In time, this would raise everyone’s level.

A strong league will always ably serve whoever is at the top. Top prize, however, needs to be both reasonably accessible and dramatically earned.

Could it really happen?

Don’t count it out!

There was never supposed to be an American college football championship game, much less the playoff they have now. There was never supposed to be a Super League...yet top clubs tried, and will likely try again.

What will the football world look like in five, ten, fifteen years? The tectonics are constantly shifting beneath us. Times always change; the other leagues won’t stay still, either. Each will want to be proactive.

The future of the game itself may not be at stake, but the viability of current trends, from exorbitant fees to billionaire-backed clubs, is less assured. Whatever happens, Bayern’s fortunes, and those of its domestic league, will be inextricably linked.

Playoffs? Maybe not. But it’s a fun possibility. Let’s see what the future brings.

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