Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Follow Up To Lack of FedEx Cup Changes

Yesterday, I lauded the Tour for its two moves relating to the FEC that were announced - the change in the payout structure to get mostly cash in the hands of the top 10 finishers in the FEC and moving the Tour Championship in response to a scheduling nightmare with next year's Ryder Cup.

I also said that I could understand why changes were not made to the FEC points structure and Playoff event field sizes. Notice, I said I could understand. I also mentioned that I don't approve of them either. Apparently, very few people do. And by very few, I mean that I'm saying that just in case there is a fan or media member out there that actually does approve - which I am yet to find.

The Tour said it may make changes to those two above items in February. That's two months into the season. Basically, the Tour is saying that it has the option to change the rules of the game in the middle of it. Personally, I would take this as a signal from the Tour that they are not going to make any changes to the points or Playoff invites unless the backlash is as strong as or stronger than last year's complaints from all over the place.

Trust me, it will be. And the Tour knows it. So then the question being asked by everyone should be inserted here: if you know something sucks, why not change it before it can be allowed to keep sucking? The 14 people (7 media, 3 fans, 2 players, Tim Finchem, and Ty Votaw) who understand the points structure know that they are basically the money list with some bonus points here and there for higher purses and limited field events. Basically, the points system was set up to try to give a slight edge to the best players in the event that they have an off year. That way, they would get automatic points in all of the no-cut WGC events.

The points structure appeals to the best players, but also to the rank and file that play way more events than the best players. It allows them to continue to play incessantly on Tour and, with diligence, earn enough points to compete with the big boys who can compile the same points in way fewer events.

Even if rank and filers cannot, though, they are bailed out by the number of players invited to the first two Playoff events - 144, 120 respectively. By having a pulse, they get a crack at two $7,000,000 purses.

In essence, the system is a compromise designed to not tick anybody off. That is the whole MO for Commissioner Finchem - in everything he does, he tries to upset no one segment of the players. He knows he has to kiss up to the best players because they can dictate their own schedules and they could abandon him for the European Tour if he gets too crazy. Finchem also knows he cannot have a viable Tour without a long list of mediocre golfers to fill out events with the big boys and completely populate more undesirable events.

Finchem probably is pretty proud of the compromise he struck and refuses to change it. Why, though? How about we run through his potential reasons against the most prominent changes suggested?

1. Let's just say that we drop the points and just use the money list. There is no reason against this. The points list offers weights for majors, WGCs, and the Players Championship. It would be a lot easier to just use money instead of busting out my dollars to FEC points conversion tool each week.

2. There was talk of making the points system more volatile, with particular emphasis on the Playoff points. The best players would be mad because they could get screwed if they play poorly in the first couple of Playoff events. That's pretty much the reason - catering to the best players that would clearly complain if they got booted in week two of the Playoffs. Then again, would Lefty be mad if he didn't have to call out the Commish on air just to make it clear he doesn't want to play? With more volatility, Lefty could get himself the week off by tanking! But, Finchem knows that stars deliver ratings and that means that the system has to be rigged so that they will almost be guaranteed a place in all four Playoff events.

3. Why not change the structure of the Playoff events?

3a. We could have 3 close to full field (120 player) events and only players eligible at each event (120, 90, 60) could get points based on their finish. I don't understand how there could be an objection here. The fans win because the dark horse players can be in the mix to play spoiler. The rank and file wins cause they get three shots at $7,000,000. The big boys don't really lose because they're likely to beat the lesser players in these events. The downside for the big boys, though, is that the winner's share and other top places' shares go down with more players in the field.

3b. Instead of that, the Playoff fields could be even smaller (120, 90, 60, 30). Do we really need more fat cat, WGC styled limited field events? There are already plenty of limited field opportunities on the schedule. Instilling 3 more (even more so) on the schedule is a bad idea.

3c. How about having the Tour Championship be match play among 16 players somehow? Forget it. Match play != ratings.

Even if you skipped the last few paragraphs, here's the sentiment I'm trying to capture: Tim Finchem is trying to not tick off any one particular audience when it comes to the FEC. He wants to keep the best players interested in the concept. The rank and file need to be on board or its his head. The fans need to be interested or there is no point. Corporate sponsors have to like what is happening or their money goes poof.

How did he do with this year on those goals?

The best players all played in more events together, but not necessarily more often. Woods, Els, and Mickelson all played in 3 of 4 Playoff events. The other best players played in them all except KJ Choi (injury). At least for year one, Finchem had them on board, albeit tenuously.

The rank and file played because they had to in order to keep making money. Rank and file guys will not turn down a system that gives them two free shots at a lot of money.

The fans responded because the Playoff events had some of the Tour's best ever ratings during football season. The ploy worked. It helped that the right guys were in contention each week, but Finchem probably is not considering that.

Corporate America is still on board. In fact, tournament acquired new sponsors where needed (Los Angeles) and sponsors stepped up where there were none (Canada). Finchem has to be happy with that.

That's why Finchem will not change anything. No one group is totally off board. Until one group does quit on him in the FedEx Cup, nothing will change.

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