Thursday, September 20, 2012

Playoffs, Drama, and Jesus

by Ben Howard

I’m going to say something really controversial. I mean this will be more controversial than anything I’ve said about any topic since I started writing this blog. Prepare yourself.

I think playoffs are stupid.

*watches a beer bottle flash by his head and crash against the wall*

Yeah, I know, pretty shocking. That’s the kind of thing you might hear on an ESPN show that was being needlessly provocative, but unlike Stephen A. Smith, I actually believe it.

You tell which of these options sounds like a more reasonable way of determining a champion. A team plays each other team in the league, once at home and once away, at the end of the season the team with the best record wins the league.

Or, a team plays 162 games a season, most of them against teams in the same division, the rest against teams in the same league, except for 12 scattered around to random teams in a different league. Then the best teams, provided they win their division, or win a wildcard spot which includes another one off game, play in a 4 week tournament in which they have to win 11 games in order to be champion.

Pure simplicity and reason points towards option one, European club soccer, over option two, Major League Baseball.

So why do playoffs persist? Why are sports fans adamant about adding playoffs to college football? Why is the college basketball tournament a billion dollar enterprise?

I have a theory.

Playoffs exist for the same reason that romantic comedies and action movies exist. We don’t just want champions, we don’t just want heroes, we want dramatic champions and dramatic heroes. We want champions who go the very brink of defeat only to stare defeat in the face and laugh at it.

We thrive on the drama that shapes the event even if its manufactured.

Since the church is made up of people, it operates the same way. Conversion stories are dramatic, being raised in the church is boring. Soaring emotional ballads where we tell Jesus we love him are dramatic, hymns are old and boring.

In manufacturing the drama we miss the point that while there are certainly ecstatic highs and lows in life, they are not the thing that defines our existence. Beauty and peace and contentment are things we find in the everyday, not in the so-called “mountain top experience.”

We are not a people in search of a faith and a tradition that provides us with thrills, but instead a faith that shapes us into humans the way we were created to be human.

We focus so often on the drama of Christ, the violence of the crucifixion the crescendo of the resurrection, that I wonder if we miss the deeply profound simplicity of Jesus as human. The Word made flesh who dwelt among us.

There is nothing wrong with the soaring heights of a dramatic story, but it does not define the story. The story is the whole, not just the ending. Jesus is the entirety of his life, the incarnation, the teaching, the parables, the prophecies, the love, the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension. None of those is a microcosm of the story, they all work together.

The story of the church is the same. It is every bit and every piece. Not just the big moments, but the little ones and the average ones as well. Every bit is part of the story, not just the memorable parts.

A season makes a champion, not just a game.


When he isn’t railing against the implications of playoffs and drama, Ben likes to watch playoffs and drama. I mean, seriously, its exhilarating. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87 or email him at benjamin.howard87 [at]

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  1. I mean...we have playoffs because they are HUGE moneymakers. The shift from the BCS to college playoffs didn't happen because the NCAA thought we needed more drama. It happened because they figured out how to add MORE games to the college bowl season, and because those games will net the conferences tens of millions of dollars. If we didn't have playoffs, we'd have to invent them. They're too profitable for the people who control these decisions. ...just like the church. Blammo.

  2. That's a completely legitimate point. Playoffs make money. But why do they make so much money? Because it's a heightened dramatic part of the season. It's the same reason churches emphasize emotions. If you get the emotional rise out of it all, then more people will come. It's like a drug. I don't think Marx is right about all religion being an opiate, but certain pockets look a whole lot like that description.

  3. I totally agree. I love tournaments, but I think it's a terrible way of proving who is the best team in a given season. Case in point: 2003 Kentucky team. Won 26 straight games. Best college ball I've ever seen. Keith Bogans gets injured in the sweet sixteen and, in the following round, they lose to Marquette and soon to be superstar Dwayne Wade who records one of the eight triple doubles in tournament history. The next week, Marquette gets destroyed by a sub-par Kansas team. You telling me they play that game over 10 times and Ky doesn't win the other nine games? Yes I'm bitter.

    I also have a theory as to why tournaments are so popular, but a blog is not the place to spout it. I'll tell you in person.