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May 23rd, 2008

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07:50 pm - If European association football were organised like NCAA college football...
There are many things I want to write about, but don't feel I have the confidence to do them proper justice - and yet the topic that gets me feeling that I have something to say and that I want to say it right now is the LiveJournal election, which is not important at all in the greater scheme of things. I keep following the voting counts, I keep observing that the lead is closing (600-ish, 585-ish, 565-ish, 550-ish, 490-ish, 470-ish, 450-ish...), I keep trying to read the entrails to discern changes in voting profile as different categories of people come online and vote, I keep hoping for miracles and I keep pondering idly where the transfers have to be going. (I think that there are some plausible patterns weakly indicated: cambler-jameth, jameth-cambler and squeaky19-rm at least.) However things turn out, there are bound to be accusations of sockpuppetry - though not nearly as many as there will be after next year's election. I shall sum up what I'm hoping for thus: "unity candidate". Hint, hint. (ETA: and, indeed, an attempt to create a unity candidate has been started, but it'll only work if the candidates themselves respect the results.)

Instead, I shall post upon an obscure topic of sports organisation at considerable length.

If European association football were organised like NCAA college football...

From time to time, my American friends boggle at the way association football is organised, principally at the existence of coherent pyramid structures encompassing hundreds of leagues, thousands of teams and tens or hundreds of thousands of players. The concept that a team can start from nothing at the lowest level and with sufficiently many good results (and sufficient funding...) work their way up to the highest level in the game is surely an attractive one. Some might consider that to be a sporting structural embodiment of the American Dream; on the contrary, the existence of the revenue-sharing-focused, draft-based structures at the top levels of American sport could be considered rather socialist. Occasionally I see people surmise what might happen if American sports were to be organised on European principles. I haven't seen things done the other way around quite like this, though.

As my wife hails from within punting distance of Athens, GA, she follows Georgia Bulldogs football with a passion that I have inherited. In the UK, there is little tradition of paying attention to university sport, other than a particular couple of fixtures between a couple of universities. In the US, inter-university ("college") football was the predominant form of the game up until about fifty or sixty years ago and still attracts very many adherents. The league in which Georgia plays, the Southeastern Conference (abbreviated SEC, though that's not a true initialism) has twelve teams whose average attendance over a season was 75,706 in 2006. There are only a handful of stadia in England that have that sort of capacity, none in Scotland and very nearly one in Wales. The SEC would compare well on this list comparing sports league attendances.

I have part of an article written attempting to explore why the American tradition should favour inter-university sport and the European tradition should favour lower-level professional and amateur sport, but don't really feel qualified to complete it. (The conclusion was going to be that the proposed All American Football League sounded like a superb and highly commercial idea, and that it would have at least a 60% chance of making it to season five. Yeah, I'm kind of glad I didn't get around to finishing and posting that one.) In short, as unintuitive as it might sound to British sports fans' ears, American college football is a very, very big deal in the US.

Due to what I suspect might reasonably be considered historical accident due to cultural disagreements at the time, there are many parallel divisions of teams at the top level of American college football, organised on a vaguely-regional basis but with a great deal of crossover between neighbouring competitions. Teams play many opponents from their own competition and a few other opponents from other competitions, the latter generally being selected for a mixture of traditional and financial reasons. There is some degree of attempt to declare one team to be the national champions, but due to traditional views that football should only be played for a limited period in the year so to contain the disturbance to the players' academic studies, sufficiently few games are played that the process is a questionable one involving a considerable degree of (among other things) qualitative assessments of competing teams' worths, in order to reduce the number of (arguably likely to be uncompetitive) games required.

From 1916 onwards, there was a tradition of playing a one-off game entitled the Rose Bowl between one of the teams of the Pacific Coast Conference, later the "Pac 10" conference, against a team representing the eastern half of the USA. (Quote:) Beginning with the 1947 Rose Bowl game, the game's participants were established as the champions of what is now the Big Ten Conference and the PCC (Pacific Coast Conference).

(Quote:) Other cities saw the promotional value for tourism that the [...] Rose Bowl carried and began to develop their own regional festivals which included college football games. [...] The historic timing of bowl games, around the new year, is the result of two factors: originally bowls began in warm climates such as Southern California, Florida and Texas as a way to promote the area for tourism and business. By 1940, there were five major college bowl games: the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, and the Sun Bowl. [...] By 1950, the number had increased to eight games. The number continued to increase, to 11 games in 1970, 15 games in 1980, 19 games in 1990, 25 games in the year 2000 and beyond. There are scheduled to be 34 such bowl games at the conclusion of the upcoming 2008 season

Since 1936 onwards, there have been annual polls attempting to crown one university to be national champion. The results have been unpredictable; the deemed champions in some years have not won their conference, in other years have not won their bowl game or in other years still have only been announced as one of two co-champions. From 1992 onwards, there have been attempts through the Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance and (currently) the Bowl Championship Series to provide meaningful, co-ordinated match-ups, not least (since the 1998 season) to provide a National Championship Game between two teams who are ranked #1 and #2 in the nation by some manner and whose winner might thus be considered a hard-to-dispute national #1. The controversy comes in that the selection of two teams for the National Championship game can often be far from clear, and there are some years in which certain teams who were not included in the National Championship Game can make strong cases that they should have been. (At this point, I'll remind you that my wife is a big Georgia fan. GO DAWGS!)

There are sporadically attempts to reform this bowl system in favour of a play-off system, which would determine which two teams ought to play in the National Championship Game in a more transparent fashion. These reform proposals have been rejected time and time again, and have recently been rejected until at least 2014. Partly this is due to intransigence on the part of some conferences (by virtue of an established and avowed preference for tradition) and partly because the desire to generate revenue through tourism opportunities, as happens in the bowl system, apparently exceeds the desire for a less controversial system to determine the champion. I note, far from impartially, that play-off series exist at lower levels of college football and in (almost?) all other college sports.

In Europe, association ("soccer" - lest we forget, a good British English nickname) football is traditionally played in domestic leagues, though a small number of persistent anomalies exist whereby a team might play in a neighbouring country's league. These anomalies generally arise due to convincing geographic reasons as an attempt to provide less one-sided competition, though this does not happen for commercial reasons to nearly the extent it conceivably might. At least, not yet.

The concept of the Old Firm playing in England is an old chestnut, but a redefinition of a Great British football system, or even a United Kingdom football system, as opposed to separate English, Scottish, Northern Irish and nearly-Welsh systems seems unlikely, probably due to the historical precedent that the UK nations remain as disunited as they did when they began the practice of international football and the special status that they enjoy in the International Football Association Board that sets the laws of the game.

Competition takes place between teams in different countries, though the additional travel distance involved makes this a relatively unusual event. Modern European association football history begins when "Gabriel Hanot, the former editor of French sports daily L’Equipe, first [...airs...] the idea in one of his columns in December 1954" of a competition between the champion clubs of European nations, known as the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, or the European Cup for short. Four years later, the European Cup Winners' Cup begins on similar principles - if you win a national (knockout) cup competition, you qualify to participate in another knockout cup competition played between winners of cup competitions in different European countries.

A parallel development to this is the existence of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which was (quote) "set up to promote international trade fairs. Friendly games were regularly held between teams from cities holding trade fairs and it was from these games that the competition evolved. The competition was initially only open to teams from cities that hosted trade fairs and where these teams finished in their national league had no relevance". Some of you might be able to win a few drinks by betting that the competition we know today as the UEFA Cup started in its earliest form, before the competition we know today as the Champions' League in its earliest form; the first Fairs Cup match took place on 4th June 1955, before the first European Cup match which took place on 4th September 1955.

Suffice to say that by the early 1970s, the Fairs Cup evolved into the UEFA Cup, named after the governing body of European football, played between teams who had performed well in their national leagues but had not qualified for either the European Cup or the Cup Winners' Cup.

Above, I referred to this as the beginning of modern European association football history. The wonderful, wonderful Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation list international club competitions in Europe, noting not only the two that survive today and the Cup Winners' Cup but also a number of others that precede it.

(Quote:) "In 1900 the Belgian count Van der Straeten Ponthoz offered a cup to the winner of an international tournament. As the champions of the three existing continental leagues ((Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands)) were present in Brussels, the newspapers at that time called it the club championship of the continent. So can we consider R.A.P. from Amsterdam the first ever European champions?" The competition survives until 1907, with some English teams of whom I have never heard (and who were, I'm pretty sure, not part of either the established Football League or its counterpart the Southern League at that time) having participated - and even won - along the way.

More successfully, the Mitropa Cup was the (quote:) "first major international cup for club teams. [...] The decision to organise an international club competition was taken on July 16 and 17, 1927 in Venice, Italy, and the first matches were played on August 14 of the same year. In the first two seasons, two teams each from Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia entered; in 1929 the Yugoslav sides were replaced by Italian ones. [...]

Austria, Italy, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia were undoubtedly the strongest countries in continental Europe in the late twenties and thirties, and the first to introduce professional football on the continent (Austria 1924, Czechoslovakia 1925, Hungary 1926). The Cup therefore carried a prestige only comparable with the Champions' Cup of later decades. [...] An edition in 1940 was started but abandoned due to World War II. [...] After the second World War, the cup was resumed (including unofficial editions in 1951 and 1958), but never reached its former status again, mainly because of the advent of the Champions' Cup and other European club competitions."

It is possible to draw parallels between the systems of parallel leagues with additional inter-league competition that take place in NCAA college football and European association football. I haven't gone into details with the reformation of the European (Champion Clubs') Cup into the Champions' League and subsequent massive bias in favour of large, rich clubs from large, rich countries at the expense of clubs from smaller countries, irrespective of whether they were national champions or not, but it's not too wild a stretch of the imagination to compare that process to that brought about by the BCS in regard of access to big-money bowls.

Let's suppose that European association football had a post-season like the BCS - specifically, the BCS since 2006 onwards, with a championship game and four others. Let us declare there are seven big leagues: England, Italy, Spain, France and Germany for money reasons and the Netherlands plus Portugal simply because their clubs have won the European Cup so many times. Let us next assume that no country can send more than two teams into this post-season, and that a strong champion outside the "big seven" should also be rewarded. Let us also assume that the international club fixtures that took place over the past season also happened, as an analogy to the inter-league play that already exists.

Champions of the big seven: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Lyon, Bayern Munich, PSV Eindhoven and FC Porto. Other than that: well, Chelsea and Roma were both very close for second place in their extremely strong national leagues, so I think they have extremely strong claims. The tenth place is tricky, though. In Spain, Villareal were a slightly distant second and Barcelona an even more distant third. Bordeaux came close in France as did Ajax in the Netherlands, but the German and Portuguese leagues were distant.

Outside the big seven, there's a case to be made for Fenerbahce of Turkey, who made the last eight of real Europe this year, but they didn't win domestically. I quite like the thought of Olympiakos Piraeus of Greece being the year's "BCS buster". Their league championship may have been a little tight, but they only made it to the last sixteen of real Europe. If either of those had been a little stronger then I think they could make their case convincingly. In practice, I think we realise that money often talks in BCS game selection and declare Barcelona to be our Notre Dame this year, even ahead of Villareal.

Championship game: Manchester United cement their place this year by virtue of both their results within their league and without, but the second place is hard to call. There's very occasionally a case to put two teams from the same league in the final and Chelsea have two excellent second places, but it's a hard assertion to make - e.g. in the 2006 NCAA National Championship Game, (Big Ten conference) Michigan was nearly but not quite selected ahead of (SEC) Florida to play (Big Ten conference) Ohio State.

Returning to European association football, Real and Inter both lost in the last 16, as did Lyon and Porto, with PSV going out earlier still and Bayern Munich not even qualifying. I think money concerns would push this towards Manchester United vs. Real Madrid. This is probably the most interesting match that hasn't actually happened yet this season. Under the circumstances, I think you'd still favour Manchester United at the moment.

Other bowl games: I think the natural rivalries would tend towards Spain-Portugal and England-Germany, though it's not clear whether France would be more natural rivals of Italy or the Netherlands. Thus our other four para-bowl games might be FC Porto - Barcelona (interesting and close, but Barcelona by a whisker), Bayern Munich - Chelsea (Chelsea ought to be able to handle their style, I'd say) and Inter - Lyon (Inter sound good to me here), with PSV Eindhoven - Roma being the "at large" game. (Roma, just.)

The question is: should those be the big five games, and Manchester United were to win, how strong would their claim to the championship be, and who (if anyone) would claim second place? See, I tend to consider this as a reasonable argument against the bowl system - and, by extension, in favour of play-offs. These hypothetical games could make for delightful friendlies, but I think that once a play-off structure in place, people aren't going to want to have to go back to polls and other such uncertainty.

It would be possible to go through and produce analogous bowl games for the other 29 (?) bowl games, but we'd really be getting into the territory of sports organisation fan fiction. Not that that's a bad thing, and bowls 11-20 of European association football would likely be a lot more interesting and competitive than bowls 11-20 of NCAA college football - it would seem reasonable to guess that they might include lots of national champions of lower-tier nations and relatively few second (and later) teams from upper-tier ones. There could be many interesting international relatively-local derbies, for instance.

One other cute consequence of such a hypothesis would be a comparison between the UEFA Cup and Division I-AA football, these days known as the Football Championship Subdivision. It's an analogy that breaks down quickly because teams from leagues represented in the top inter-league competition can also appear in the European solution, but considering Russia and Scotland to be I-AA (er, FCS) leagues has a certain whimsy to it. The reason to do this is to note the existence of the Super Cup, which these days is an annual fixture at the start of the year between the Champions' League winner and the UEFA Cup winner. The counterpart in the BCS would be a season-opening match between the FBS (I-A) National Champion and the FCS (I-AA) National Champion. Now that's surely just crazy talk, isn't it?

Isn't it?
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful

(16 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:May 23rd, 2008 11:45 pm (UTC)
Two Words: Go Uga!!! Luv the dog!

The question I have is, why doesn't the Premier League have a playoff system? Seems a bit melodramtic.

e.g. Boston Red Sox up by 20 games in Sep with only 19 games to play. By the BPL rules, they don't even have to show for the rest of the season.

Now, this year was exciting as the title was decided on the final day (with the #1 and #2 teams not playing each other, but C playing Everton...ok and MU playing Wiggan!?!?!?). Might as well given MU the trophy on Sat. Not a BPL historian, isn't that fairly rare? And how much excitement is there when you know the league winner/champ 2-3 weeks before the end of the season? Wouldn't a head-to-head (see MU vs C UEFA match in Moscow) with it all come down to the wire...ok...no penalty kicks either...run til ya drop or have to put Aunt Myrtle out there to play....

But what happens if, as they suggest for the NCAA, MU, C, Arsenal, and Liverpool continue into a playoff with MU vs L and C vs A? Of course, they'd have to play 3 games (none of that goal differential or away goals counting more junk! :)). Best 2-out-of-3. A team can win the first game by 10 goals, but if they win the next two games, they win.

Oh, and fix the timing so that the clock on a wall that all the fans can see stops when there is an official timeout so no more extra time that is decided by some subjective guessing by the referee.

And, get more referees. They're paying Rooney what? 20 million a year? They could afford another 2-3 refs.

Could even narrow the offside rule by adding (ala Hockey) a three-line-pass rule. More goals, more excitement, more, well, American.

We'll let you keep Cricket the way it is....we don't like tea all that much anyway.

p.s. Don't they have a pre-season match between the winners of two of the major competition tournaments there?

(There, that should keep ya steaming all weekend!) :) /rant ;)
[User Picture]
Date:May 25th, 2008 11:56 am (UTC)
why doesn't the Premier League have a playoff system?

That is a cracking question! I have been enjoying thinking about it ever since I read it.

One of the arguments in favour of a play-off system in the NCAA is "it would devalue the importance of the regular season". I regard this as a weak argument. However, I would regard this as an excellent argument against a play-off system in European association football. How can the same argument be weak in one case and strong in the other? I guess it's not so weak in terms of NCAA college football after all, though to me it's not so strong as to outweigh all the considerable arguments in favour of NCAA play-offs. I guess the difference is that I feel that teams should be happy to be crowned as champions of their own country and not care about how they do in Europe, whereas I don't feel that teams should be happy to be crowned as champions of their own NCAA conference and not care about the way a national champion is defined. You see the distinction? It's a very European perspective!

The fixture list does not attempt to prejudge the likely results and artificially construct an exciting conclusion. It's not true to say that it's random, but the deliberate planning that goes in concerns travel and policing (e.g. the general principle is not to have both Manchester clubs playing at home on the same day, both Merseyside clubs and so on, with special sensitivity played to how far fans can be expected to travel for away games on holiday weekends). The fact that not all games in what might be considered the same round of fixtures are played on the same day any more complicates matters. Might the fixture list be biased towards a manufactured run-in in the future? I think that's plausible.

That said, I would also note that play-offs are common in lower levels of the game - not to decide who has won the second division, but to decide which of the (typically) third-to-sixth-placed teams deserve the final promotion opportunity that is available. I do not believe there is great clamour to get rid of this system.

Given that championship play-offs are becoming more accepted in other relatively popular British sports, it is plausible that there could be a move towards championship play-offs in association football in the future, though it would be highly atraditional.

The other major stumbling-block would seem to me to be that the football calendar is already well-regimented and full - there just wouldn't be the time to add a play-off among all the other competitions that exist, plus the summer tournaments in (at least) alternate years. The most obvious way to get around this would be to trim down the top division by (at least) a team or two; while the numbers of teams in the top divisions of Europe have gone up and down over the years, owners of clubs in the top division aren't going to be like the apocryphal turkeys who voted for Christmas, and a move to thin out the league and introduce championship play-offs would be a very hard one to sell simply because there are so many more owners who would fear they stand to lose from the decrease in size of the league than stand to gain from the possible play-offs. If this ever happens, I suspect it would be as a result of top teams in Europe threatening to abandon their involvement in the traditional structures en masse unless all the top leagues do the same thing at the same time. The relationship between the richest clubs and the rest of the game is strained and becoming increasingly so (search for "G-14", though it no longer exists) and it's possible that they may eventually attempt a big move, but I think they would need to have the backing of a really, really strong pan-European media partner to make it happen. We'll see it coming if Sky becomes at least as dominant in France, Germany and Spain as it is in the UK and Italy.

I bet there are lots of other people who have writen about this, almost certainly with much more authority than me. Go search for what they have to say and let me know what you find out! :-)
[User Picture]
Date:May 26th, 2008 05:45 pm (UTC)
NCAA: Not about education, but about money.

BPL: Not about European Football, just within the BPL. They don't have divisions like American sports teams, but they could still take the top 4 teams and run an 2-out-of-3 elimination playoff.

"calendar is already well-regimented and full"

Exactly. I am guessing you see this as all the same thing. I see it as them playing in their regular league and then the other games are friendlies, of a sort, and have no meaning except money and prestige. Sort of like if Baseball teams played 2-3 games a month against Japanese or S. American teams that would result in some sort of end of the year tournament matches to determine a winner. But, those games have no effect on the standings in the Major League races.

The main argument I see against it is tradition...and that might not be enough forever...

Wondering if BPL will ever have revenue sharing??? :)

Pre-season Friendly: Now, if they had the Cup/League/UEFA/FA finalists...although in some cases they're the same teams...face off for a playoff at the end of the seasons...that would be intersting...the Best Soccer Team in Europe...period! So to speak. Having the match at the beginning of the year is like a Red Sox-Yankees 3-game series in Japan in March...or a Cowboys-Redskins pre-season game in London. More like a scrimmage than anything else.

Gooallllllllllllllllllllllllllls!: Yes, and that's why soccer will probably never be a huge sport in the US. Still, I have come to find it more interesting as I've learnt the game better. And I can see the soap opera/melodrama/Ronaldo diving in the penalty box/fans losing it when a team scores in extra time (back to that silly time thing again) and wins 1-0 even though the game was the most boring ever played...

I'm not sure that the argument that the lower leagues can't afford more refs makes a difference. e.g. MLB has a specific number (4) umpires in regular season matches. During the playoff, they add 2 extra umpires to watch down the left and right field lines. Now, if the BPL added an extra field ref and 2 more side referees and maybe, like hockey, a goal official on each end.... The idea that the game is better BECAUSE of the low number of goals also leads me to the conclusion that official's calls are even MORE important because there are so few of them per match (i.e. 200 plays in a US football game, maybe 20 calls that are important to the game that are decided by the referees. But, you maybe have 2-3 shots on goal or 1-2 missed calls of player contact in the penalty box or whatever...much fewer opportunities so that magnifies the importance of each referee decision). Yes, it might be just one call in each sport that decides a match incorrectly because an official made a mistake or was out of position. However, the number of officials in the NFL lessen that possibility while the number of officials in the BPL make that a much higher possibility. My main thought, beyond tradition, is they have the money, train a few more refs and send them out there. :) The minor league and amateur teams can deal with what they have. If they can't, send some of Rooney's check down the line and get more there as well. If you suggest that they might go to instant replay, then tradition might have left an opening...

Either way, I may be getting it wrong where I see the BPL as a separate entity, its own league, rather than part of a bigger group of European soccer federation. That would mean that they all would have to decide on how to do it. Still, the BPL could add changes when they played within its own league that would lead to better officiating. Grrrrr...as bad as basketball refs! :)
[User Picture]
Date:June 2nd, 2008 11:08 am (UTC)
Revenue sharing: well, it already exists to a limited extent. Gate receipts aren't shared, part of the main sponsorship money is paid according to final position in the league and when a club has one of its home matches televised then it earns an extra payment, which rewards fashionable teams ahead of unfashionable ones (a frequent complaint from Middlesbrough fans). I don't think there is any pressure to increase the degree to which revenue is shared; if anything, one might imagine that the biggest teams might put pressure on to decrease the amount of revenue sharing by virtue of arranging deals for separate TV rights, as happens (or, at least, as has happened in the past) in other countries.

Referee numbers: as you suggest, if the top level can afford to implement technology to decide disputed goals, the tradition of one referee per game may well not be so sacrosanct after all.
[User Picture]
Date:May 25th, 2008 11:56 am (UTC)
Timing and referees: these are both suggestions that come up frequently and have strong arguments in their favour. However, one of the principles is that football should essentially be the same game no matter at which level it is played. It's already proving increasingly hard to find sufficiently many referees to administrate at lower levels, so a move that would increase refereeing requirements at the top level would either (a) force increased refereeing demand down the pyramid that may not be able to be met or (b) force a divide between the professional and amateur games. In truth (b) is probably inevitable, but I would guess that the issue that eventually proves divisive is more likely to be the possible introduction of technology to confirm whether a ball has crossed the goal line, and thus should be counted as a goal, or not.

More goals: no, no, no. Association football prides itself upon the value of an atomic scoring unit - a goal in association football is so much more significant than, say, a touchdown in American football, let alone a goal in ice hockey, a run in baseball or a point in basketball. Consider also the difference in preferred levels of overtaking between Formula One and US open-wheel racing - Formula One overtaking manoeuvres are so relatively rare that they become more dramatic. (In truth, Formula One fans cry out for more overtaking in surveys, so I'm not saying that Formula One has the blend correct, but formulae with more overtaking don't prove as popular in practice.)

Don't they have a pre-season match between the winners of two of the major competition tournaments there?

The Charity Community Shield! As Wikipedia says, "While still an honour in the English game, the Community Shield's status is far lower than that of the Premier League, FA Cup or League Cup. It is widely considered to be a minor trophy, and is usually not spoken of as an honour at all. Community Shield games are almost always treated as friendlies by both sides in the modern era[...]".

Here's an open question. Could the Premiership turn to the FA and say "Er, yeah, the Community Shield is a bit of a joke. From (e.g.) 2010, we're not going to habitually supply our champion to play in it any more"? Apparently the FA has veto power over changes to Premier League rules, but I'm not sure whether it is enshrined as a rule or as a custom.

The reason why the Premiership might want to do that is that it's not inconceivable that the Premiership and the organisers of one of the other major European leagues might strike a deal for a season-opening clash between their national champions rather than the established Super Cups that exist. (Could UEFA do anything about this? I doubt it; do UEFA have any jurisdiction about other international club friendly matches that take place?) If the Premiership and, say, La Liga could both get a better deal for their members than the one that exists at present, then such a move is distinctly plausible as a way for a Bowl-like competition to come into existence.

I tend to believe that none of Spain, Italy, France or Germany have the same disconnected system as England whereby it is not the national governing body that organises the top league competition but instead a private company - which would make the teams less tied to the national governing body - and I tend to believe that none of those other four countries have the same degree of disconnection between the top national league and lower national leagues as there is in England (the Premier League vs. the Football League, and so forth). I don't have facts to support this, but it's entirely plausible that there are far smaller degrees of separation in financial terms, and thus eventually sporting standards, between the top and lower divisions in other countries as a result.
[User Picture]
Date:May 28th, 2008 07:55 am (UTC)
And how much excitement is there when you know the league winner/champ 2-3 weeks before the end of the season?

There's a difference, though, between "exciting" and "interesting". Having the season come down to one game, where a team that has dominated up till then can suddenly have it taken away from them, is certainly "exciting". But I would argue that it makes the season less "interesting": it severely reduces the point of following, or caring about, the whole regular season.

We have knockout competitions, like the FA Cup, for that one-game instant-buzz excitement. The league is a different thing and is more about the strategy of team-builidng and management over the course of the whole season. Yes, usually it's clear who's won before the final day, but that isn't a problem. The thing is that the English football league wasn't set up for fans of "the league" or "football", but for fans of the individual clubs that take part -- and they in most cases won't be involved in the title contention anyway.

All that said, it wouldn't surprise me if the EPL were to bring in playoffs -- because they are a greedy and selfish organization who don't care a toss about what ordinary fans want or think. The opportunity to have a bunch more big-payday matches will eventually break through the resistance of tradition.
[User Picture]
Date:May 28th, 2008 04:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the explanation.

I do have one hypothetical question: This year, they ending up in 4th place, do you think that Liverpool fans would've preferred to play in a 4-team playoff and have a chance at winning the league title (I mean 2 rounds, semis and finals, best 2-out-of-3 games which would show who was the better team rather than say who finished the last 5 games best when one team was playing Arsenal and Chelsea and the other team was playing Derby County and Wiggan) rather than finish 4th.

True, as we've seen here with the addition of extra playoff rounds in MLB, it does lessen the excitement of the top teams, however it increases the excitement in that more teams are in it toward the end of the season.

And I don't want them to go where the NHL or NBA has gone with so many teams in the playoffs it actually does make the regular season almost useless.

I suppose I could look at the EPL as the long haul rather than who is best at the end of the year, but standings would determine that just as they do in US sports. So, if a team was good enough over the long haul of the season, they would be in the playoffs.

The difference I see is that in most American sports there are a large number of opportunities to score while in EPL there are few and a few (or 1) lucky break might determine the season. However, if a team is trully superior, worthy of being called 'Champion', then they should be able to overcome the other teams in a playoff system, especially if it is more than 1 game in each round.

True, I have only recently become truly involved with learning the game, but I see your point about "individual club" fans. i.e. I like Persei and Derbyshire and Garrard, but I am a Chelsea fan - mainly because I have a long-time friend near Bath that is a fan so I follow them more closely.

Most, except some still in the adolescese of middle-age :) follow a league rather than an individual. Of course, we all have our favorites teams, but we normally know more beyond that team depending on the sport. i.e. I can tell you a lot about all the NFL and MLB teams, but I only know of a few 'superstar' players in the NBA or NHL because I don't follow those leagues. What I'm getting from your explanation of fans is that they're more of the latter. They know (and love) their own clubs and the matches they play, but aren't really interested in the other teams or their players other than the standings and what will happen when the other teams plays their own. Is that correct? Or do you all sit around pubs and discuss McGuiness' scoring average in the 1912 league season like they do here about baseball....
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Date:May 29th, 2008 08:21 am (UTC)
Sure, of course Liverpool fans'd be glad of the extra chance in that situation, but even they would accept that they hadn't "earned" it -- if a team wants to be in contention for the championship at the end of the season, they have to play well throughout the season and accumulate enough points to be close enough to win at the end. (As Chelsea did this year.)

I think of it as like a race -- if Ed Moses is 10 yards clear, coming round the bend in his hurdle race, you wouldn't extend the course by a bunch of extra hurdles to allow the other runners a chance at beating him. Instead you'd admire and be excited by his ability to establish a crushing lead over them.

Maybe it makes a difference that in the EPL each team plays each of the others exactly twice each, so it's seen as absolutely "fair" in that sense. So when, in the last two games, one team is playing Arsenal and Chelsea and the other team is playing Derby County and Wigan in the last two games, we know that earlier in the season the first team played Derby and Wigan while the second team was playing tough fixtures -- so if they didn't win the easy games when they had them, there's no point whinging about their opponents having easy games now.

I guess there is a big difference between being a fan of a team and a follower of a sport. I would say I'm a fan of West Ham (in football) and Essex (in cricket), because they were my local teams in childhood and I went to matches frequently then, so I got them into the blood. (Although now old enough to know better!) So in those cases, yes, the other teams are basically the background against which my team acts. But in other sports I follow, I have a more detached view and can appreciate the overall drama etc better.

In rugby league we have a playoff system for the championship, so it's not completely uknown to British sport. It involves six of the twelve teams -- which seems a bit too large a proportion to me. I think that it's about half the time that the same team that finished top of the league also wins the playoffs. I certianly enjoy watching those playoff games, but rugby league is one of those sports I just follow rather than being a fan...
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Date:June 2nd, 2008 11:27 am (UTC)
I like Persei and Derbyshire and Garrard, but I am a Chelsea fan

It is said that Indian cricket fans traditionally don't follow teams, but instead follow their favourite superstars (most notably Sachin Tendulkar) and thus the teams gain and lose following according to for whom the superstars play. Isn't that interesting?
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Date:June 2nd, 2008 11:43 am (UTC)
Although I've also heard that said, I'm not sure how easy it would be to prove, as Indian cricketers change clubs only very unusually.

Tendulkar, for example, has played for the same team (Bombay) throughout his twenty-year professional career: so his fans have had no opportunity to demonstrate any such allegiance shift.

I'd be interested to know if there are any actual examples of such a thing happening.
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Date:June 2nd, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
Similar to golf where ratings and attendance increase when Tiger Woods plays in a tournament, but go down when he does not. It's not about the sport, it's about the sports figure.

That would work as long as the player was playing on a team close enough for the fans to travel to to see. It might work in most of England where you could get to most BPL games in a day and back again. Not so sure about India. Of course, then they'd just watch they're favorite player on TV rather than go out to the local club to see your home town team play...

What does it matter anyway? I thought Cricket was all about 'The Tea'? :)
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Date:June 2nd, 2008 11:12 am (UTC)
We have knockout competitions, like the FA Cup, for that one-game instant-buzz excitement.

Excellent point - a clear statement of a major difference between US and European sporting traditions. (Your other points were good too!)

I'm not clear why the UK prefers season-long knockout competitions and the US prefers only end-of-season play-offs. My first guess would be that the FA Cup predates the league by a considerable margin and was even considered the more prestigious competition until relatively recently, i.e. possibly fifty years ago. I note that cup football is increasingly devalued in Italy, where only certain teams are invited to participate in the cup competition.
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Date:June 2nd, 2008 12:01 pm (UTC)
Mm, I don't think any professional sport could get away with introducing a pure knockout competition these days.

Even the ones that did exist in football, such as the European Cup and more recently the UEFA Cup, had had to add in mini-leagues to guarantee sufficient recurrent matchday income for all participants.

Hopefully the FA Cup's historical lustre will preserve it from the devaluation you mention, but I wouldn't bet on it.
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Date:May 23rd, 2008 11:54 pm (UTC)
Well done!
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Date:May 27th, 2008 07:20 pm (UTC)
Heh, when I read this headline my first thought was that surely almost any model would be better than that of NCAA College Football. It's all a grandfathered thing: The bowl organizations make a lot of money, a good chunk of which goes to the competing schools, and they won't give it up unless absolutely forced to; any formal playoff system would inevitably lead ultimately to a loss of identity and/or primacy of the current bowl games, and the bowl organizations know it, and have thus far only agreed to the very simple system now in use, in which these bowls will rotate turns at hosting the national championship.

You're correct that other levels of college football and all other popular college sports have well-organized playoff systems. And it is an interesting comparison to note that college sports have different tiers and that teams can occasionally move up or down tiers, though this is not built into the system in the way it is with European football.

Another problem is that American football is seen as such a grueling game that teams never play more than one game a week, in comparison with 3 a week in basketball or hockey and 6 a week for baseball. As a result, they play only 16 games a season (professionally) or 11 or 12 games a season (in college). The pros have a playoff system that can never have any team play more than 4 games. A college playoff system, even if it were only among 8 top teams, would extend the season by 3 weeks (compared with the current bowl system). The sensible thing to do is to start the playoffs earlier, since the entire bowl season does run for this long, but then some of the "major" bowl games (assuming they have kept their identities at all in this system) would be played at the same time with minor bowl games among teams with 6 or 7 wins who failed to make the playoff system, or at least at the time when such games used to be played. Anyway, it just isn't likely.

Among the top-tier college team sport championships, the basketball championship is quite popular; it is a single-elimination tournament among 64 teams, some of them chosen by the same polling systems that are so controversial in the football bowl system, but because the field is so large, the selections are much less controversial, and every team has a chance to get in by winning their conference championship. While there is almost always somebody who feels left out of the tournament, the point at which the cutoff occurs is among teams with no serious chance of winning the championship.

The baseball championship is less popular (for some reason, college baseball has never attracted the attention which other major college sports enjoy), but it is well established. A series of tournaments selects 8 teams to play in what is called the College World Series (though it is entirely different in format from the World Series that serves as the championship for the top level of pro baseball). These teams play a double-elimination tournament [most recently, two four-team double-elimination tournaments with the winners meeting in a final best-of-three series]. I follow it since both of the colleges I attended (Rice and Texas) are competitive, and indeed have won the championship in recent years.
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Date:June 2nd, 2008 11:25 am (UTC)
Thanks for your reply! :-)

And it is an interesting comparison to note that college sports have different tiers and that teams can occasionally move up or down tiers, though this is not built into the system in the way it is with European football.

Very true. I think I remember reading about a very slight expansion of I-A the FBS either having happened, or happening soon, but only from ~118 teams to ~120 teams. Is there anything to stop any team who wanted to move to the FBS from doing so, at least as an Independent if they cannot find a conference, if they can afford to take advantage of the extra scholarships and coaching they are permitted to provide?

I am also tempted to wonder why there isn't movement from among the likes of Appalachian State, or other traditional I-AA powerhouses, to join the FBS. It may be that they prefer consistently winning against (mostly) lesser opposition than (mostly - with exceptions, some of which are M-shaped) losing to greater opposition. Certainly counterpart comments are sometimes expressed among teams who bounce around the third, fourth and fifth divisions of English football; sometimes it's better-rewarded to be winning against poor opposition than competing against better opposition.

A college playoff system, even if it were only among 8 top teams, would extend the season by 3 weeks (compared with the current bowl system).

Arguably only two weeks - and this is the point at which we would probably start trying to wind the regular season a little shorter. I can't imagine the conferences being willing to sacrifice a game, but non-conference play has always seemed, for the many colleges who do not fill all their non-conference games with traditional rivalries, about money only.

On the other hand, shortening the regular season for the benefit only of teams who would make it to play-offs is unlikely to prove popular enough to be accepted either. My gut preference would be to use something like a Swiss system to provide competitive non-conference matches for all teams towards the end of the season and something to play for during them.

the basketball championship is quite popular

I've read it suggested that March Madness is more popular at the start than it is at the end, simply because of the phenomenon of the March Madness office pool! Also, given how long I've known lambertman, I know a (very) little about bracketology. :-)

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