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American Sports Leagues Could Learn a Thing Or Two From Soccer

Posted By Chris Carra On Nov 23 2010 @ 7:07 pm In Soccer | No Comments

In case you were living under a rock during the last NBA season (or just didn’t care enough to follow them; which im sure was a lot of you), the New York Nets had an exceptionally bad season of historic proportions.  A half way decent D-league team could have done better than the abysmal 10-72 showing the Nets threw out there last season. Its sad, really, because who the hell would want to go watch a team like that; a team who is was basically out of any type of competitive play (trying to make the playoffs) after their first ten games. This was painfully evident just half way through the season, when binoculars would have been necessary  just to see another person in the stands to watch them get crushed by the Pacers.  But not to worry New York Nets, for we have a special prize for the fantastic and spirited play that was exemplified during the crap fest that was your season. Lets give you the best chance to get the first overall pick, because that’s obviously the proper logic. Reward teams and people with the top pick for playing like a bunch of fools.   But Chris, what are you talking about, we do this because we want the worst teams to get better so we can create a quality league with more parity. Oh….. But wait, it doesn’t actually happen right away.  Because what ends up happening is the same teams finish in the bottom half of the league year after year (because one rookie isn’t going to make that much of a difference right away most the time) until they stockpile enough talent to make a decent playoff run, in which case the young players you drafted start demanding more money which the team cant give them and they leave and end up going right back to where they were before (Clippers). It cripples the league severely and causes the league to grow at a much slower rate than it possibly could.  You also end up putting out a crap product year after year as half the leagues teams have nothing to play for after half their games because they are so far out of playoff run. Players end up half-assing it. And they can say they don’t all they want. Ask anyone who has played competitively in this country in any sport. It gets hard to give your all when you have absolutely nothing to play for; and even worse, that no one REALLY cares deep down that you win anyways. Because theirs light at the end of the tunnel. THE FIRST OVERALL PICK. Its just the way we are wired. We care less when there’s less on the line. And it happens in pretty much every major American sport, not just basketball. So what can American sports take from the most popular game in the world to help improve their sport? Heres a few things I would suggest:


I am sick and tired of watching crap teams play against other crap teams in a crappy game that has crappy players who don’t give a crap because the outcome means crap. Chris, just watch another sports game then… Its sort of hard when half the league of whatever sport your watching is out of the playoff chase with 25 games to go and you can tell the players on those teams know it and every darn sports outlet is covering it because there are no interesting games on. All the soccer fans out there who follow the EPL, La Liga, Serie A or whatever soccer league know that the bottom two or three teams in every division get relegated down and the top teams in the lower division brought up in place of them. YOU DON’T GET REWARDED FOR HAVING A BAD SEASON. IF YOU STINK, YOU SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES. A new team is brought in, with a whole new fan base, eager to prove themselves in the next level. But Chris, the American landscape and infrastructure for sports in this country isn’t set up to support relegation. We have drafts. Who would have the first overall pick? And the lower leagues in all of our sports are much, much worse than the top league. Yes…. I understand this. The system wouldn’t work as well in the currently structured American landscape. The draft system would have to be revamped, where say the first team left out of the playoffs would get the top pick and then work its way on down. Provide the teams who worked for a playoff and just missed out with a top pick. That way teams who are within one decent player of being a top team in their respective leagues can make that leap with just one draft pick, instead of having the top overall picks sit around for a number of seasons while they most likely lose and stockpile talent. However, we do have some semblance of this system already in all major sports outside football, its just split into their own separate entities controlled by the teams in the top leagues. The NBA, for instance, has the D-league with its own group of teams. The NHL has the AHL, along with a multitude of other professional leagues. Baseball would probably transition the easiest to this type of system since they already three levels of minor league systems below the major leagues. And at the end of the day, wouldn’t it be nice to see teams at the bottom of the totem pole fighting to keep from being relegated? To see bottom dwellers play at least halfway meaningful games towards the end of the season instead of just coasting through and making their vacation plans two thirds of the way through the season? Often, the relegation battles in soccer are some of the best games and most intriguing story lines. Teams are fighting for their lives to stay at the top level and keeps all of them, from top to bottom, in check all season long. If you don’t play well in the games during the regular season, you end up getting moved down a league, not getting rewarded with a top draft pick.


There are a number of obvious reasons why Football is Americas favorite sport. We love the gladiator mentality and violent nature that the game brings us on a weekly basis. But one of the reasons people tend to overlook, and which I feel is the most important, is the value and importance of every single game in the season. Since there are only 16 games, every game means more than in any other of the major sports in this country. As much as people complain about not having a college football playoff, it would be hard to argue there is a better regular season in all of sports pro or amateur. Why? Because, in essence, every game is an elimination game on the road to a championship. You cant slip up in the regular season. It would be nice if this same type of mentality could be brought to the three other major sports in the U.S. Now I understand that football is a different type of game, where the violent nature of the game takes a much greater toll on its players to where playing too many games can be detrimental to a players health. However, that’s what makes it so intriguing game in and game out every weekend. So do we seriously have to play 162 games in a baseball season? Could we reduce the season to a 100 or even 120 games and still get the same results that we have now, while simultaneously adding more of the excitement and enthusiasm that is often missing in these games? Every game would mean that much more. We would have less of the mid June match ups between the Orioles, who would already be 19 games out, and the Royals WHO WOULD BE LEADING THE DIVISION!!!….. LOL, lets get real. And I mean honestly, who now a days wants to sit down for a steady dose of marathon 3+ hour games 6 days a week? It just doesn’t sound appealing anymore. But you know what I will do, along with the millions of other football loving Americans? Its watch a 3+ hour football game once a week. Why? Because it means more and wont eat up my time so severely that I wont have time to do anything else.  For anyone who didnt read the Bill Simmons article on the World Cup over the summer, he explains very well why soccer gets it right in this regard:

I love the Cup because it stripped away all the things about professional sports that I’ve come to despise. No sideline reporters. No JumboTron. No TV timeouts. No onslaught of replays after every half-decent play. No gimmicky team names like the “Heat” or the “Thunder.” (You know what the announcers call Germany? The Germans. I love this.) No announcers breathlessly overhyping everything or saying crazy things to get noticed. We don’t have to watch 82 mostly half-assed games to get to the playoffs. We don’t have 10 graphics on the screen at all times. We don’t have to sit there for four hours waiting for a winner because pitchers are taking 25 seconds to deliver a baseball. The World Cup just bangs it out: Two cool national anthems, two 45-minute halves, a few minutes of extra time and usually we’re done. Everything flies by. Everything means something. It’s the single best sporting event we have by these four measures: efficiency, significance, historical context and truly meaningful/memorable/exciting moments.”

Very well  put if I do say so myself. Its very hard for the other sports to match that outside of the playoffs. Now, there is obviously variance in baseball, basketball and hockey that calls for there to be more games in a season. Teams can go on hot and cold streaks that define seasons so you need a decent amount of games for the real teams to come to the forefront. The key is finding the right amount of games that brings the intrigue of a do or die game but still allows for teams to lose a few games in a season and work through it. Soccer I feel has a perfect amount, usually 38 depending on the league, that allows for this scenario. There are enough games for a team to make up ground if they falter early but not enough for teams to just cruise through till the end for a playoff run. This single handily provides the intrigue throughout the regular season and cup competitions, which brings me to my next point…….


Plain and simple….. Every American sports season besides football gets VERY mundane during the regular season. There really arent any games (besides rivalry games or superstars coming to town) that provide a change of pace from the basic grind of a regular season. All American sports also use the playoff system to decide a champion, which isn’t bad per se, but it doesn’t exactly lend itself to spice up a given season so to speak.  There are a wide range of systems that can be used for any given competition: knockout, round robin, playoff, simple point structure. Soccer all around the world and in most every league incorporates all of these systems into their league play and integrates all of their competitions during periods of the regular season. It breaks up the basic, mundane schedule of regular season games and provides a unique change to a season that players and fans can look forward to and get excited about.  The EPL, for instance, has the league title which is simply won by the club with the most points from the 38 regular season games. The FA Cup, with its over 700 teams that enter at the beginning of August every year, is a knockout style system that goes on throughout the year in between regular season games. It allows for lower league clubs to be “giant killers” if they play well enough and make it into deeper rounds. Last seasons Portsmouth, who was headed straight for relegation after a terrible season at top flight, managed to make it all the way to FA Cup final against Chelsea. It without a doubt provided their fans with something to cheer for during a season full of disappointment. If it wasn’t for the FA Cup and the chance to salvage something out of their season, you might have had what happened with the Nets. A half empty stadium with fans who wouldn’t care because their team had nothing play for and players who in turn felt the same way. It brought excitement to an otherwise disastrous season. For the top clubs in each league, good play and winning is rewarded by having the chance to play Europa League and Champions League throughout the season also. Its another opportunity for players and clubs to showcase themselves and bring in a broad fan base, not to mention the money the players and clubs bring in by doing well in them. It would be an interesting thing to incorporate into the American sports structure. Having a double A team in baseball work their way through a tournament knockout competition and be able to go up against the Yankees for a title competition. AHL teams being able to match their abilities against the Blackhawks or Penguins. But Chris, I don’t want to see these low level clubs with hardly any talent get wiped off the floor by the best players in the sport. It wouldn’t work here in this country, theres too much of a talent gap between the levels. Wait a second…. isn’t this what March Madness is? Where mid major teams whose only shot to make the tournament is to win their low level league and maybe….just possibly….give a big time program a run for its money and pull of the upset? Honestly, its secretly what we all hope for when we get to March every year, even if it does destroy our brackets and make us want to pound our heads into a wall. Soccer, in my eyes, has a perfect system. It incorporates all the great things about a given sports system that determine champions and gives everyone the shot at something, while keeping the fans and players always looking forward to the next game and competition because it means something here and now. We often times lose that with the sports in this country, the importance of every game. It creates drama, excitement and a atmosphere that players can relish and that fans will keep coming back to because the players are willing to give their all. Yea, I may sound like a defeated fan who is only angry that these players, who are getting paid millions of dollars to play a game arent playing to their fullest potential. But its not just them. Maybe it’s the structure we put them in that doesn’t FORCE THEM to play every game to the fullest. If every game meant more in one way or another, the sport, whatever sport it may be, would be better off.

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