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Building A Pyramid

Wed, 19 May 2010

In reply to

Play offs, a good or bad idea?

It is that time of year again and opinion always seems to be very divided.

With ground grading issues in non league football the play offs can just complicate things further but on the other hand some people say we should have relegation play offs.

There are even suggestions of a Premier League play [off] for a Champions League place.

The thing that irks me about the play off is the intrusion of a significant “sudden death” element at the tail-end of a season in what is essentially a season-long league competition.

Too much like American game shows, where the slate is wiped clean at the start of each round, so that the performance in getting to that round doesn’t matter any more – more drama than sport.

At least in knock-out competitions, the large element of luck (in the draw) and one-off performance (on the day) is acknowledged as being part of the essence of the competition.

If a promotion place is to be determined by means other than league position, it should be by way of a stand-alone competition, for example, a divisional cup, rather than the lottery of a play-off involving 4 clubs and each playing 3 matches at most, with everything that happened in the preceding 9 months relied on to determine which 4 clubs get through, but their actual performance is largely wiped clean (other than to determine the pairings for the semi-final).

At least the club being promoted would have won a season-long competition, not just a mini-competition involving at most 3 matches at the tail-end of the season.

Divisional cups would make more sense as a wider re-organization of professional football in Britain or Europe. So far, the growth of the pyramid has been downwards, adding or re-organizing tiers at the bottom or lower down the pyramid. I’d like to see the pyramid grow upwards.

You’re more likely to see a more level playing field across each tier if the pyramid is re-organized upwards as well as downwards. What’s the point of Burnley or Blackpool facing Manchester United in the Premier League other than to receive more TV money and parachute payments?

Today’s football is more about drama and money than sporting competition. Of course, drama adds excitement, and I am in favour of the free-market, with well-run clubs being profitable, and players paid what they’re worth in the market, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fundamental importance of the integrity of sporting competition – fairness and a level playing field. Unfortunately, the desire for drama and money has so totally distorted the playing field that you have to question whether it is still sport at all, and not just about drama and money like other parts of the broader entertainment industry – more farce than football, more soap than sport (© that’s the title of the football book I’m planning to write Smile ).

Let Manchester United play in a European league, with the risk of relegation to their national league if they do badly there. Let Burnley or Blackpool have a realistic chance of doing well in a British or English league which is not dominated by a “Big 4″ or “Big 5″. A domestic league dominated by 1, 2, 3 or a handful of clubs may traditionally be the way things have been in Spain, Italy and Germany, but wasn’t the way in England before the 1980s.

As it currently stands, European competition is a windfall. Big European clubs that dominate their domestic market do not suffer any real consequence in failing to win in Europe as long as they qualify the next season. Qualifying for Europe generates a windfall that enables them to continue to dominate their domestic market.

Why isn’t the European Club Association pushing harder for a European league? A European league may mean greater profits, but it also means greater risk, and those in a dominant position are often risk-averse. Those that dominate prefer the status quo with minor tinkering at most, as it preserves the system on which their domination is founded.

There are EU principles on promoting competition across Europe and addressing dominant positions in the domestic market but I suppose they don’t apply to sport. Smile

In reply to

The idea of Divisional Cups is an interesting one, but completely misses the point. The play-offs are intended to keep the seaon alive for those clubs languishing in mid-table, who have neither promotion nor relegation to play for. Unless you intend to play the entire knock-out tournament in the last 2/3 months of the season it’s a fair bet that, most years, very close to none of these clubs will benefit from an extended take on the gate.

The premise is that the winner of the Divisional Cup gets promoted (in addition to the top 2 in the league).

The groupings are not based on a draw, but on the league positions at a certain point in time, say halfway through the season.

Assuming 20 teams:

  • Group 1 – 1st, 10th, 11th, 20th
  • Group 2 – 2nd, 9th, 12th, 19th
  • Group 3 – 3rd, 8th, 13th, 18th
  • Group 4 – 4th, 7th, 14th, 17th
  • Group 5 – 5th, 6th, 15th, 16th

Teams in a group play each other home and away.

The top team from each team goes through, together with the best 3 runners up. You then have quarterfinals and semifinals played home and away, followed by a final.

If the winner is already promoted by virtue of league position, then the runner up is promoted. If the runner up is also promoted by virtue of league position, then the third placed team in the league is promoted. It would also work with 4 up and 4 down.

Interestingly, each club would play 38 league games + 6 group games = 44 (2 less than the current 46 outside the Premier League).

You could have lots of variations of the basic concept.

As for European leagues etc, I can’t see it happening. Why would the big clubs want it (which is the key question of course)? Why would Arsenal want to be a mid-table club playing meaningless end of season games against Bayern Munich, rather than a top 4 clubs, potentially challening for the title, even if it is against Wigan? I would say the crowds would dwindle once the novelty of European opposition has died down, but I think the novelty went years ago. I think the only way football is going to be reformed is for the proverbial to hit the fan, and for those in charge of clubs big and small to realise that it’s competition that earns them the money, not winning.

This is countered by smaller divisions and more clubs relegated and promoted.

Let us say in the first season of a European League (with 2 divisions), you have the last 16 of the previous seasons Champions League in the 1st Division and the the rest of the last 32 in the 2nd Division.

You could have as many as 8 up and 8 down between the 1st and 2nd Divisions.

You could also have a European Cup comprising all 32 of the clubs in the 1st and 2nd Divisions, divided into 8 groups of 4. Again, the groupings would be based on league position at a particular date rather than a draw. The winners or top 2 go into the quarterfinals or last 16 (as the case may be).

Each club would play 30 league games plus 6 group games = 36 games. If you wanted more games, than 4 groups of 8 for the European Cup would produce 44 games per club.

I wouldn’t bother with a Divisional Cup at the European level.

The top clubs from each national league (including regional leagues such as the occasionally proposed Atlantic League), and perhaps a domestic cup winner from each nation, could play in a UEFA Cup similar to the current UEFA Cup.

The UEFA Cup finalists would replace the two clubs that finish bottom of the European 2nd Division, who would return to their national league (or regional league if it applies). You could even have the 4 semi-finalists replacing the bottom 4 clubs.

I see a parallel with the move from regional leagues within European countries to national leagues in the late 19th and early 20th century. The move proposed now is from national leagues to transnational regional leagues and a European league, mirroring the development of the European Union.

What better time for football to take the lead in developing a European identity than when Europe’s financial institutions are failing. :)

(Merger of two posts on on Tony Kempster’s Non-League Forum – 1st & 2nd)

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