5 Things American Sports Should Take from World Football
Three weeks ago, I wrote the piece 5 Things World Football Should Take from American Sports and thought it would be fun to look at things the other way around.
So, without further delay, here’s a look at five things professional baseball, football, basketball and hockey in America should take from world football.
Make the Games Shorter
An average soccer match takes less than two hours, even when it is televised. That time includes the walk-out, introductions, the pre-game handshake, the captains' meeting with the official, both halves and the halftime interval.
The average American sports contest takes much longer.
The National Football League is the worst offender with an average game taking three hours and six minutes to complete.
The average Major League Baseball game comes in at a lengthy two hours and 50 minutes.
The National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association are much closer to professional soccer in that their games take two hours and 19 minutes and two hours and 18 minutes to finish, respectively.
American sports fans like to complain about how soccer is boring, but for soccer fans used to constant action, a modern NFL game has become nearly unwatchable.
The NFL averages 15 penalties per game and the vast majority of these plays are re-run. Add in commercial breaks AFTER EVERY SINGLE CHANGE OF POSSESSION, instant replays and personnel changes between nearly every play and the average action in a three-hour NFL game comes down to 11 minutes.
Yep, that’s right—11 minutes of action in a 60-minute game.
Promotion and Relegation
In an age of multi-million dollar franchises, no self-interested American sports owner will ever allow this to happen, but it happens to be one of the most exciting things in world football.
Heading into the last day of the English Premier League last season, 10 of the 20 teams involved still had something to play for.
The top two teams were fighting for the championship, the next three teams were fighting to finish in the top four and guarantee advancement into soccer’s most prestigious club competition, the Champions League, and five teams at the bottom of the league were playing to avoid being relegated and forced to compete next season in England’s version of Triple-A baseball.
In American sports, teams can be awful, season after season, with no punishment. And fans are forced to suffer through this.
As bad as teams are, they are guaranteed to be playing among the best again next season. Teams like the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, who both lost 100 games this season, are virtually eliminated from playoff competition by mid-summer and have nothing left to play for.
Some franchises are allowed to be bad for decades and become an absolute laughing stock.
Relegation provides teams with a motivation to play, no matter how bad their season is going. And it provides fans for something to cheer for, rather than slide into the slow abyss of worrying about the proverbial “next year.”
Yes, it sucks when your team gets relegated, but that is the point. It motivates teams, players, coaches and management to stay on top. When the unthinkable happens, teams must earn their way back up the following season earning promotion by finishing at the top of the “minor” league.
Even storied teams in England have faced this prospect, like Newcastle United, who were relegated in 2009. However, Newcastle quickly bounced back the following year and in the 2011-2012 season were among the best teams in the top-tier yet again.
Relegation can even be a positive thing for some clubs as owners and team management must explore what went wrong, shed players who are not earning their salaries and re-organize for a push back into the top flight.
For Americans who pride themselves on being a country of merit and fairness, there is nothing more fair than earning, or failing to earn, success.
Make the Regular Season Worth Something
In every major soccer league in the world, the regular season is the championship. There is not a separate playoff competition that occurs after the regular season.
In most soccer nations, each team plays a home-and-away series against every other team in the league. There are no regional divisions between teams and teams do not play certain opponents a disproportional number of times.
At the end of the season, the team with the best record wins the league.
It’s as simple as can be, it’s unequivocally fair, and it makes every single game important.
In the NFL, a 9-7 record, barely over .500, often gets a team into the playoffs. In both the NHL and the NBA, a ridiculous 16 out of the 30 teams make the playoffs.
Major League Baseball comes the closest to being a meritocracy in which 10 of the 30 teams involved make the postseason—still a whopping 33 percent of teams in the league.
In world football, there are various competitions contested throughout the year.
In addition to the league championship contested over the course of the season, usually the most coveted trophy in each country, there are several other competitions.
The best teams in each country are selected to participate in that regions version of the Champions League, pitting the best teams from each country against one another.
In addition, in most countries there are various other “Cup” championships that teams contest in a playoff format during various breaks in the league schedule.
In England, they play for the FA Cup and the Football League Cup. In other countries they compete for the Copa del Rey, Coppa Italia and the Coupe de France, among others.
In total, many teams can compete for three or four trophies in a single season which keeps fan’s and player’s interest even after a team is knocked out from another competition.
In world football, the involvement of the fans from the start to the finish of a game is nothing short of remarkable.
From before kickoff to well after the game, world football fans are some of the most passionate sports fans in the world. They sing, they chant, they cheer, they whistle and they roar.
Check out these Liverpool fans in a rendition of their famous club anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Or the crowd’s reaction to Didier Drogba’s game-winning penalty in last year’s Champions League final.
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