Playoff Systems Would Promote Mediocrity in European Leagues

Eric GomezAnalyst IOctober 16, 2008

Recently, I read a very good article by fellow B/R writer Miles Kenton that provided a good argument for instituting a playoff system in England. Although the idea sounds good in principle, I have to disagree. Here's why:

Imagine you compete in a league of 20 teams. Imagine that for six grueling months, your team is consistent enough to maintain a first place standing.

Now imagine that seven other teams, who weren’t as consistent or as talented for the same amount of games, who faced the same opposition and were generally a worse team than you, suddenly have the opportunity to tear a championship trophy from your fingers.

Let’s say you meet one of these teams in the finals and by one of those crazy football “accidents” you end up losing the game. You worked your tail off for six months, week in, week out, for 38 games—and thanks to one off game, you go home empty handed.

Is that justice?

A playoff system in Europe’s top leagues would severely jeopardize the credibility that the current format brings.

Proponents of the playoff system will argue that it will provide for more exciting finishes and wean top European leagues (Spain, England, Italy) from the same two or three teams winning the league year in and year out.

While that may be true, is it worth sacrificing the level of play we’ve become used to?

Allow me to explain.

If I’m a football player, manager, or executive, I’m going to approach games with less intensity and a softer attitude.

Gone is the “do or die” attitude that comes with every single game; the knowledge that a slip-up in Week 3 or Week 30 can equally affect your chances of winning a title. Teams will downplay losses or draws because they’ll know they have more wiggle room. Performance will suffer.

The top spot will become devalued: What good is first place during the regular season if the eighth seed can knock you off in a one or two-game playoff?

The way things are structured now provides enough incentive for teams that might not reach the coveted top spot in the league. A UEFA Champions’ League berth means an extra source of revenue and games against the most prestigious clubs in Europe.

A UEFA Cup berth allows for the same thing but to a lesser extent, a decent prize to those who finish outside of the proverbial podium. Some leagues even dispatch Intertoto Cup berths for teams in lower spots.

Other domestic tournaments offer clubs to focus their attention on winning hardware through those avenues if league play proves too daunting. It also eliminates the desire for to watch teams go head-to-head in direct elimination.

It begs the question: Why have cups if the league is going to be decided the same way?

A good example of the way the playoff system can screw up a league is visible in Mexico.

Two short seasons of 17 games precede a playoff system where the top eight (of a total of 18) teams enter the playoffs. Since the method was instituted in 1996, 24 tournaments have come and gone.

Of those 24 first place finishers, only five have hoisted the league trophy at the end of the playoffs.

In 2004, Mexico's wacky classification scheme allowed UNAM Pumas, a team that finished 10th overall, to win the league.

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Mexico's system of competition allows for potentially the tenth best
team to win the league.

Premier League fans: Imagine last year's 10th place finisher, Blackburn Rovers, running a victory lap around Ewood Park.

While this may sound appealing to fans of Everton, Atlético Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, AS Roma and others who are constantly denied the top spot, I ask: What scenario gives more to be proud about? “My team was the best over 38 games?” or “My team was the best over three rounds?”

If fans and national football entities around Europe want to give teams a better chance of a title, that’s fine: institute a salary cap, limit non-EU foreigners to two or one, divide revenues equally amongst teams.

Anything that won’t directly affect the quality that we’ve all gotten used to. Europe is home to the best looking football in the world.

The beautiful game can’t afford to lose its looks.

What do you think? Agree with Miles? Agree with me? Agree with neither? Let me know.


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