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Is the Lottery That Is Mexico's Liguilla Good or Bad?

Rafael DiazContributor INovember 24, 2010

Pachuca, the last team to finish in first place in the regular season and still win the title.
Pachuca, the last team to finish in first place in the regular season and still win the title.

Another Mexican football tournament, another number one seeded team falls. Not quite American College Football, but with the same number of upsets and surprises. No computer rankings or stuff like that from good old College “tackleball”, just 17 games and a playoff system. The current format has long been debated. Opposers, such as I, claim that the current format encourages mediocrity amongst the teams. The fact that the teams are divided into three groups is even more troublesome. Pumas UNAM, the 8th seed this year, was just above .500 with one more win than losses. That’s why coming into this weekend’s game against number one seeded Cruz Azul, they were heavily favored against. The outcome of course was the opposite. The result was shocking for pundits and fans alike, but only strengthened what everybody has dubbed the curse of the superlider.

 Indeed, in the last 9 tournaments the number one seeded team has fallen and failed to win the Championship, Cruz Azul was no exception. Despite storming through the first 17 games and going undefeated at home, they conceded defeat at home in the playoffs when it most mattered. The current playoff system, adopted from the American sports model, was fully implicated in the 77/78 season in Mexico. Nobody can debate the excitement playoff time brings. Living in the United States, it’s difficult not to get fully indulged in the magic of October in Baseball, or the buzzer beaters and unlikely heroes to the road to the NBA Finals. D-Fish anybody? In fact, America seems to have this obsession with the underdog, the Cinderella team as they call it. However, as the current faulty American economic system proves, not everything American made is perfect.

There are ups and downs to the playoff system in Mexico. The Mexican people haven’t come to terms with the romance of the underdog like their American counterparts just yet, but they put an emphasis on the failure of the number one team to capitalize at the end. This has brought forth criticism by many towards the current playoff system who argue that the number one team during the first 17 games isn’t fully rewarded for their efforts. In response, the Mexican federation has implicated the rule that in case of a draw, the team better positioned in the league is the one that wins with the final being the only exception. In economic terms, more games equal more money.

Nonetheless, the problem arises here. The teams that pull in the big audiences and big bucks are Chivas and America. These two teams have widely been affected by the standing format. A string of almost two decades where both teams have only won four championships combined. The playoff format has given unlikely teams the chance to bring home the glory. Teams like Toluca and Pachuca have taken advantage of the situation and have cashed in with big championship wins in the past few years. Jorge Vergara, current owner of Chivas, is planning to propose a change of structure of Mexican football come January.

Ironically, the playoff system seems to give Chivas their best bet for winning a championship in the future. If a proposed change to league format occurs, teams like Chivas and America would seem far from winning the title. For the good health of the Mexican league, Chivas and America need to be given a chance. In a culture like the Mexican one where tradition is instilled into the family cores since the day you are born, the two most traditional teams in Mexico need to be capable to challenge for the league title year in and year out. Their legacy of followers both in Mexico and north of the border is what injects the league with the money necessary to keep going.

Although the team that has come out in first place after the first 17 games has created an allegory of failure, it is perhaps the unpredictability of the playoff format that keeps our eyes glued to the television set. It is what gives us that feeling of exhilaration. Plus nobody likes the same two teams winning the league over and over again like in Europe. That is the beauty of the sport. We learn to praise a feeling more than just a simple stat. Yes, perhaps things should change in Mexican football, bans on multiple ownership and extending the league to a year have been disputed. For now, all we can do is enjoy the beauty of what is Mexican futbol. You can love the format or hate it, but there is nothing quite like it.

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