That’s right. I’m putting my hat in the ring.
I’ve gotta back up my boy Rob Sweeney here. Playoffs in the Premier League is a bad idea. Well, not a bad idea, but not something that’s going to necessarily lead to more excitement. Yes, cinderella stories are great, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t happen quite as much as you may think. At least, not to an extent that would make it worth completely changing the structure of the EPL. And I should say, I’m not saying that there isn’t a competition problem in the Premier League, I just don’t think a playoff is the way to fix it. Let’s take a look:
NBA Championships by seed
I WANT MY ‘CHIPS WITH THE DIP.
I think that the NBA is probably the best example of a league with playoffs that doesn’t necessarily benefit from having playoffs. Especially in recent years with the advent of super teams, the NBA has become a league where you can pretty well predict who is gonna be in the mix come May/June by about October. For example, 71% of the time, a #1 seed wins the championship. Add the number 2 seed into the mix? That number jumps to a whopping 88%. Only two teams below the 2 seed have EVER won the championship, that’s the 1969 Celtics and the 1995 Rockets. So, using my fellow Brian’s metric of 24 years, only ONE team below a 2 seed has won the championship in that time. Compare that to the Premier League, and we see that it’s really not any less competitive there, with Blackburn Rovers in 94/95 and Leicester City in 15/16. So, the NBA basically has a top 6 as well, and while that grouping may change, and while the eventual champion might change, the 2 or 3 teams that really have a shot have pretty much been decided by the time the playoffs start. So if you want to increase parity and “shake things up”, the playoffs really aren’t going to do that.
What about the NFL?
It’s a little better in the NFL, but still not great. Since 1975, which is when the NFL started awarding home field advantage by seed, 40 of the 74 #1 seeds have advanced to the Super Bowl. That’s 54%. Not as lopsided as the NBA, but still pretty damning. If we look outside of #1 seeds, only 10 teams between a #2 seed and a #6 seed have advanced. If we want to look at teams that have actually won the Super Bowl, it looks like this: 20 #1 seeds since 1975, 10 2 or 3 seeds, and 7 4, 5, or 6 seeds. So again, no playoffs is not the problem, and adding playoffs isn’t going to fix the problem. The best teams will still be the best teams, and at the end of the day, they’re probably going to win.
The Premier League is Already Exciting
Sure, Manchester City don’t look like they’re going to be losing anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that the season just drags on. Just think about it, the Townsend screamer against none other than Man City, Kompany’s rocket against Leicester, that questionable John Stones save, the giant killers from Wolverhampton, Newcastle somehow beating Man City, hell, even Man City thrashing my Blues. It hurt, but there’s part of me that just has to admire it. I could go on, but you get my point.
I also think that the FA Cup and the Carabao (or whatever they’re going to call it next) Cup still have value. While there haven’t been many unlikely runs of late, the FA cup still provides an opportunity for ANY team in English football to make a name for themselves. You don’t see, and will never see, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (yes, that’s a real team) square up against Golden State. It’s just not gonna happen. But it does happen in the Premier League. And that’s awesome. And that should be celebrated. Also, if we didn’t have the Carabao Cup, Kepa Arrizabalaga never would have become Chelsea’s new manager. Hell, Adam Silver is even considering adding mid-season tournaments in the NBA, one of them being a play-in for the playoffs. He explicitly cites European soccer as an inspiration. As part of this, he’d also like to shorten the regular season, which given KD’s and Klay Thompson’s injuries, seems like a good idea.
The argument that two mid-table teams don’t really have a lot to play for come March/April, while valid, doesn’t really hold much weight with me. The same could be said about both the NBA and NFL. There comes a point in a season where there are certain teams just aren’t going to be playing for anything anymore. But in the Premier League, you have top mid-table teams vying for the Europa League group stage and qualifying spots, lower table teams fighting a relegation battle, and even teams in the top six battling it out for those 4 coveted Champions League spots. That just doesn’t happen in the NBA and NFL. The Suns are out of it by Thanksgiving, we all know the Patriots are probably going to go to the Super Bowl until Tom Brady literally disintegrates, and the mid-league teams have nothing to play for.
So What’s the Fix?
Beats me. But here are a few suggestions:
The Premier League has a money problem. Because these teams are independent businesses, and not part of a “league” as we think of it in the US, teams that make more money get to keep all that money. There isn’t any revenue sharing like in the NBA, which attempts to bridge the gap between bigger and smaller markets. I’m not gonna get too in the weeds here, but I think that some version of a revenue sharing system could help bridge some of the spending inequities in the league. With more equitable spending comes more equitable talent, and with more equitable talent, controlling for managers, chemistry, etc., you get better games.
Along these same lines, the FA, UEFA, FIFA, or whoever is allegedly in charge of enforcing rules, needs to enforce rules pertaining to Financial Fair Play. Stop banning teams from two transfer windows for signing some kids that weren’t quite old enough yet (I’m not bitter) and turning a blind eye on FFP violations running rampant. If teams know that they aren’t gonna be able to get away with fudging the numbers, maybe spending won’t continue to skyrocket.
I also like the idea of mirroring the EPL transfer structure to be more along the lines of free agency in the NFL and NBA. A lot of the intrigue from these leagues comes from the mid-season trades that take place. Yeah there’s the January transfer window, but it’s just that one month. Imagine in say, November, Arsenal decide to trade Laca and Denis Suarez (because why the hell not, that sounds like an Arsenal thing to do) to Everton for Richarlison. Yeah its not the most blockbuster of trades, but it keeps things interesting.
I don’t really see any of these things happening anytime soon, but hey, a man can dream.
Until next time, fam.
Author: Brian Angelino, “Originally from The Great State of North Carolina, I’ve just started following the premier league again after a traumatic experience as a child where I wore a Chelsea jacket in the wrong part of London. For more questionably hot takes, follow him on Twitter @BrianAngelino