Playoffs are the answer to spice up boring leagues

June 4, 2009

Forget about the 39th game. What about English Premier League playoffs to spice up the world’s most popular league and stop it becoming a boring four-horse race?
 
After watching the recent playoffs in the English lower leagues and witnessing the excitement surrounding the recent two-legged title decider in Belgium where I ply my trade, I reckon playoffs are the way forward for the top leagues, if not now, then possibly in the future.
 
Everybody loves the cup tie atmosphere, a nail-biting finale and a do or die decider.
 
But with the growth of the Premier League and top divisions in other countries, such as Spain and Italy, along with the popularity of the UEFA Champions League, the exhilaration of soccer seems to be dwindling.
 
Soccer’s governing bodies have admitted there is a real threat that the beautiful game is becoming boring.
 
My solution for the Premier League would be to have a four-team playoff for the title similar to that used in the Netherlands which proved successful.
 
This would prevent boredom should Manchester United run away with the title with a few games still to go. At the same time finishing fourth would have an added incentive for those teams battling to break into that coveted Champions League spot.
 
Breaking into the top four is hard enough for the likes of Everton or Aston Villa, but what about getting there and having a real chance of winning the title?
 
The ecstasy and heartbreak of Newcastle, Middlesborough, Sunderland and Hull on the final day shows a playoff at the bottom similar to those in the lower divisions is also more exciting than watching a club limp out of the top division weeks before the end of the season.

PHOTO: Burnley players celebrate after their English Championship playoff final victory over Sheffield United at Wembley Stadium in London May 25, 2009. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

7 comments

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‘Everybody loves the cup tie atmosphere, a nail-biting finale and a do or die decider.’
Me as well. Even if I do watch the Premier League and I am pleased my club Manchester United retained the league title once again, it does get kind of boring when it is the same four clubs in the top four spots just about each season.

I do watch the Bundesliga as well and this season, the play-offs make a return not since the last appearance was almost 20 years ago. The club ranked 16th in the Bundesliga up against the third-best club in the second division in order to decide which will be the final and 18th club in the Bundesliga next season. In this case, Cottbus and Nuremberg respectively to fight for that spot. Had the play-off not being reintroduced, Cottbus would had gone down alongside Arminia Bielefeld and Karlsruhe.

Because it was unfortunate for Cottbus to eventually get relegated after the two-legged play-off (the final aggregate scoreline was 5-0 to Nuremberg, 3-0 in the first-leg, 2-0 in the second-leg) because there will be no club from the former East Germany in the Bundesliga next season. But for Nuremberg, they are back after a season of absence.

And from what I watched on Sunday (the first-leg was on exactly seven days ago), the joy of the Nuremberg fans in the second-leg showed that they are happy to be back in the Bundesliga once again.

This isn’t a hard problem to solve, and there is no need to trash the sporting legitimacy of the everyone-plays-everyone concept to solve it. The elephant in the room is that we have a Big 4 because of the structure of the Champions League. Therefore the answer is to replace the Champions League with a European knock-out cup for the top 128 teams in Europe. There should be no limit on the number of teams per league, with places allocated according to success in previous seasons. The top few leagues would earn ten plus places and the artificial division into Champions League and non-Champions League teams would end.

Posted by Oliver Chettle | Report as abusive

In the US, which has no promotion/relegation, it’s no surprise that MLS has playoffs. It keeps the interest alive at clubs who have no chance of topping the table. Last season, the first team was not eliminated from the ‘playoff race’until game 28(of 30). And while there are rewards for finishing as low as 5th(out of 15), they are not seen as important to enough fans to keep interested at the end of a season.
The problem I have with it here in the States is that the playoff winner is declared league champion. Last year’s championship match was played between the #1 team during the season and the #8(last seed). #1 was the winner, but if #8 had won, I would not have considered them the ‘champion’. Note that both the playoff winner and the regular season winner get spots in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Posted by Peter C | Report as abusive

It does keep things spicy. True, fans do have something to engage with during playoffs, but only fans of those vying for the championship.
Soccer isn’t getting boring; players are better than ever and competition has reached unimaginable levels.

The trouble with this idea, at least in the case of the premiership, is that you first have to plough through 38 rounds of matches knowing full well that Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are going to qualify for the play off.

Posted by Brian Homewood | Report as abusive

While part of me would love to see the top four in the league battle it out for the title ala the Guinesss Premiership in rugby union, people seem to be ignoring the fact that while it would no doubt add a great deal of excitement to the end of the season, it would effectively ruin the last third. By February we would all but know who the top four would be come the play-offs giving us 3-4 months of irrelevant games at the top of the table.

Posted by KingKolo5 | Report as abusive

Never, never, never. It would completely devaluate finishing top of the table after 38 games. I know being a Liverpool fan has been difficult in the last 19 years, Darren, but you can’t change the system just to fit your bill.

Posted by Red Devil | Report as abusive