Don’t you just love it when the title gets decided while one team are sitting in a conference room and the others are losing a match to a side 51 points back of first place?
If you’re a Manchester City fan, employee or family member, then you do. But for everyone else, a potentially classic Premier League title race quickly fizzled out into nothing as Arsenal capitulated after Easter. The same goes for a top-four chase that once included upwards of six teams but suddenly seemed all-but-decided before the season was over as Man United and Newcastle sealed the spots with time to spare. So too did the relegation fight, which included nearly half the league but now features just three sides (Everton, Leeds and Leicester) and a two-point gap between 17th and 18th, with Southampton already down.
– Stream LIVE: Coventry City vs. Luton Town, Sat. 5/27, 11:40 a.m. ET, ESPN+
Every commercial sports competition is trying to find a balance between identifying the best team and creating the most excitement. American sports have tilted toward the latter, with long regular seasons to determine seedings followed by an abbreviated cup competition to determine the champion.
Analysis by Michael Lopez, now senior director of football data and analytics at the National Football League, found that the best team advances from a best-of-seven NBA series around 80% of the time. On the other end of the fairness spectrum, you’ve got baseball: a 162-game regular season and then playoff series that would need to be best-of-75 to identify the best team as often as the NBA’s playoffs do.
Both of those leagues struggle with devaluing the regular season, though that isn’t the Premier League’s problem. The structure of a typical European domestic league is about as fair as it gets: everyone plays the same schedule, and whoever comes out with the most overall points is the champ. Week 2 matters as much as Week 32, but when one team is much better than the others — which is inevitable given the unequal spending power across these leagues — you often get a situation like the one we’ll see this Sunday, where the final games of the season are also the least important.
Thankfully, this weekend will also feature the final of soccer’s — and maybe one of all sport’s — best-designed competition: the Championship playoff.
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