The perfect shot in school soccer to steadiness the scales? It’s a starting
Parity … competitive balance … comparable chance … these are the magic words, the goals of all those responsible for competitive sports leagues.
We see it every night in the wildly unpredictable NBA playoffs, with the last three champions (LA Lakers, Toronto, and Golden State) long gone in the streaky shootouts.
Starting with the Dallas Cowboys’ final NFL title in 1996, 15 teams have shaped New England’s remarkable run in the 21st century (six Super Bowl wins). Thirteen of the last 16 champions were someone other than the Patriots.
Despite their persistence, the Atlanta Braves last won the World Series in 1995. The Yankees, with the highest wage bill of $ 201 million, have won one in 20 years (2009) and the Dodgers’ 2020 triumph was their first since
1988 (32 years waiting period).
Annual drafts distribute young athletes across the board and prevent (or at least delay) their attempts to form super teams.
Lack of parity is the only insoluble failure of college football and explains the motives for the unexpected move a 12-team playoff will bring into our future (by 2023, when TV bowl etc. details can be worked out).
One joker named “boredom” as the driving force behind this visionary idea, unfolded by leaders known for their intransigence. The boredom grows when fans watch four-team playoffs that include 20 of the final 28 participants in Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma. It’s too repetitive. It’s like watching Mare of Easttown knowing who the killer is.
Boredom is inevitable as the country’s fans watch elite talent (and transfers) gather at the same schools annually.
Researchers show charts showing that over 50 percent of the country’s top 100 players took part in the aforementioned foursome and Notre Dame.
Here are the benefits
A 12-team tournament won’t solve everything, but it’s an important step in the right direction. Count the ways:
• Almost all games from October to November that involve a top 25 team will have an impact on the playoffs and increase fan interest in late-season competitions. Just do the AP Top 25 and you will be highlighted automatically. Four Big Ten teams took the poll last December without the usual Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin members. In the past seven years, 20 Big Ten teams would have formed the line-ups.
• The 12-team setup allows all the Power 5 champions to advance, plus the eternal competitors like Penn State and Georgia and the pop-ups like Indiana, Cincinnati and Iowa State last year.
• A popular feature will be the first round games in December, hosted by the “middle four” against the “bottom four”. According to the new plan, the first four will only play in the quarter-finals around New Year’s Eve.
• More money, of course. And much more as TV networks compete.
The way home closer
Whether this affects Illinois depends on Bret Bielema’s ability to film a difficult (41-77 in the last 10 years) program. It could boil down to the ability to finish off Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, and Nebraska to the west.
OK, Illinois beat Nebraska 41-23 last year but lost to the other five by a 208-87 score advantage. Northwestern sailed against the Illinois, 56-21, the Wildcats’ sixth straight series. And Iowa made it 35-21 to six behind Illinois last year.
Illinois, on the other hand, defeated Wisconsin and Purdue in 2019 and Minnesota in 2018. This is, after all, often derided as a weak division.
Iowa and Wisconsin in particular seem imposing in 2021, but note that Northwestern won the West in 2018, won 1-8 in 2019, and won the West again in 2020. If and when the 12-team playoff becomes a reality, there’s something reasonably achievable for everyone in the West … which, incidentally, sparked the discussion about eliminating the divisions so the Easterners don’t get stuck with the Ohio State NFL prep team every year.
Loren Tate writes for The (Champaign) News-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected]