While nobody would claim that the Championship is the best league in the world, you do often hear people call it the most exciting and unpredictable one. It is true that it’s wildly unpredictable – take Burnley for example. The season before last, they were involved in a relegation battle, and prior to last season, they were widely tipped for the drop – yet they were the divisions surprise package and managed to secure automatic promotion with a second place finish.
I think one of the main reasons that the league is so exciting, is the play-off dynamic that determines the last promotion spot. The top two teams in the division secure automatic promotion, while 3rd through 6th enter a mini play-off situation where the winners get elevated to the Premier League.
Its actually quite common that the 3rd place team fails to win the play off and are confined to another season of slugging it out in the battle for promotion to the promised land. This is what makes the league so competitive and exciting. For a lot of teams, finishing 6th or higher is the goal – not finishing 3rd or higher, which may be an unrealistic expectation for some teams.
It means that teams who are languishing in that 8th-12th place section of the table, still have something to play for with a couple of weeks to go. Even if it’s an outside chance of scraping into the 6th, teams know that a run of good results could see them squeeze in – and after that it’s anyone’s game. Its often the case that a team can put a run of good form together at the end of the season, scrape into 6th, but then they are the team with the momentum behind them, and they storm the play offs and get promoted.
Imagine if they started using that model in the Premier League to decide who gets to be in the Champions League. Say the top 3 would get automatic promotion, and then 4th through 7th go into a play off scenario. Wouldn’t that be so much more dramatic and entertaining?
Take last season for example; you would end up with a play off scenario for the last Champions League spot being played out between Arsenal, Everton, Spurs and Man United. That’s a pretty nifty little group for a shootout. Guaranteed ratings from a TV stations point of view. I’d bet it would be better ratings than even the FA Cup Final.
Not just how thrilling that scenario would be, it also leads to more exciting games through the division during the closing weeks of the season. The league is often broken into several mini leagues. Last season, there was a mini league of Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea battling it out for the title, then you had Arsenal, Everton, Spurs and United playing out one for 4th place, after that a section of nothing, and towards the bottom, you have a mini league for the teams trying to avoid relegation.
In that middling “nothing” area of the league, you have a collection of teams who know they cant make it to European qualification, and have no realistic threat of relegation, so end up playing out a series of dead rubber games that don’t really have anything at stake.
Under this scenario, teams like Southampton, Newcastle (though their form was dreadful from Christmas onwards), Stoke and maybe even Hull would still have had something genuinely rewarding to play for – even if it was an outside chance.
I know that for every place you finish in the league there is a higher pay out for the club than the position below them, but I’m not sure how motivated the players are by that. The chance of getting into the Champions League through a back-door style scenario would change all that.
It would also help the integrity of the league. Lets paint a scenario where your team is in a two horse race for the title. It’s getting down to the wire, in the “squeaky bum time” of the season. You look at the upcoming weekends fixtures and your teams is playing a side fighting it out for a top 4 spot or a team trying to avoid relegation, but your rivals are playing a team in that mid table obscurity section. Your team have to play somebody with something to play for, while your rivals have what seems like a handy 3 points against a team already on their summer holidays. A play off scenario would give more teams something to play for, for longer in the season.
I would even go so far as to say there should be a relegation play off too. The bottom four teams go into a play off and the winner stays up, with the other three relegated. Often is the case where a team finds itself in the relegation zone for the majority of the season, and a late burst of form sees them survive by the skin of their teeth on the last day. It would also add an extra dynamic to those teams around 13th-15th who might be mathematically safe from finishing 18th, but not always safe of finishing 4th from bottom. Again, more teams with more to play for.
It might be harsh to consider that a team who finishes rock bottom could hypothetically avoid relegation, or that a team who finishes 7 could take the last Champions League place (and don’t worry, it’ll never happen – this is just me thinking out loud and sharing my dumb musings), but I think that it would trade off nicely for a more dramatic and exciting league all over, for much longer into the season.
by Andrew Furlong