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Champions League provides superior playoff format

Corbin Hicks | Monday, January 28, 2008

By this time, it is safe to say that the football season is coming to a close. All of the college bowl games have been played, and the Super Bowl is less than a week away. The Pro Bowl doesn’t really matter, so it’s time to shift priorities elsewhere. Most students only view the other relevant sports as hockey and basketball, but I’m here to unearth a true “diamond in the rough.” Let me talk to you all about the other sport known as football, and this little competition called the UEFA Champions League.

The Champions League is a knockout tournament featuring teams throughout Europe in an effort to crown the best team from a bevy of countries. Before I go too far, let me explain who gets entry into such an exclusive competition. Soccer leagues feature teams only from the home country. In other words, teams from England play only teams from England. Through the course of these domestic leagues, standings (“tables”) are formed and the strength of the country’s competition correlates to the number of entry slots into the Champions League. Well-respected leagues in England, Spain and Italy have more entrants than their counterparts in Ukraine and Belgium. The tournament is divided up into groups of four, and the teams battle it out twice against each group member. The top two seeds proceed into the Round of 16 in the Champions League, the third-place team gets automatic entry into the UEFA Cup, Europe’s consolation prize, and the fourth place team gets to crawl back to their domestic league with their tails between their legs.

Next begins a series of matches that determine who reaches the final, which is played with much fanfare and prestige. The winner of the Champions League not only gets a fancy trophy and medals worthy of an Olympic winner, but it also receives a multi-million Euro purse that can be used to help the club get even better. Therefore, the stakes are raised to a ridiculously high level, and teams always try to put their best foot forward in the Champions League, regardless of their domestic form.

In no other sport does a team truly deserve the title of world champion. I’ve always found it hilarious that the NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA titleholders are deemed “world champions” even though they only play teams from the United States and Canada. Although one may argue that the level of competition by these other teams would not be even because of the supposedly huge talent disparity, but as Appalachian State has shown us, anything can happen during the heat of battle. The soccer world even gives teams from outside of Europe the chance to compete against these so-called heavyweights through the Club World Cup. The Champions League winner plays in a knockout tournament with the best team from Africa, Oceania, Asia, and South America. These regional winners are all determined through tournaments similar to the Champions League in format.

There is no speculation about what would happen if these two teams were to meet. A top team from Germany will know exactly how it matches up with a top team from France – because they will have the opportunity to play each other and determine a winner. And if a team from Scotland manages to win the entire tournament, it will see how it matches up with the finest that Brazil and Australia have to offer.

There are no preseason rankings or advantages placed on perennial winners: the only way to reach the final is through beating the competition. Turkey’s Fenerbahce, the equivalent of Hawaii, has as much a chance at the grand prize as Real Madrid. Maybe our friends over at the BCS could take a couple of pointers from the people who have got it right.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Corbin Hicks at chicks2@nd.edu