O’Boyle: English FA Cup evokes need for new tournament
Daniel O'Boyle | Tuesday, January 31, 2017
This past weekend in soccer gave me mixed feelings.
Between Friday and Sunday, the 32 remaining teams in the English FA Cup played their fourth-round games in the sport’s oldest competition. With 736 clubs in the tournament this year, the fourth round contained giants like Liverpool and Manchester United, mixed with with lesser-known teams such as Lincoln City and Sutton United, who each play below the 92 teams that make up England’s Premier League and Football League.
The 16 games gave me joy because of the success of some of the smaller teams: Sutton and Lincoln both beat second-flight sides and advanced. Liverpool was upset by Wolverhampton, and Tottenham had to fight from two goals down to earn a late win over fourth-flight Wycombe. There will be either eight or nine teams from outside the Premier League in the last sixteen, depending on the result of a replay between Derby County and Leicester City on Feb. 8.
On the other hand, the past magic of the Cup is still continuing to slip away. While for the likes of Sutton and Lincoln, the competition may be a great chance to gain prominence, too many teams believe it’s simply not worth the time. And worse, they’re probably right. Although the FA Cup was once club soccer’s most prestigious trophy, it hasn’t been able to keep pace with the money of the Premier League and Champions League. A team near the top of the Premier League is best off fighting for a top-four finish that would earn them a place in the next year’s Champions League; a team near the bottom of the Premier League or near the top of the Championship, England’s second-flight, is better off focusing on playing Premier League soccer the next year.
But the spirit of this once-great competition could be revived. Just not with soccer and not in England. An unseeded, single-elimination knockout tournament, running during a league’s regular season.
The idea’s exactly what it sounds like, just a second competition for teams to compete in for an extra bit of glory separate from the rest of events. A tournament resembling March Madness — minus the seeding — could easily provide a fun extra contest for teams, especially since the regular season could really do with having a few less games. It’s not coming from out of nowhere: Adam Silver has pitched the idea of bringing a similar competition into the NBA before. It would never be a team’s top priority, but with questionable parity at the top of the league, a single-elimination tournament would give all the underdogs a chance of knocking off the league’s better teams. A low playoff seed and an early elimination to a top team wouldn’t be the summit for much of the league anymore, as any team would have a reasonable chance of taking home hardware. For the top teams, there’s the extra challenge, a step above just winning the championship: taking home both trophies.
Even more interesting would be the idea of such a tournament in baseball. Anything can happen in a single game of baseball, so you can expand the tournament by using teams from both the majors and minors. With the chaos caused by an open draw and a single-elimination format, it’s perfectly set up for unlikely teams to go far and draw huge attention to some minor league teams that make it to bigger games. Sure, winning a tournament that dependent on luck would never make up for not contending, but it could be a high point in an otherwise uninteresting season for some teams.
It may not work in every sport, and there might be further details to work out about the timing of a tournament like this, but when it gets to the late season and you see teams with nothing to play for — or playoff teams who know they won’t win it all — it could be fun to give teams a chance to win something else.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.