After the UEFA Champions League Draw on Friday, it seemed like there were nothing but complaints. Complaints about how the draw is conducted, complaints about how the Group Stage takes too long, complaints about how we will see a lot of lopsided games, was about all we could find.
This is surprising to find in what is one of the year’s best sporting events. What other sport do we see the best teams from several different nations battle it out to see who the best on the continent is? Imagine if baseball had a competition between teams from MLB, the Latin American countries, Japan, S. Korea, competing for an actual World Championship instead of the World Series champ just claiming it. Sure there would be a lot of teams that would have no chance in it. But for them just to be included is a big deal.
It’s like the NCAA Tournament in college basketball. Most of the teams that make up the field have no shot of winning the whole thing or even making the Finals Four. For many of the teams, just to win one game is a dream come true. The NCAA Tournament is one of sport’s greatest events. so what would make the Champions League more like it?
One thing the Champions League could do is wait until the end of the season and have the competition more compact in it’s scheduling. Right now the Champions League starts before the nine month long club season and ends after the end of it. The NCAA Tournament is known as “March Madness” because it takes place mostly in a two-week span in March. For those two weeks, college basketball owns the sports world, at least in the U.S. Imagine if the Champions League mostly took place in June.
How could they pull that off? One way would be to do away with the two-leg system and go down to a one game, single elimination format. If teams end in a draw, go straight to a one overtime period and then penalty kicks. Then don’t wait for two weeks to play the next round. You play it a few days later.
This would not only build up excitement for the fans to wait 10 months for the Champions League to begin, it would also leave a way for an underdog to occasionally pull an upset in the earlier rounds. There a very few Cinderella teams in the Champions League because they have to beat a heavy favorite over two games, unlike the NCAA Tournament where a huge underdog just has to catch a favorite on one bad day and they can knock them out.
If none of these ideas appeal to you, then stop complaining. For those of us who like to watch our favorite teams play as often as we can. the Champions League is just fine the way it is. I can imagine even for the fans of the little known clubs who appear in this competition and get to host a team like Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, they aren’t complaining either.