Friday, January 21, 2011

The BCS and Brazilian Futebol

Spurred by Ronaldinho's return to Brazil after AC Milan realized that they had not bought the Ronnie who won the Ballon D'Or for Barcelona, Tim Vickery has a typically incisive post up about the odd structure of Brazilian futebol. In short, the Brazilian season is divided in two. In the first part, the clubs participate in state championships for each of Brazil's 27 states. In the second part, the major clubs then participate in a national competition. The state championships are a bit of a joke, as major clubs plays against teams with negligible fan bases. In essence, the first half of the year is a waste. Here's the money graf:

The signing of Ronaldinho has concentrated minds on this issue like never before. I have been railing against the State Championships for 16 years. For years I felt like a lonely voice, but the momentum has been building, and over the last few days I have noticed an unprecedented outpouring of criticism. People have been looking at Flamengo's fixture list and coming to an obvious conclusion - what is the point of buying a Rolls Royce and then driving it on dirt tracks?

Imagine if Georgia spent the first half of the college football season playing an eight-game schedule against teams from within the state. Imagine the Dawgs playing Valdosta State and Mercer. Better yet, imagine the Dawgs playing at Valdosta State and Mercer. The whole exercise would be a giant waste of time, right?

But honestly, is it that different than what goes on in September in college football these days? Georgia is something of an exception in that they have been playing two quality non-conference foes for the past several years. Next year is no exception with the Dawgs playing Boise State and Georgia Tech. However, most major powers play one credible opponent and then three tomato cans. Fully one-quarter of the average power's schedule is total filler. To take Vickery's killer line, what's the point of recruiting Rolls Royces and then driving them against San Jose State, Duke, and Georgia State? And the worst part is that the best programs are the ones who are most likely to play crap non-conference opponents because they can count on sheep like me to file through the turnstiles no matter the opponent. (So quiet down, ACC and Pac Ten fans. You play tougher schedules because you have to, not because you're brave.)

The solution for the FBS is the same as the solution for the CBF: mimic the English Premiership by reducing the size of the league. In Brazil's case, the solution is to do away with the state championships. In the case of college football, the solutions are to tighten the requirements of membership in the FBS (would anyone really miss the MAC and Sun Belt?) and go back to the old rule that wins over FCS teams do not count towards bowl eligibility. In both cases, there is political opposition. Read Vickery on the obstacle to rationalizing the Brazilian structure and tell me that you can't picture the NCAA posing similar roadblocks:

Change will not come overnight. The State Championships are vital to the power structure of Brazilian football - and since the power structure controls the 2014 Fifa World Cup, there is fear of rocking the boat at the moment.
One final and somewhat unrelated thought on Vickery's article: I get sad every time I am reminded that Ronaldinho exists. As good as the current iteration of Barca is, the side would be even better if Ronnie wouldn't have pissed away his prime. When Barca won the Champions League in 2006, Ronaldinho was 26 and acclaimed as the best player on the planet. Barca had won the title despite Xavi missing most of the season with a knee injury and Messi and Iniesta only starting to make their mark in the side. Ronaldinho should have been on the left side of the 4-3-3 as Messi and Iniesta matured and gelled with Xavi into an unstoppable force. Instead, Ronnie flopped at the 2006 World Cup (although he got a lot of unfair criticism that should have been directed at an unbalanced side) and spent the next two years in a funk that allowed Real Madrid to win two titles. Barca came roaring back after selling Ronaldinho (and his partner in sloth, Deco). In essence, there are two missing years from the resume of one of the all-time great teams in football history because of a great players' sudden fall from grace.

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