Hear me out: The SEC could soon resemble, or replicate, the European soccer model. Subsequently, in response, so could other conferences. Whatever conferences are left that is. Talks of a potential 20-member SEC, with additions of Oklahoma, Texas, and some combination of four other powers, would make its resemblance to the European football framework stronger if conversations further and deals become final in the next few years.
Well, the average American wonders, what’s the soccer model in Europe?
It's different than what we're used to.
It’s five leagues, England, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany, with the largest clubs of each country competing domestically for a league title, then competing for Europe’s biggest prize: The Champions League, the continent’s most prominent trophy of club competition.
In the case of the SEC, its conference championship would equal a domestic title, with the national championship of each sport being a sort-of spin-off of the Champions League. That is given, of course, the SEC expands to 20 members one day and other conferences follow its lead after they’re left to scavenge for scraps.
You’d have a handful, or maybe less than that, of larger conferences competing in-conference, or in Europe’s case, domestically, for a conference title more incentivized than before because of expansion and increased competition within. If you're one of the fortunate. Then, the ultimate prize, like the Champions League, would be the national championship.
Those here who are familiar with the model across the pond reply, inevitably, ‘Well, what about the promotion and relegation aspect of it?’
That’s exclusive to the English Premier League, and the others within Europe don’t participate in the practice. The practice, however unlikely here, is the concept of a performance-based reward system. Financial implications are significant, too.
After 38 matches, the three teams at the bottom of the Premier League standings are relegated to England’s second division, The Championship, with first and second place teams of the second division then promoted as replacements. Promotion of the third club is then decided by a playoff.
Particulars aside, relegation and promotion are hardly compatible with college athletics. I’ll move on to the more relative framework.
The Champions League, like every decider of the national title in collegiate sports, is a tournament-style competition, with a bracket similar to the men’s and women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.
One distinction, though, is that seeding of the European title isn’t based on domestic standings, or would-be conference standings, unlike the College Football Playoff rewarding teams that win a particular conference crown within the Power Five, the five most notable conferences in which the winners are automatic qualifiers for the CFP given acceptable, requisite win-loss records, etc.
Further symmetry would be a 20-team SEC equivalent to that of England’s top division, the most competitive collection of clubs, or teams, in Europe. In college football, for instance, Alabama, LSU, Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Florida of a soon-to-be-but-theoretical SEC align seamlessly—for the sake of the exercise—with England’s top six clubs: Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham.
All of which are accomplished both domestically and in European competition. Though some win more than others, I get it, as is the case here in the states at the college level.
But comparatively, the resemblance is can’t-miss, and its similar system would be an added boost to the winner of the SEC every year in football, or basketball, or baseball, or whatever, given tighter margins of both competition and collections of trophies for each of the aforementioned current, and currently-theoretical, conference members. For others, too, whoever they (may) turn out to be.
League champions in Europe are determined by points, three for a win, one for a draw, rather than a championship game featuring the two teams with the best records, one from the SEC West and one from the SEC East in the case of football. The total number of points decides the champion in Europe’s domestic competitions, which is different from the SEC’s customary neutral-site clash in Atlanta, Georgia.
And finishing first in all the five main leagues across the Atlantic is bragging rights for years; it’s enough to ease most any pain induced by Champions League failures. We need that here, and it might happen (again).
In a broader sense, sure, there are differences, but the similarities to top-flight European soccer leagues are apparent, and are most equal to what the landscape of college athletics would be if realignment and expansion are as inevitable as many seem to think.
I should rephrase that; Face it: it’s happening.
And if it all unfolds how I think, I’m hoping conference titles rebound from their recently-devalued plight and become what they used to be: more than frosting on the surface of a baked good you just can’t duplicate at home.