One of my main complaints, if not my only complaint, about international tournaments is the fact that they’re too short. This complaint does not stem from a desire to see a longer FIFA World Cup or IIHF World Championships. However, it does find root in the fact that you have no idea whether or not the tournament champion was truly the best team.
Anything can happen in one game. Given enough tries, even lowly Antigua and Barbuda could draw or even defeat the United States in a game of soccer. (Thank goodness it didn’t happen yesterday!) In basketball, Lebanon could beat Lithuania at least once in a thousand attempts, although it may be just once. A true example can be found in the NFL Play-offs; as I much as I rooted for them, do you seriously believe the Cardinals deserved the NFC Championship when helmed by Kurt Warner? Why do you think a Billy Beane-run A’s team has never reached the World Series, despite its dominance early in the last decade? And they play best-of-5 and 7 series!
Of course, when trying to expand international play, you run into an obvious problem-what to do about the club teams. One approach is to go the way of FIFA and add “International Dates” to the calendar. These dates are generally reserved for friendly matches and international competitions. Thereotically, this is a good plan. There are just two problems:
- The international organizations do not always have full jurisdiction over North American sports leagues, and
- With the long seasons of international sports leagues, the players are likely to be perpetually exhausted.
The first problem has to do with scheduling and the releasing of players. Without an agreement between the leagues and the international organization, it would be virtually impossible to get the best players participating in international competitions not taking place during the summer breaks. We already see this in the IIHF World Championships, where American teams often feature an AHL player because the competition takes place during the Stanley Cup Play-offs. Imagine how hard it would be to get a decent roster during the regular season, when all of the NHL teams are playing. I understand that players are released for the Junior Worlds, but would the Penguins be willing to release Sidney Crosby for a week so that he can play Kazakhstan and Latvia? The second problem deals with the fact that most elite players, regardless of how well their team does, would be playing at least ninety games, several of which may be thereotically meaningless (like a Canada-Italy matchup where the former’s C Team could, in all likelihood, rout the other’s All-Time team).
There is a radical, almost impossible approach. That would be to have the international teams take complete precedent over the domestic club teams.
The way it would work would be to have the domestic teams work as, basically, minor leagues for the international teams. The international teams would play a full season, transferring players back and forth between them and their domestic teams. The salaries would be paid by the international teams for the duration of the top-level stay, and the club teams would be financially compensated for each game. Large countries, like the US and Russia, would rotate home stadiums, allowing more fans to experience sports on the international stage.
This would never exist, but it would probably work. For one, I cannot think of a scenario where games would not sell out save for an economic depression or an organized boycott; I mean, it’s your best chance to see the world’s stars for that sport. For another, travel and and scheduling would be arranged to limit globetrotting flights and numerous games between the elites and the non-elites. This could be arranged by strict geographic alignments and constant relegation-and-promotion. The season would also be structured so that players could spend some time with their club teams. For example, the hockey reasons would start in September and end in February, allowing most teams to access their players for the stretch run and the play-offs.
I told you it was a harebrained idea. Thanks for reading, and please comment.