Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Parallel Football

I've said many times to friends that the closest thing in the U.S. to the tradition, and atmosphere of European soccer is College Football.

Inspired by my attendance at the SEC West slugfest between Auburn and LSU (the football equivalent of a 1-nil victory), I will effort to explain the various European leagues to you by offering up their corresponding College Football conference. I hope I can continue my efforts to bridge the gap between these two, seemingly disparate, cultures.

Coincidentally - last weekend, Manchester United and Arsenal slogged through a 1-0 decision in a rivalry that is very similar to the one I was witness to. Neither involves a common border. Rather, they were borne out of the fight for league supremacy, and neither fan base has a fondness for the other.

Now, regarding the subject of acquainting these distant cousins.

In European leagues there are several elite teams battling not only for their particular country's League crown, but for the Champions' League title. Meanwhile, smaller clubs would be ecstatic to somehow win the league once a quarter-century, or maybe get a berth in the UEFA Cup.

This, of course, is much the same way a team like LSU considers a season out of the BCS picture a failure, while Kentucky would tear down their goalposts after making the Liberty Bowl.

Much like I-A football having the Big 6 Conferences, European soccer has the Big 4 leagues. Obviously, the numbers don't match, so we'll get a little creative.

The Pac 10: The German Bundesliga - A league that currently houses only one truly top-notch team, Bayern Munich. Leaguewide, there are several serviceable sides that somehow manage to remain pretenders to the throne. Bayern attracts some of the best players from across the continent, while the other teams always seem to get smoked when facing non-German opposition. It's a league that has gradually lost the ability to turn out quality defenses (much like the death of The Desert Swarm), and, if not for Bayern, might be in danger of falling out of The Big 4.

Also, The Pac-10 houses most of its teams in California, and the Bundesliga covers a unified Germany. Thus, both collectives feature fans who think Communism might actually work if just given another chance.

The Big 12: Italian Serie A - Several very solid organizations at the top of the league, and some shockingly bad teams at the bottom. Serie A embodies the economic gap between affluent Northern Italy and relatively barren Southern Italy much like The Big 12 embodies the difference between the booming population of the Southwest and the static, primarily rural, population of the Great Plains. The league has worked for years to shed images of a largely defensive mentality paired with vanilla offenses.

Much like the formerly seperate Big 8 and SWC of the 1980's, Serie A has recently had to deal with two of it's more powerful clubs, AC Milan and Juventus, being caught in a scandal of the highest order. Juventus played the unfortunate role of SMU in this case, being relegated to the lower divisions of Italian soccer - likely for many years to come. AC Milan is hoping to return to prominence a little...uh..."sooner" than that.

This development has allowed one of the other glamour clubs, Inter Milan, to re-ascend to the top of the league after a relatively dormant period - unlike Texas, it wasn't because they foolishly hired John Mackovic as their Head Coach.

The ACC: French Ligue 1 (Leeg Uh! if you are looking for the correct pronunciation) - Constantly clamoring that they should be included in the discussion of the top leagues, while being pretty much dominated by the same team every year. Before the arrival of Virginia Tech and Miami - Florida State controlled the ACC Title like Olympique Lyon currently controls Le Championnat.

When criticized about their qualifications for inclusion in European's Soccer Elect, will respond in a similar fashion to ACC fans by touting their superior culture and education over neighboring barbarians. Ultimately, these sour grapes are derived from their inability to convert similar resources into the results of their neighbors...

The SEC: La Liga - Spain's top division. Despite grumblings from some pastily complected folks that live north of there, widely considered the toughest league on the continent. Full of teams who have seen success domestically and continentally, as well as a slew of provincial and cross-regional rivalries. Through excessive government control, and shady backroom deals, Alaba...I mean...Real Madrid were able to dominate the league for many years.

With corruption and subversion now less prominent in the region - Real's primary rival - along with 2 or 3 other large clubs appear poised to do battle for supremacy in the coming years. Despite this, Real's fans will still try and convince you that they are the flagship club of La Liga.

Also, as in the SEC, you do not want to commit the egregious era of mistaking one Spanish dialect for another. The consequences could be dire!

Of course, there is another league that often clamors of the title Best of the Best, even though it's teams have a reputation for coming up just short during European competitions...

The Big 10: English Premier League - The oldest of the big European leagues, and despite having teams set in some sparsely populated areas, constantly one of the best attended. A league that, until recently, was dominated by the team with the largest stadium in the country. That is, until a mad genius arrived from a second tier league, and took over a club in one of the largest population centers. Using seemingly endless resources, he finally backed up that teams claim that it is a force to be reckoned with on the continent. Interestingly enough, Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Chelsea's Jose Mourinho even bear a passing resemblance.

Their footprints are both identified as places where ideal versions of the English Language are spoken. Yet, England and Big 10 Country (By virtue of running from Pennsylvania to the Dakotas) have mangled their native tongue into numerous semi-indecipherale vernaculars.

Our next subject is a rogueish monolith that is always trying to butt in on the party. Charting its own course - even though it occupies an overlapping swath of land to the EPL...

Notre Dame: The Old Firm - Scotland's flagship clubs, Celtic and Rangers. They are pretty much an anachronism in the modern soccer scene, despite what their supporters (and a handful of media members) claim. Always purporting to be part of Europe's Ruling Class, until they fall meekly to a team from one of the power leagues. Haven't won anything significant in a really long time.

Inextricably linked with a particular Christian Sect, despite the fact that most of their players likely don't subscribe to those beliefs. If not for years of tradition and rabid fans, their status on the periphery of the main leagues would probably have put them in the same position as...

Army/Navy: The Scottish Premier League - Really just scheduling fodder for The Old Firm. Every once and a while they'll make someone sweat, but never really seem capable of a big breakthrough season. Their best days ended a long time ago, and a UEFA Cup berth is usually a sufficient outcome for their respective fanbases.

Still, they aren't that far behind a league that claims to be part of the elite, but is usually met with raised eyebrows and chuckles...

The Big East: The Dutch Eredivisie - Home to 3 decent teams - Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven, and Ajax. As in The Big East, most fans outside its borders couldn't name the rest of the league if you put a gun to their head. Nonetheless, very few around Europe would want to face those Top 3 in a winner-take-all scenario.

It all makes sense, now, doesn't it?


Trent said...

Very well done.

Ben said...

That was great

Spirit of Jack Morris said...

So at the end of this season, we send Army and Colorado down to 1-AA, and Nichols State and New Hampshire get brought in to 1-A.

Can we please do that???

Mlob said...

Dude, SMU's not part of the Big 12

Dan said...

Great post.. good work.

Andrew said...

So what does that make the Sun Belt? The Albanian League?

Chris said...

Nice post, with one small problem. It seems kind of odd that someone from the SEC would call the Big Ten areas sparsely populated. If you look at census figures, the states that have the Big Ten have an average population of over 2 million larger than the states of the SEC with 6 of the states of the SEC having smaller populations than at least 7 of the 8 states that have Big Ten schools.

Eric said...

Mlob...exactly...SMU is not part of the Big 12. Much like Juventus is not part of Serie A because of their scandal. Right?

One could reason that if SMU had not been so rocked by scandal and "the death penalty" that their program might have maintained its lofty status of the Dickerson/Myer era, and be included in the Big 8/SWC merger instead of either Baylor or Texas Tech.

Chris, I was more referring to schools like Iowa, Purdue, Illinois, etc. being outside of major metro areas...obviously, schools like Ole Miss, Auburn, and even S. Carolina are in a similar situation.

Again, I didn't say it would all fit... :)

Eric said...

Oh...and Spirit of Jack Morris...if anyone's going to I-A with New Hampshire, it's my alma mater...Appalachian State!!

Chris said...

Good point eric. I can't fault you too much given how spot on The Big East/Dutch Leage comparison was, that by itself made it all worth it.
The only real comparison that I didn't like was Big 12/Serie A, but that's because I think that the Big 12 is much more mediocre in terms of the other leagues than Serie A is in Europe. The thing is though, I just can't think of a good comparison for them.

Ben said...

The Big 10 EPL comparison was spot on. I think that Man U's championship in 1999 reminds me of OSU's championship in 2002 in the sence of how so many of the victories were come from behind wins.

Eric said...


The Big 12 thing was borne out of the pre-Big 12 scandals of Oklahoma and SMU really being one of the last times the NCAA honestly came down hard on teams for cheating...much like the equivalent of the "Death Penalty" being given to Juventus.


Yeah, I think it works because much like you can make an argument that the EPL is the strongest league, you can do the same with Big 10 football. Also, both are leagues dominated recently by one team in scarlet, and another in blue. :)

The Dar said...

Great stuff...fun read.

Bouj said...

SMU might have made it into the newly-formed Big XII. Baylor was in no matter what though. The only way Texas and Texas A&M were going to be allowed to join was if they took Baylor with them. At the time, a certain Baylor alum had a lot of influence (that would be the recently-deceased former TX Governor Ann Richards) and promised to eliminate almost all state funding to the big schools if they didn't include Baylor in the merger.

I know Texas' Plan B was to go back to the Pac-10 to ask if the original offer to join (from like 1990-ish) was still open.

Eric said...

I had heard the SEC was after Texas and A&M as well.

Based on what you are saying, if SMU had joined...I think Tech would have been most likely to be left out.

Ben said...

From what I read Texas looked at the Pac 10 first primarily because of academics but Stanford voted no to keep them out. They didn't want to go to the SEC because the academics weren't up to their standards. The Big 10 was too far away and couldn't expand for 5 years after Penn State came in so that pretty much left the Big 8.

A&M wanted the SEC but the SEC didn't really want them. Rumors got out to powerful Baylor and Tech alumni in the state government and the other two were forced to take them or risk having their state funding cut. The big city schools (TCU, SMU, Houston, Rice) were left out to dry.

But, anyway, I thought you did a good job with this.

BF said...

This, of course, is much the same way a team like LSU considers a season out of the BCS picture a failure, while Kentucky would tear down their goalposts after making the Liberty Bowl.

Heck, Kentucky tears down their goalposts if they lose to LSU by less than 4

titanole said...

Ouch! My ACC is the French Ligue of the college football world. At least my school is the Lyon of the conference.

Eric Berg said...

The comparison of the BCS and Champions League is right on. I'd add that both are harm both college football and the Beautiful Game in Europe. It's all about money, tv, blah, blah... The bigger, better schools and bigger, better clubs get, bigger and better at the expense everyone else. The 'club v. country' and 'athletics v. academics' play out, too.

But I also think you're being bit too narrow.

First of all, most Pac 10 football teams are not in California. Although the Trojans are indeed a national powerhouse, four other schools have been Pac 10 champions or co-champions the last five seasons (including Oregon twice, I'm proud to point out). And four teams from the Pac 10 are currently ranked in the Top 25. In recent seasons there have been five ranked inn the top 20. How can a conference be so weak that one-fouth or one-fifth of the nationally ranked ranked teams are from it?

I wouldn't expect you compare every football confernce with every soccer league in Europe (and if you did, you'd need to get a life). But European soccer is more than the EPL, Serie A, etc. English soccer is more than just the EPL. Almost every European country has at least three levels of professional teams. College football is more than six conferences and Notre Dame. There are four more NCAA 1-A, 13 1-AA and many other conferences with smaller colleges and universities. On any given Saturday the passion for both footballs is played out on the smallest college campuses and in the smallest European cities. I think that's the best comparison. Not just comparing which teams from which leagues have games on Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN and whose jerseys are available at the Foot Locker.

However, I think the Western Athletic or Mountain West are more like der Bundesliga, with Boise State being the Bayern recent seasons. Fresno State, BYU and Utah have also had football teams feared by any school in the country. I'd even go as far to compare 1-AA Big Sky, Mid-East Atlantic, and Southwestern Atlantic Conferences to the FA's second division. There will always be teams in the that can compete against teams in a higher divison. I'd take a Coca-Cola Championship club over the average Ligue or Budesliga club any day.

Eric said...

Whoa, Eric...quite the missive there.

You can tout the rankings of the Pac-10 all you'd like, but the fact remains that most teams from the conference get thumped when stepping out of their region. For example, Cal, being touted as a potential National Title contended being taken to the woodshed by a team that will probably finish 3rd in the SEC East. And Oregon losing to...oh wait...

Just pointing out that very few of the Pac-10 teams have proven much outside of their conference in the last few years (although I do think Oregon was screwed by the BCS in 2001).

If you read my past blogs, you'll know that I am a die-hard Appalachian State fan...so I'm well aware of the passion surrounding College Football below the BCS level.

I'll also point out that neither the SWAC nor MEAC have ever won a I-AA National Title (Granted the SWAC doesn't send a team), so I wouldn't consider them the elite of I-AA.

Thanks for reading, though.