As the final seconds of the 2015 Barclay’s Premier League season ticked away, supporters of Leicester City watched with glee as the Foxes punished the soon-to-be-relegated Queens Park Rangers by a score of 5-1.
Though the day brought victory at home, it was the previous week’s road 0-0 draw that really sent the fans celebrating and jumping for joy.
Why would fans spend all their energy celebrating a draw on the road over a crushing victory at home? Because the draw guaranteed the Foxes would avoid relegation and stay in the Premier League for at least one more season. That draw would prove to be more of a story than anyone could have ever imagined.
Slice it how you want to slice it, European football and American college football have more in common than most people realize. When it comes to the English game, the similarities and passions get even more pronounced because college football and England were the originators of their sport, respectively.
There is a sense of pride both sets of fans wear on their sleeve about that fact and it’s not something lost on the history of the game.
As it currently stands, the NCAA’s model is the closest thing we have to the European model of deciding sporting events. Before the CFB Playoff came to be, it really was just a bunch of teams fighting it out for the top two spots at the end of the year.
If finishing in the top two is not an option, then top four is always the goal. That holds true whether you’re trying to qualify for the Champions League in Europe or the Bowl Championship in America.
When it comes to the passion of the fans, both sports own a monopoly on crazy in their respective regions. Football undoubtedly brings out the worst in people no matter which side of the pond you happen to visit. Whether it’s racist Chelsea fans blocking a passenger from getting on a train or Texas and Oklahoma fans castrating one another at a bar, the instances and head shakes are great in number.
Many football clubs have been around as long as historic universities. In fact, both USC and Manchester City were founded in 1880. When fans mention tradition and history as a reason for loving college football or soccer, this is the kind of stuff that they are talking about. There is something special about a rivalry that has been around longer than the NFL by around 40-50 years.
Fans grow up a red or a blue on either side of the pond. Entire cities are split in half and loyalties are tested with each passing rivalry game. Fans even get particular about the brand and color of uniform being worn in both sports.
Watch a video of college fans at a National Signing Day event and then watch a video of soccer fans at a Transfer Deadline Day event. It’s so ridiculously the same thing.
So why does any of this matter? Because the Premier League is the richest league on the planet and it’s not even close and one of the biggest reasons they command that type of money is because the product they provide is second to none when it comes to excitement, drama, and pure sporting insanity in league competition. Obviously the World Cup is the biggest stage of them all, but much of that is because of the spectacle of the English game.
Chinese television consortiums are not lining up quarter-billion dollar investments with the New York Knicks, but they are with Manchester City.
The highest paying sporting event in the world is a soccer game. In fact, of the 10 highest paying games, soccer accounts for exactly half.
Much like college football’s FCS system, the English Championship is a lower division of the exact same sport. Unlike the FCS, however, the Championship Playoff final is worth over $171.75 million to the team that wins the game.
That is an obscene prize for a game played at the second-highest level but that’s what happens when the parent organization is signing billion dollar deal after billion dollar deal.
College football’s bowl system wouldn’t know what to do with itself if it were flowing in that kind money. To understand what I am saying here, try to picture North Dakota State and Jacksonville State playing a sold out game at the Coliseum where the winner took home over $120 million, the right to move up and play with the big boys, and people actually gave a damn. Lots of people gave a damn, like 85,656 people.
Leicester City gained promotion to the Premier League at the end of the 2013-14 season by winning the English Championship League. As of the present, Leicester City are the top team in the Premier League and have been for most of the season. The Foxes are in a prime position to become one of the most outstanding stories in the entire sporting world and they were celebrating a draw like it was a victory less than a year ago.
The sport simply gave them a chance to do something about their fate and they have done the remarkable. This is something that cannot and would not happen in college football. Media experts would find a way to discredit the Foxes’ regular season record. Draws against Man City, Tottenham, Stoke, and Southampton would somehow be cited as poor showings against good teams. Getting swept by Arsenal on the season would “prove” they don’t have what it takes to compete against top flight competition.
On the individual side, Jamie Vardy’s remarkable season would be chalked up to great numbers against crappy competition. You would see Vardy’s scoring record questioned because most of the goals came against teams like Sunderland, West Ham United, Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich.
Vardy probably would get an invite to the Golden Boot ceremony, but he likely would watch fellow countryman Harry Kane lift the trophy because he plays for a Power Five team in Tottenham.
The Foxes would be congratulated on their Top Four finish, but the Playoff Committee would ultimately rule that a 9-loss Manchester City or an eight loss Arsenal needed to be taken more seriously because of their “body of work,” the “eye test,” their ability to “control the game,” and their number of “wins against teams above .500” would win the day. Their Champions League spot would likely be given away, too. The Foxes sure wouldn’t be making the College Football Playoff.
Yet the Foxes seem almost destined to win the Premier League in 2016 and there is a genuine interest in seeing them accomplish the feat. Some pundits and fans have begun saying things like, “if [x] can’t win the league, then I would love to see Leicester. It would be fantastic for the game.”
Nobody would be writing an article titled “Boise State have been brilliant and it would be great for College Football if they won the College Playoff Final,” but major publications in England have thrown their editorial voice behind the Foxes winning it all.
In fact, the idea of a smaller club having a chance to do the impossible seems to be a fun topic to cover, as evidenced by this and several other columns.
It’s hard to imagine Jeff Long or anyone on the Playoff committee advancing any sort of thought along those lines. It’s been far more common for the Leicester City’s of America to be dubbed things like “the Little Sisters of the Poor” or for national media outlets to trash their chances to compete on the big stage with almost damning certainty. The willingness to give these teams a regular chance to compete has not been there from the start.
So the Premier League continues to grow and it will be stunning to see what kind of money the organization brings in after the end of the 2016 season. Whatever growth has occurred in college football has been miniscule next to the financial growth of the Premier League. The kind of money they bring in would give a villain a wet dream.
But the money is only there because the excitement for the sport is there. College football will never have the viewership of a global game like soccer and it is unfair to expect that the sport could ever get there. That doesn’t mean the sport doesn’t have room to grow in the excitement department, though.
For all the drama of college football, the results are almost always what you would expect. It’s just a question of which traditional team will take it all home.
One thing is for certain, though: in America, it would never be the Leicester City Foxes.