I've enjoyed watching some of the UEFA Champions League the past few months. The semifinals end today, either Manchester United or AC Milan will face Liverpool in the final.
Every time I watch the Champions League, I can't help but wonder why more sports don't use this model. For those of you not familiar with it, here's a quick primer. The top finishers in all the major European soccer leagues compete against each other each year for in the Champions League, which is essentially the European club soccer championship. So in the semifinal today you have Manchester United (for the non-soccer fans among you, they're from England) vs. AC Milan (from Italy, for those of you not up on your Italian city names).
What I want to know is why hasn't this model spread to other sports? I think basketball and baseball are the two most obvious applications, but it might be able to spark some interest in hockey as well. Imagine if, instead of the poorly conceived, poorly marketed, poorly played World Baseball Classic (how something can be called classic the first time it's played is beyond me), there was a competition pitting the Cardinals against the winners of other baseball leagues from Japan, Mexico, etc. Similarly for basketball, wouldn't it be interesting to see the Heat play foreign league champs? Obviously the American leagues have the money to attract the best players from around the world and would probably win these competitions easily. But wouldn't they be fun to watch?
The way I see it, there are several advantages of the Champions League model over the World Baseball Classic:
- The teams play together all season in their domestic leagues. They aren't cobbled together for a month long tournament, so the quality of play is likely to be better.
- Each team already has a fanbase. Cheering for team USA is great for the Olympics and the World Cup, but I'd rather cheer for the Orioles than a mishmash of players who happen to be American
- Coach K won't coach my favorite team. This is a big problem with World Baseball (or Basketball) tournaments. While I probably like all the players on my favorite team, there's a good chance that I'll hate some of the players (or the coach) on Team USA.
So what will it take to get a Champions League started for baseball and basketball? Bud, David, are you listening? Let's get this show on the road.