Soccer and NCAA Football – The Odd Couple
“Hey are you pumped about football season starting soon?” - Friend
“Dude, I can't wait. I can't really figure out who is going to win this year” -Me
“I know, I am thinking Alabama has a pretty good shot, what about you? - Friend
“O, sorry, I was totally thinking about the Soccer season in England” -Me
“Really? I don't get it I thought they play like all the time. Doesn't Soccer never end? I just saw an advertisement on ESPN the other day about soccer. They are starting there season now too?” -Friend
That is a small excerpt from a conversation I had with a buddy of mine the other day. It went on for quite a while as I tried explaining to him all of the intricacies of Soccer worldwide and all of the various leagues that exist and how they all tie in to each other. I found myself struggling to explain the sport to a guy who honestly didn't know the difference between a Free Kick and a Penalty Kick, but who was patient and kind enough to sit through my lengthy explanation. But as I struggled to put Soccer into terms he could understand I finally realized that the easiest way to explain Soccer was to compare it to College Football.
I know you are probably as skeptical as my friend was when I first raised the comparison, but indulge me for a second. And hopefully, you will see there are more similarities than differences between the two. Which is why I think Soccer is more relate-able than many American Football fans my understand.
Note: Throughout the article I will compare NCAA College Football with the professional soccer leagues across the world as a whole. So essentially, unifying all professional leagues under one umbrella for the sake of comparison.
NCAA and Professional Global Soccer Structure - I began my comparison by relating the various international professional leagues with the diverse and numerous NCAA conferences in existence. This is not a precise comparison but ball-park comparisons worked best to explain the structure.
I told my friend that the NCAA divided the United States by region in order to assign schools to conferences, generally speaking. I then went on to explain, that he should see soccer on a more global scale. Instead of dividing a country into regions like football did, practically each country in the world has its own domestic soccer league composed of as many as 20 professional teams. Simply put, the NCAA could be seen as FIFA and each domestic soccer league in the world could be seen as NCAA conferences.
This is a gross over simplification but what was important was that I began to see the light-bulb in his head begin to glimmer. I had added a semblance of structure for his soccer education.
Conference and Domestic League Champion – I then moved on to comparing NCAA conference championships to domestic league championships. What I explained to my friend was that every professional soccer league had a full schedule of games where each team competed against each other within the league to determine it's champion much like how each NCAA conference does every season. So, by the end of every season, there is a clear-cut champion within each NCAA conference much like the English Premier League or Major League Soccer, which is based solely on wins and losses (or points for the soccer world).
The bulb seemed to get a little brighter.
BCS and Champions League – But most fans of championship teams aren't just happy with being winners of their particular conference or league, right? They want to know that their team is the best in the world. I mean what better label is there then best team in the world? So, I explained that the BCS system is similar to the various Champions Leagues around the world and better yet, soccer goes a step further by including the recent FIFA Club World Cup. Similarly to how the BCS pits the best teams of different conferences against each other to determine which conference has the superior team, so to do the various Champions Leagues across the world. For example, domestic league championship teams teams from La Liga or the EPL may find themselves up against other champions from other leagues such as Serie A or the Bundesliga. Because although you may have the best team in the ACC or SEC in NCAA Football or the best team in the EPL or La Liga in soccer doesn't necessarily mean that your team is great. You may have just had a lot of easy competition to beat up on. However, a battle of champions between the two should clearly decide which team is superior and perhaps which conference or league is of better quality, at least that year.
The bulb was beginning to glow.
Fan and Supporter Passion – This led me to begin to compare the similarity between passionate NCAA football fans and soccer club supporters. At the grass roots of both fans is the intense support for a strong personal bond with the team. Most die-hard fans of both sports typically support their local team. There is a strong personal connection with supporting a team that hails from your area. In a sense, their success brings honor and pride to your hometown.
Aside from the strong personal connection to the teams, there is also the perennial debate that rages between which NCAA Conference or domestic soccer league reigns supreme.
I asked my friend to tell me which NCAA Football Conference was the best. He argued that the SEC had the best teams in their conference whereas I believed that the SCC as a whole was better when you looked at the league as a whole. Either way what was proven between that debate was that just like in soccer, since each conference or league is so individual with different styles of play and particularities does it really matter who is ultimately better in the end? When the SCC and SEC conference champions go toe-to-toe during BCS season or when the La Liga and EPL domestic league champions tangle during the Champions League final is it more important as a fan who wins, or is it simply that the hype and importance around the game itself is what makes the sport so great?
The bulb began to fill the room.
NFL Draft and National Team Selection – To cap it all off, I asked my friend if the number of players from a particular NCAA Conference that wind up getting drafted into the NFL added to it's prestige? He mentioned it definitely didn't hurt because it is yet another indicator of the quality of play present in that conference which is ready for the next level.
I began to mention that a similar school of thought existed in soccer too. Yet another piece of debate fodder into which soccer league is the best in the world, is how many players within that league play for their respective National Teams. I made the comparison that being a part of your National Team indicates the highest level of play for soccer players, similar to the NFL for football players.
Most soccer fans they typically would like to see as many National Teamers playing week in and week out within their favorite domestic soccer league, whether it is La Liga in Span, the EPL in England or MLS here in the United States. This gives their league more clout in arguing for its superiority to other leagues, which is quite similar to what NCAA Football fans do for their respective conferences that have the most players drafted into the NFL.
The bulb had reached full enlightenment!
Although most College Football may not initially see the similarities between soccer and football, as you can see they are not as different as they may seem. My friend and I may have been excited for the start of different “Football” seasons, but oddly enough we were excited for many of the same reasons.
So the next time you and your buddies bust out the body paint or bring out a new momentous Tifo for a big home game, just remember that you have more in common with each other than you may think.