So I hear that the ECB is again looking to revamp the county game. It was only in 200 that the long game was changed from 1 division of 18 sides playing home OR away to 2 divisions of 9 sides playing home AND away. (This conveniently removed the extra game in the season which Durham added by joining the league in 1992.) Of course, you could say this prompt review has been caused by the Indian Premier League, a fairly apt title in that it too is making millionaires of its sportsmen thanks to hefty TV funding (and a fanatic Indian fanbase) but that would be oversimplifying the issue.
As well as the County Championship (16×4-day games), you also have the dreadfully named Pro40, which is the 40-overs a side league competition also in two divisions from 1998 (so 16×1-day games), the Friends Provident Trophy, currently a 50-overs a side round-robin which knockout competition that again features the major counties plus Ireland and Scotland (although before 2006 it also featured a lot of minor counties) and then of course the Twenty20 knockabout thingy that gets 108% of the revenue of the sport in each year.
Now for those of you who have also been keeping up with rugby (be it union or league), not to mention several other sports like basketball and ice hockey, you’ll know that the end of the league season has this completely pointless play-offs thing, where the top four of the regular league season compete in a stupid end-of-season tournament to decide the “winners”. Why do they do it? TV money. It serves absolutely no use whatsoever, as the whole point of the league structure is to decide who is the best over a long series of games, not in an end-of-season PPV rushabout.
Play-offs, of course, are an American idea, both in their execution and the fact that’s where the big money comes in from the advertisers. Yet in America, it works. America is a big country, it has a limited number of franchises in each sport (for simplicity let’s assume American Football, Baseball and Ice Hockey) which don’t change from year to year that ideally need grouping by geography. Not only do they bring in a ton of extra money (because the sports aren’t awash with enough already) but they provide the ideal scenario to combine the geographical results of the season past without making everyone play each other every season and trawl all over the country.
Fixed group of teams, spread over the country, pressed for time. What sport does that remind you of… no, not rugby. It’s cricket. From the day they introduced the two-tier system I couldn’t see the point of it. Suddenly, you make the county game based upon geography and play-offs and it’s perfectly balanced: split the 18 into three leagues of six, play 10 games (H+A) against the other five in your “league” and three games against other teams, and lo and behold you’re set for top 2 from each league plus two others in an end-of-season knockout. 13-16 4-day games a season, a money-spinner at the end of the run, and more time for the slogfests during the year.
Granted it’s not quite as straightforward as just shoving the idea into play (What if the play-off games get rained off, for instance? Where would they take place?) but as far as British sport goes it’s by far the most useful implementation of the end-of-season knockout tourney there could be.
Far better than doing it in rugby, at least.