Pa Ranahan: “Level Playing Field More Beneficial Than Tiered Championships”

We’ve all heard that famous “Inches” speech from Tony D’Amato to his Miami Sharks team. Every play, every ball, every moment you put your body on the line would affect the result. As it should be. It should be about the Inches. The fine margins. That’s what makes sport the captivating drama that it is.

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The unpredictably that allows every supporter or player to dream that on any given day, they could experience the euphoria that comes with winning. And even the heartbreak that comes with losing. The living. The dying. Or else what’s the point really.

The 53rd Superbowl takes place this Sunday between the New England Patriots & LA Rams. It will feature future hall of famers Bill Belichick & Tom Brady up against the new kids on the block Sean McVay & Jared Goff. As has been the norm I hope to head to the Woodlands & watch in the company of my old half back line buddy, Brady superfan and winner of our Fantasy NFL league Stephen Lavin.

Tom Brady (12) with head coach Bill Belichick

Regardless of the outcome it will signal the end of another roller coaster NFL season where anything was possible & so many games came down to the very last play. A part of me does wonder how 32 teams can all begin the year with real belief that they can beat any of the other teams and all have a realistic goal of taking home the Lombardi trophy at the end of the season.

In the last 10 years, there has been 16 different teams appearing in the showpiece Superbowl, with 9 different winners. I can’t think of another sport in the world that has that variety of teams competing at the business end of the championship and there is nothing to say the next 10 years won’t bring more of the same.

Surely that is the essence of what competition should be. Every team with a fair shot. Every player & supporter starting each year with that hope, no matter what the previous year’s results brought. As long as you are prepared to fight for those inches the belief that anything was possible.

So why is this the case? Without drilling down too deeply it’s still fairly clear. Everyone starts on the same rung of the ladder. And no team gets a leg up financially. Every team has to operate under the same salary cap, making financial superiority irrelevant. And possibly the most critical of all is that those in charge actually try to improve the chances of the “weakest” while at the same time challenging the “strongest” a little more.

The NFL Draft

How does this come about? And why would they bother? Well the why is obvious; the smaller the gap between the perceived weakest & best teams, the more competitive the championship becomes which results in closer games. This brings excitement, thrills, spills, hope from players, supporters and media.

A perfect storm but in a good way! The how requires a little more ingenuity, but not much. Something as simple as the team who finishes last being able to pick the best player out of college in the following years draft is a help. But not much good on its own.

A big one is the schedule, which means the better you did the previous season, the tougher the schedule of opponents for the next season, and conversely the lower down you finished, the “easier” the schedule. The gap narrows, weaker get stronger and stronger come back to the pack. Competition is born.

The inches continue to matter. The same way the inches used to matter in Intercounty Football. They still come in to play at the business end of the year, for the top 2 or 3, but the inches have become miles where championship is concerned. A half a second too slow or too fast in the majority of games won’t affect the final result. A half a step too late or too early won’t have anyone wondering what if.

I was lucky enough to be on teams when the competition dictated that the inches did matter. In some cases we came out the right side. In more we didn’t. But we had that opportunity at least. Competition at its core should allow for teams to compete on a level playing field, with an equal access to funding & resources. With scheduling that, instead of seeding or giving byes to the “better” teams based on what they did previously, makes it more challenging for them. Narrowing the gap inch by inch, play by play.

There are an awful lot of teams/supporters who are in hell right now, getting the you-know-what kicked out of them in a lot of ways. And all they want is the opportunity to compete. To fight their way back into the light.

Tiered championships have been put forward as a solution, but a level financial playing field & innovative scheduling would be of so much more benefit. And then it will come down to coaching, football ability, sacrifice, heart and the inches will matter again. That’s football guys. Or what it should be anyway.

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