Learning From Across the Pond

American sports are perceived by many Brits as slow, dull, overly complicated and concerned with money to such an extent that it becomes detrimental to the sports themselves. Even those with only the slightest knowledge and interest in the sporting culture across the pond need only cite David Beckham’s transfer from football giants Real Madrid, to the Los Angeles Galaxy – surely motivated mostly by the financial benefits – to form their argument and therefore dismiss American sports as a whole. It is true however, that over the last few years a fan base has begun to emerge and grow throughout Britain, largely due to the improved coverage of the NFL both on television and the annual game at Wembley.

As knowledge of how American sports operate has increased, so too has the appreciation for the system. Salary caps for every franchise means teams have to be fiscally responsible with who they sign, making it difficult for one team to accrue all of the best players simply because they have the largest chequebook (see Chelsea and both sides in Manchester). An annual draft during the offseason means bodies of young talent are constantly joining the leagues with the earliest picks going to the teams with the worst records, allowing them to rebuild. This often results in teams that are bad for a few years inevitably improving. Take the New York Jets for instance: in 2007 they finished the season with a record of four wins and 12 losses, whereas this season, led by their rookie quarterback, they managed to reach the AFC Championship Game. This draft and salary cap system helps distribute the talent evenly around the leagues, which in turn means more teams have a realistic chance of winning a championship. In the NFL for example, the last four Superbowls have been won by four completely different teams. In contrast, in the English Premier League, only Everton have succeeded in releasing the grip of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal on the top four in the last five years.

Of course, the practicalities of implementing such a revolutionary system in, for instance, English football might prove impossible. Firstly, the manner in which youth players are handled (in football, most are scouted by clubs at a young age) is totally different to, for example, the NBA, where each player entering the draft is required to spend at least one year playing in college. This means that they are never signed to a particular team until they are drafted, whereas over here players might have been signed to a club for years. It is an interesting idea though – this system results in American colleges having huge sports programs designed to develop potential athletes similar to the youth programs of clubs in British sport. If this approach were to be adopted in Britain, a massive impetus would be put on schools and universities to have programs at the same high standard that the clubs’ youth programs are at now. Not only might this put a stop to clubs scouring the world for young, foreign talent, it could result in an overall higher level of intelligence amongst players – who nowadays seem to be increasingly senseless – as well as improving the development of home-grown, British talent, ultimately benefitting the national teams.

The idea of a salary cap is one that is already prevalent in rugby and has recently been increasingly speculated about in football. If it were to be implemented in football, it would need to be put into place by FIFA in all leagues, as opposed to just English leagues adopting it, so as to prevent what would be an inevitable drop in standard of English football, once teams from foreign leagues – not bound by salary restrictions – offered players far greater wages than they could earn here.

Ultimately however, such thoughts must be disregarded as pipedreams. The sheer task of successfully implementing these systems in football would surely be enough for the governing bodies to reject any possible proposal. This, coupled with FIFA’s notorious unwillingness for drastic change in the laws of the game (see their stubbornness over video replays), is evidence for that.

Andrew Holder-Ross


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