Sunday, March 4, 2012

Australian Rules Football Preseason Cup

Australian Rules Football has begun its preseason. But what in other sports is a series of meaningless friendlies is instead organized into an actual competition, with a winner and trophy at the end.

First, the 18 teams are split into six groups of three. Those teams play each other, all in a single day at a single site. To prevent exhaustion, the games are only half as long as an ordinary Aussie Rules game, but each counts as a full game in the Cup standings.

Over the next two weeks, each team plays two more games, one home and one away. The two teams with the best records over all four games then play in the Cup final; point differential is the tie breaker. The other 16 teams are matched up for final exhibition games, generally against a local rival.

This is a fairly modest competition, but successful on its own terms. Imagine if the N.F.L. preseason, now greeted with yawns by players, management and fans alike, had a point system and a champion. While it would not give preseason games playoff intensity, it would at least add some interest and give teams and players -- even guys who eventually get cut -- the chance for minor glory.

Using preseason record alone, the last four winners of the NFL Preseason Cup would have been Detroit, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Detroit again. Are  you telling me these teams couldn't use a trophy?

The other intriguing thing about Aussie Rules's Cup is the "half games." Again, that might be something to increase interest in the N.F.L. preseason. Would you rather go to the Meadowlands and see the Giants against the Broncos with nothing on the line, or see Giants-Ravens, Ravens-Bills, and Bills-Giants, back-to-back, with two games in the Cup standings at stake?

Of course, the N.F.L. currently has little interest in making preseason more enjoyable for fans. Season ticket-holders are stuck buying the games whether they want to or not, and then paying for parking and food at regular-season prices. Sadly, football would have to face an unlikely downturn before we see any Aussie-style innovation.


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