Most American sports' fans like parity.
People don’t like thinking that their team has no hope, that the status quo will never change, or that the proletariat can’t overthrow the bourgeoisie. People like every season to be a fresh slate, where one smart draft day (or transfer window) can change your team's fortunes.
But not me. I like the bourgeoisie.
And more accurately, I like fights between bourgeoisies.
Maybe that’s why my two favorite sports are American College Football and European Football (Soccer). These are sports where Cash is King, parity is an illusion, and your team’s history and name mean everything.
In both sports, teams at the top have all of the money, all of the power, and use these things to build powerhouses to dominate their leagues. It creates underdog narratives and rivalries that can’t be replicated by other, more evenly matched leagues.
NOTICE: For the remainder of this piece, I’ll be referring to American College Football as “football” and European Football as “soccer”. This is to reduce confusion but also because, as an American, I call it soccer. There’s a special place in hell for American’s that call soccer football. I’m proud of the strides our country has made in relation to the Beautiful Game, but to those Americans who call it football, embrace your own culture, sellouts.
What was I saying? Oh right, powerhouses.
The best time of the year in both sports is when said powerhouse teams leave their respective feeding grounds and duke it out against the other bullies across the street. For soccer, it’s the UEFA Champion’s League. For football, it’s the bowl/playoff season. This is where the big dogs come together to see who has made the most of their countless unfair advantages.
Not only do these sports have similar tendencies on a macro level, but comparisons on a league-by-league and even team-by-team basis also exist.
The below comparisons are to help Americans better understand the European soccer world, and maybe for a few European soccer fans to understand why a non-professional sport is so huge in the states.
In other words, let’s help football lovers love football (I’m the problem).
Let’s start at the top:
SOUTH EASTERN CONFERENCE (SEC) = BARCLAYS ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE (EPL)
In terms of popularity and global awareness, no leagues are bigger in their respective sport than the SEC and the EPL.
Both leagues are widely regarded as the best in their sport, having the most competition and best talent from top to bottom, and always churning out an extremely high product. Do they always have the best single team in the world? Not always, but they usually have the highest number of teams that are truly capable of winning it all. Both leagues are extremely physical, injuries are a dime a dozen, and depth is absolutely essential. If one player goes down, there are three right behind, ready to step in and become a star. These teams don’t take chances. If you win in these leagues you’ve earned it.
SEC vs. EPL team comparisons:
Alabama = Chelsea: Both of these teams are currently at the top of their respective leagues. They both have the coach they want (Nick Saban and José Mourinho), tons of money and resources, and as much talent as any team in the sport. They both also sucked big time in the late 80’s and early 90’s despite having great histories.
University of Georgia = Arsenal: Both are currently excellent, have rich histories, great players, and huge fan bases. They also have coaches (Mark Richt and Arséne Wenger) that can’t win the big one but get to stick around because everyone sort of agrees that they are generally good guys, at least that’s what I read on backhandedcompliments.com
LSU = Manchester United: Both teams were at the top not too long ago but have regressed to a level considered unacceptable by most fans (although not due to a lack of talent or resources). They are both also widely renown for their home fields: LSU’s Death Valley (especially at night) and Machester’s Old Trafford (a.k.a. The Theater of Dreams) are not only some of the best places to watch each sport, but also two of the most overly-dramatic names you’ll ever hear in reference to a sporting venue.
BIG TEN = SPANISH PREMIER LEAGUE (LA LIGA)
These well-respected leagues also have deep and rich histories, but realistically only one or two teams is ever going to be league champion. In the Big Ten (or Fourteen!) the two juggernauts are Ohio State and Michigan, and in La Liga it’s Barcelona and Real Madrid. While other teams occasionally snatch the title, the lion’s share is usually split between the two lions. In recent years the power has shifted to one team (Ohio State and Barcelona) and their respective rivals can’t burn through coaches fast enough to catch up. Additionally, "The Game" (Ohio State vs Michigan) and "El Classico" (Barcelona vs Real Madrid) are both highly regarded as two of the all-time great rivalry match-ups.
Ohio State = Barcelona: These two were the undisputed best in their respective sport this past year. While they might not face the same competition week-in and week-out as the leagues previously mentioned, they have the top talent, top coaches, and enough money to keep the good times rolling.
Michigan = Real Madrid: While Real Madrid has been much more successful (Champions League winners last year) than Michigan, they have both played second fiddle to their main rivals. Historically, these teams are the best in their league and want to desperately reclaim their old dominance. As stated above, they both love firing coaches when their teams can’t keep up.
Michigan St. = Atlético Madrid: Both of these teams have had recent success in dethroning the two main powerhouses of their leagues and don’t get the respect they deserve. They both also hate their in-state/in-city “bigger brothers” but are still viewed as second-tier rivals behind Ohio State/Barcelona.
PAC 12 = GERMAN BUNDESLIGA
These two leagues often get overlooked, but any aficionado of either sport will tell you they are just as good, if not better, than any other league discussed here. These leagues have loyal fan bases and are stocked with talent. They likely suffer because there is historically one top team that dominates and the rest of the teams constantly change in and out, fighting for the #2 spot. Regardless of national/global perspective, these leagues and teams are not to be trifled with.
University of Southern Cal (USC) = Bayern Munich: Before all the Oregon fans have an aneurysm, the history and winning tradition of USC cannot be matched in the Pac 12. While Oregon is currently the best team, it’s tough to imagine them maintaining that spot over the next 10 years, if only for the fact that Oregon will soon not only have a different uniform for every game, but will have a different uniform for every quarter, causing massive wardrobe malfunctions, and ultimately destroying their on-field product. If in 10 years I’m wrong, you Oregon fans will have forgotten all about this article and will have established yourselves as a true national power. Until then, it’s USC.
Both Bayern Munich and USC dominate the talent in their respective leagues. USC can get any recruit they want on the west coast, and Bayern Munich buys up any player on a German team that has a break out year. It’s almost impossible for another team to overtake either of these teams due their history and financial backing. If that isn’t enough, Bayern Munich’s opposing fans call them FC Hollywood because they buy all the stars. And USC is located in downtown LA. Coincidence? NO SHOT.
Oregon = Borussia Dortmund: For football fans that know a little bit of soccer, Oregon supporters should actually be quite pleased with this most favorable comparison. Those familiar with the FIFA soccer video game can also attest. Both of these teams have had a great run in the last few years and are both known for their overwhelming speed and exciting style of play. And they both reached the biggest stage in recent years, only to fall short to traditional powerhouses: Oregon losing national championship games to Auburn (and most recently Ohio State), and Dortmund losing the champion’s league final to Bayern Munich. They both also recently lost their talisman coaches. Chip Kelly left Oregon two years ago to go to the NFL, and Jurgen Klopp left Dortmund this year and will likely be going to the EPL.
Stanford/UCLA/Arizona St = Wolfsburg/Schalke/Bayer Leverkusen: I could have really put 5 or 6 teams from each league but I just picked the first ones that came to mind. In both leagues there is always some random team that finishes second and then disappears to the middle of the pack the next year. It speaks to the league’s dynamic nature but it’s also one of its biggest downfalls. It’s difficult to build a national/global brand if you don’t stay at the top.
BIG 12 = ITALIAN SERIE A
These leagues are both royalty in terms of their sport’s history, but both have fallen on tough times in recent years. Sure, there are one or two teams that are representing the league well (TCU and Juventus), but both are clearly living in a valley. Both the Big 12 and the Italian Serie A are suffering from two of their biggest brand names not pulling their weight and the rest of the community viewing them as a league in decline. This is one of those comparisons that will have holes and won’t align perfectly but should be good enough for educational purposes.
Oklahoma = AC Milan / Texas = Inter Milan: These teams are well known by all in each sport because of their illustrious histories, great winning traditions, and for their intense rivalry games. AC Milan and Inter Milan share a stadium (San Siro) where they play all of their games against one another, while Texas and Oklahoma shoot it out, Red River style, at the Cotton Bowl every year. Both sets of teams have fallen on hard times and haven't challenged for their leagues' championship in several years. Once these teams return to prominence, the perception of the league will rebound as well.
TCU = Juventus / Baylor = Roma: This comparison likely won't offend fans of the two football teams, but it most definitely will offend fans of the two soccer teams. Juventus is and always has been the biggest and most successful club in Italy. Both teams are at the top of their leagues right now, but TCU and Baylor don't have the track record of a Juventus or Roma.
ACC = FRENCH LIGUE 1
These leagues have strong, local followings, teams with championship pedigrees, but are viewed by some as a half step below the other leagues. Both leagues have been top heavy over the years, and usually really only have one team ever capable of winning.
FLORIDA STATE (FSU) = PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN (PSG): Both teams have seen a return to glory of sorts, having recently gone through a winning revolution. FSU is an all-time dynasty in football while PSG is one of the biggest brand names in European soccer. Additionally, they also really don’t have any competition. Anything less than finishing first in the league would be viewed by their fan base and fans of the sport as a huge failure.
MIAMI (THE U) = OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS: While one of these teams has become more infamous than famous and the other sounds like a delicious potato dish, both used to be dynasties and spent decades at the top of their leagues and respective sports. Now they are viewed as second-tier teams that can’t hang with the big boys anymore.
If you made it to the end of this, I commend you on your perseverance and/or your insomnia. I hope that you’ve learned a little about European soccer or maybe something about college football. If you have any comments or corrections, please don't contact me or anyone else I know. See you at the game.