(Headline Translated: River Promoted)
Can we talk about the new league format for the 2012-13 Argentine First Division? Yes? Good.
As you may or may not know Club Atletico River Plate was recently relegated to the Argentine second division. For you none soccer fans, in most of the soccer world, when you suck enough you get relegated or forced out of the first division (aka the “majors”) and have to play your next season in the second division (aka the “minors”) while a set number of teams come up to the first division. You can re-earn your way up or keep being relegated down. This is an over simplification of it all but it serves its purpose in understanding what happens.
The thing is while in most leagues relegation is a simple matter of the worst teams that year having to go down, for example in England and most of the bigger leagues the bottom 3 teams are relegated to the second division, Argentina is already special in the fact that they came up with a whole new wonderful weird system. The Averages System.
A bit of the history of Argentine football.
Argentina has Five “Big” teams. The Big Five have the biggest fan bases, most championships, and most money in the Argentine soccer structure. Independiente, River Plate, Boca Juniors, San Lorenzo and Racing compose the Big Five. An interesting stat that truly shows their importance is that of the 129 tournaments held in Argentina since the first one in 1931 (since 1967 they’ve had 2 tournaments a year) the big five have combined for 87 total titles. Thats 67% of all tournaments. In fact in the first 36 years the national tournament was held no team outside of the big five won a title.
However in the 1980s the unthinkable happened as both River Plate and Boca flirted with relegation and San Lorenzo went down in 1981. All these were unthinkable occurrences in Argetine soccer at the time.
So then how do you solve this problem? How do you insure that no big club ever goes down and thus prevent the unthinkable from happening again? Welcome to the wacky crazy world of the averages system.
Its simple really, every game has a potential of 3 points that can be awarded. 3 for a win, 1 for a draw and none for a loss. Now if you take the number of points a team has earned and divide into the number of maximum points a team can earn, you can come up with an average points per game. So for example lets say a team plays 38 games a year, thats 114 maximum points they can gain in a season. Now lets say this was a good season and you gained 71 points out of your max 114, you have an average of 1.605 points per game. Now take this and do it over the course of three seasons and the teams with the lowest average are relegated.
Why is this system genius? Simply because a team like Boca Juniors or River Plate will very rarely have 3 bad years in a row. You can also build point reserves as well. Say you had 2 really good seasons in a row, you can afford a bad season without a huge hit to your average. It also puts smaller and newly promoted clubs at a disadvantage. While the big guys have points they can sit on, if you are a newly promoted club you only count the years you’ve been playing in the first division. Meaning if this is your first year you start at 0. In theory no big team should ever be relegated.
But then there was CA River Plate.
I think it’s hard to understand and put into words what River Plate is exactly in terms of its size and history. River Plate has won 33 first division titles in Argentina, 10 more than Boca Juniors its closest rival. They have one of the most passionate and largest fan bases in the world. Just look at this video of the way their fans greeted them when they took the field in the 1996 Copa Libertadores Final to grasp the sort of passion and devotion they inspire. They are a global brand and along with Boca Juniors are considered the biggest clubs in South America. I think to use American sports as an example imagine the Yankees, now multiple that by two and add the Red Sox and you have an idea of what exactly River Plate represents.
And yet even with all that, all the money they had and all the talent they produce River Plate managed to get themselves relegated. The details of what lead up to it are in a sense irrelevant but it involved shady finances and the club being 10 million dollars in debt. To say it was a shocking day in Argentine football is an understatement. People cried, riots broke out and protests were held against the River Plate management by their fans. Pundits talked and talked about how it was ever possible that River Plate was relegated. Yet at the end of the day they were and so River Plate would have to bravely face life in the second division and hope someday soon they could earn their way back up to the first.
Well yeah, they could do that, or you could simply completely restructure the First and Second division into some weird nonsensical mismatch of rules and games to ensure that River Plate spends no more than one year out of the top flight.
Guess which one the Argentine Football Association chose? If you said A you are wrong and have too much faith in governing bodies. It was B.
Meet the 2012-13 Argentine First Division season:
Gone will be the 2 tournament system and will instead be replaced by a new tournament involving 38 teams (20 from the first division and 18 from the second division) with the teams split into two “Zones’ of 19 teams. The teams who are classic rivals like Boca-River and Independiente-Racing will be placed in separate zones but there will be two “Inter-zone” days so that the traditional rivalry games can still be played every year. Everyone will play everyone in their zone once plus the two inter-zone games for a total of 20 games.
At the end of the 20 games the top 5 teams in each zone plus the next 9 best ranked teams in a general table of all the teams regardless of zone, will enter the “Championship Zone” and every other team will enter the “Competition Zone”
Teams in the Championship Zone will then play each other, in some format not exactly decided yet, to come out with a Championship along with the the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana berths.
The teams in the Competition Zone will duke it out to avoid being one of the 4 teams relegated (gone will be the averages) to the new second division which is just the current third division with absolutely no changes.
Now does this sound convoluted at all? It seem so because it is. And all because River Plate got relegated. And if you don’t believe me about it being simply for River Plate go no further than the President of AFA who confirmed yesterday that yes in fact it was all done to ensure River didn’t stay down for too long.
I makes me wonder what they will ever do if Boca managed to get themselves relegated.