Six Nations (and some other sports) open thread

by Chris Bertram on February 2, 2013

A big sporting weekend ahead. First up, the competition that probably counts the most here at Crooked Timber: the Six Nations. We kick off with, inter alia, Wales v Ireland and England v Scotland (the Calcutta Cup). I think England could do it this year, but you can’t really write anyone off. The Africa Cup of Nations is still going of course, and we’re into the quarter-finals, where the highlight of the weekend is Ivory Coast v Nigeria. Ivory Coast still look like winning the competition, but they have a tougher route to the final than Ghana do (they’ll probably have to beat Nigeria and South Africa in succession – assuming I’ve understood the draw, of course). That match also clashes with Man City v Liverpool, which is unfortunate. (And then there’s the Superbowl, but I have no clue what’s going on when I watch American football.)



Maggie 02.02.13 at 9:27 am

The key concept in American football is the “down.” On each possession the team has four chances to move the ball. The play of course stops when the opposing team stops them, causing the ball to go, well, down. If they do not move the ball at least ten yards over four plays, they lose possession. If they do move it that far, their next play is a new first down with another ten yards to go. The language of downs, e.g. always “1st and 10” to start, means “which down they are on and how many of the original ten yards they have left to go.” It was a mystery to me for most of my life until I figured this out, and all the rest easily falls into place by observation.


Neville Morley 02.02.13 at 10:13 am

Especially after this morning’s deeply depressing and all too true story in the Grauniad about the wrecking of Welsh rugby by the WRU, I think I’m going to be spending most of this weekend hiding behind the sofa. Or possible watching football instead, as something light and irrelevant.


Chris Bertram 02.02.13 at 12:41 pm

Maggie: so American football is Rugby League with extra intervals and body armour?


Freshly Squeezed Cynic 02.02.13 at 1:17 pm

Chris, I’ve always understood American football as the WWI of ball games; all about incremental, often futile, gains in territory, lead and organised far from the battlefield, massed ranks of men hurling themselves bravely if foolishly into danger, broken by a big push by mobile units.

Thinking about it like that I find it rather enjoyable.


Greg 02.02.13 at 1:22 pm

Chris: exactly, yes. Except instead of six tackles until you have to turn over possession, you have four attempts to advance ten yards. But if you make it ten yards then you have another four attempts etc until you score or turnover. And you can pass forwards as well as backwards. And you can block players off the ball. And after every tackle, instead of restarting straight away by rolling it back with the foot, everyone has to stop, wander around and high-five each other for a couple of minutes before they go again. So actually, thinking about it, no, not really.


Neville Morley 02.02.13 at 1:41 pm

Always happy to be reminded of the classic line from Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “I just think it’s rather odd that a nation that prides itself on its virility should feel compelled to strap on forty pounds of protective gear just in order to play rugby. “


christian_h 02.02.13 at 1:41 pm

I am a fan of American football (although at this point considering if the brutality and health conseqences of it make this impossible), but it is always fun to see how easily Americans get wound up regarding it.


rm 02.02.13 at 2:06 pm

This thread is becoming a yearly milestone. This year, I figured out from context in the comments that the sport being played at Six Nations — which is a tournament, yes? — is rugby.

This sentence is in lieu of the usual joke about the Iroquois Confederacy and/or lacrosse.

Maggie, that is wonderfully concise. I’ve watched football all my life and I, too, just faked understanding until at some point I understood downs. Other key points are that the offense tries to catch the defense off guard by alternating running plays and throwing plays unpredictably. And that with rare exceptions, all the decisions on the field are made by coaches who radio instructions to the quarterback, who tells the rest of the team, so it as a strategy game it is as much the opposite of soccer or basketball as it’s possible to be. Nothing is fluid, everything is controlled and hierarchical. It is an authoritarian’s game.


rm 02.02.13 at 2:11 pm

Is rugby not even more brutal? A college friend who played used to think nothing of bleeding from the ears.


Kevin Donoghue 02.02.13 at 2:28 pm

Surprised to see Ireland getting such an easy start. I’m a gloomy soul by nature but 23-3 at half-time leaves me reasonably confident.


christian_h 02.02.13 at 2:29 pm

My understanding is all tackling in rugby is what we could call arm tackling and there is no hitting a full speed, but I may well be wrong.


b9n10nt 02.02.13 at 2:32 pm

Yes, American football is paradoxically very intellectual (paradoxically because the jocks are, well, jocks. Right?). However, offensive units have a lengthy and detailed playbook to memorize, and though offensive plays are decided upon before the play begins, the quarterback will often change the play or introduce a wrinkle to it just seconds before the play begins (he looks at the defense and spies a strategic advantage that is there to be exploited). Defenses, for their part, also have various choices to make about where they will line up and whom each will individually defend. The field very much becomes a chessboard.


Cusa 02.02.13 at 2:42 pm

American football as “very intellectual”? This sounds like (dated analogy warning) claiming you’re reading Playboy for the interviews. Authoritarian, artless, boring: that’s more like it.


Shane S. 02.02.13 at 2:46 pm

Football, The Game. Or rather, a “Turn-based strategy / real-time strategy / deck-building / unit placement / shooting / melee combat / board game”


rf 02.02.13 at 2:49 pm

Thanks for the clarification Maggie. That’s always been my stumbling block, although it doesn’t seem all that complicated now. I might try and watch it this year, but it appears to go on for nigh on four hours? Is there any way of cutting out two thirds of that and still getting the important parts?

“A college friend who played used to think nothing of bleeding from the ears.”

Naaa, that’s not normal..I’d get your friend to have that checked out


Maria 02.02.13 at 3:24 pm

Fantastic come-back by Wales in the second half, Kevin, making it an ideal match: Ireland won well but with some exciting moments and great play all round.


Kevin Donoghue 02.02.13 at 3:31 pm

Agreed Maria. But I fear dsquared will now be even more insistent that Ireland is entirely responsible for its own economic problems. ;)


rf 02.02.13 at 3:41 pm

Irelands provincial system clearly gives them an unfair advantage in club rugby and is deeply resented throughout Europe


Neville Morley 02.02.13 at 3:55 pm

@16: I blame them for persuading the WRU that it was a good idea to ditch century-old traditions of club rugby and try to create regional sides to compete, with catastrophic consequences.


Anarcissie 02.02.13 at 5:04 pm

I’ve had (American) football explained to me by an aficionado when we were stuck in front of a TV during some unfortunate, interminable holiday or other of the past. He analyzed each play in depth. At the professional level, the brutality is secondary; there is a great deal of strategy involved, and appreciation of it evidently requires considerable study, like chess, bridge, draw poker, and so on. Or so it seemed. Although the initial exposition was fascinating, I was not interested in making the needed effort for real understanding, and, if compelled to watch games, would rather watch the more intuitive, fluid sort. For heavy-duty strategic games, I could always play corporate politics or real estate.

The Super Bowl does afford one the opportunity to go forth on less crowded streets, important to a cyclist, but the abnormal behavior of drivers before and after the game more than accounts for this transitory benefit, and generally I find it best to lie low for the duration.


rm 02.02.13 at 5:09 pm

Cusa, I can’t think of another sport (short of chess) where the players have to memorize so much abstract information and be ready to implement a particular move as part of a particular play chosen out of hundreds of options on command. Other sports have strategy and “plays,” but they are contextually related to where the players are in space, so with practice they become intuitive. In football plays are complex plans you study in class, and every play is a pop quiz. That leaves less room for creativity, so, yes, the authoritarian and boring part is there. But I think it’s a big advantage to be smart, unlike in baseball, for instance, where the mathematical abstraction of the game gives it a reputation of having some intellectual abstract beauty, but one really doesn’t have to be that smart to play.


mrearl 02.02.13 at 5:10 pm

Adding to the confusion is the scoring. In rugby, as best this American can comprehend, the basic score is a “try,” which is not an attempt but a success, the consummation of which is touching the ball to the ground, i.e., touching it down. This is worth 5 points, it appears. In American football, the basic score is a “touchdown,” where touching the ball down is irrelevant. Despite omitting that requirement, this is worth 6 points.

Otherwise, however, the rules of each seem to be fairly simple and aimed at promoting fair play, compared to, say, baseball, which has made agony of the cricket system.


rm 02.02.13 at 5:12 pm

On the stairwell, I remembered: football has smart players and dumb fans; baseball has smart fans and dumb players.


Earwig 02.02.13 at 5:23 pm

OT, but I don’t know where else to ask, so since we have a semi-open thread, I’ll venture here:

Is academic freedom at Brooklyn College worth discussing at Crooked Timber? There does seem to be a salient issue happening now.


des von bladet 02.02.13 at 5:29 pm

Call me a petit bourgeois individualist, comrades, but I’d rather be watching the women’s cricket world cup than any of the above.

The flaw in this otherwise excellent plan is that nobody in the Netherlands appears to be broadcasting it. (The other flaw is that the family wouldn’t stand for it – I can’t even persuade them to sit through the ski-jumping.)


b9n10nt 02.02.13 at 5:53 pm


In American football, pass plays and running plays can display frighteningly beautiful athleticism: within the same second the athlete may need to display grace and precision or raw strength. As rm says, the dumb spectacle of play is enough for me to enjoy, but for the players and coaches it is indeed a smart person’s game.


tomslee 02.02.13 at 6:07 pm

#24: A Dutch ski-jumping fan? Isn’t that like being a Swiss ocean yachting fan? Or a Norwegian camel-racing fan? If there was ever a recipe for frustration….


des von bladet 02.02.13 at 6:35 pm

#26: I’m not Dutch! On the other hand, I am UKish (“British”). Meanwhile in the rugby (and other applicable codes of foopball) I traditionally support France. (And in base-ball I support the Red Sox of Boston.)

Geographical determinism is a thing, but it is not especially my thing.


js. 02.02.13 at 8:20 pm

Maggie’s explanation of Am. football is indeed wonderfully good. I enjoy the sport quite a bit myself, but as christian_h notes, it gets harder to enjoy it each year as it becomes more and more evident the extent to which it destroys its players.


e julius drivingstorm 02.02.13 at 8:26 pm

Actually, the sixteenth hole at Phoenix this weekend is the greatest event in sports. Even sans McIlroy and Woods, the golf tournament has Phil Mickelson off to a stupidgood start and we’ll have to stay tuned to see if he runs away with it Sunday or slides back to the pack, switching back to the Super Bowl hoping only to catch the commercials.


rf 02.02.13 at 8:43 pm

“Is rugby not even more brutal? A college friend who played used to think nothing of bleeding from the ears.”

Being more serious than my answer before, I wouldn’t have thought so. I assumed NFL players were much bigger (though google says that’s not the case) that tackling is better regulated in rugby (from my laymans view, tackling in the NFL appears much more brutal?) and that the real danger in rugby is in scrumming, but that could be solved by making scrums non-competitive. Rugby hasn’t had the health problems, afaik, – yet – that the NFL has, but perhaps that’s because it’s only relatively recently professionalised and they’ll materialise in the future


Paul Orwin 02.02.13 at 9:28 pm

I was just wondering about this – having played american football and rugby in college here in the US, I felt that football had more opportunity for concussion, but rugby more opportunity for “flesh wounds”. But I know from watching that the professional game of either is light years from what I did. So is the concussive or repetitive head trauma risk from professional rugby really that different? the circumstances are clearly different (the games bear little resemblance imho), but the risk (and lump aussie rules in here too) doesn’t seem that different to my amateur eye. We are just starting to see the study results here, is anyone doing similar for other contact sports?


Ken 02.02.13 at 11:31 pm

Maggie’s explanation is technically fine, but it’s also important to understand that the key point in broadcast American football is the advertisement. The entire game is structured around all action stopping for thirty seconds or a minute so the broadcaster can insert an ad.

The most blatant example involves the “timeout”. This allows the coach of either team to stop the play clock to discuss strategy and bring in new players. It’s so valuable that the coaches are allowed only three time outs per half. Television timeouts also stop the play clock, but are for the insertion of commercials and the broadcaster can call ten of them per half (admittedly under more restrictive conditions than the coaches).


rf 02.02.13 at 11:48 pm

“Is academic freedom at Brooklyn College worth discussing at Crooked Timber? There does seem to be a salient issue happening now.”

Oh please, free speech died with al-Awlaki in a Yemeni desert. (Orientalism alert) If you can’t spout propaganda for Al Qaeda then what can you do? Neither left nor right support free speech, they’ll hound you, or lock you up or (apparently) assassinate you rather than put up with some mildly controversial viewpoint. In such a world, what a Zionist dead-ender torture apologist like Alan D does is irrelevant.


grackle 02.03.13 at 12:51 am

The mystical part of American football, or at least the inexplicable part, is that after an initial enthusiastic beginning with attendant running, kicking, blocking and facing off, not necessarily in that order, there then proceeds a number of hours of inactivity and frustration. I believe that during the period known as the half-time the players all leave the field and go have a hearty lunch. They then return with the blood in the stomach and consequently muddle around for a bit. Then there is a warning bell, I think at about five minutes of time remaining. This is when it gets interesting for some definition of interesting: this five minute period equals or exceeds all other periods of play. It is no doubt when the actual game takes place. Both teams then compete in challenges to the other team called “time-outs” which they use to prolong this all important period of time. Great waves of remorse arise in the players such that the fans now become involved in the action, what there is of it. Lots of whistles too. Now the two teams attempt to compete with each other with the object being to remove the stasis they have carefully constructed over the preceding periods of time. The team that is successful in realizing when to actually move the football down the field in this all critical period may indeed win the day.


sports 02.03.13 at 1:22 am

I am also a fan of American Football the play is tougher and unpredictable even others are wound up because of the game they still get up and run for victory.


Glen Tomkins 02.03.13 at 2:45 am

“Six Nations”?

Who ever heard of such a thing? My first reaction to the headline was to wonder when the Iroquois Confederacy had gotten around to accepting a new member.


Tom Hurka 02.03.13 at 4:17 am

The history of American football is like the history of warfare, in that there’s an alternation between periods where offence dominates and periods where defence dominates.

The current development is that American football has become more like Canadian football, i.e. better, with more passing and more mobile quarterbacks (though given the violence of American football, more mobile quarterbacks tend to be shorter-lived quarterbacks).


Meredith 02.03.13 at 7:36 am

Well, as a lover of baseball first and always and forever (which always make me wonder, could I ever get hooked on cricket?) and of (American) football second, and (third) as a knowledgeable observer of “football” else (as a loyal soccer mom and a wife of devoted Liverpool fan), I would just say that I’ll probably be watching (for whatever weird reasons) Downton Abbey on Sunday night (if I get back in time from dinner with a candidate) more than the 49’ers v Ravens. You know, the specific match-ups matter to real fans. (No Giants? No Patriots? Not even Bears or Patriots or Packers or Vikings?)
A question:
Has rugby been scrutinized for brain-damage the way American football has? Having watched plenty of rugby, I would have thought it pretty damaging….


Tim Worstall 02.03.13 at 11:04 am

“Chris: exactly, yes. Except instead of six tackles until you have to turn over possession, you have four attempts to advance ten yards.”

Pretty much. You can, if you’ve the inclination, track how the game changes from union through league to Canadian to USian. Tackles/downs, passing forwards, no scrums and being able to tackle off the ball. Change those few laws and over the years rugby would morph into something pretty like American Football. Which is pretty much what it did. Early American Football (pre WWI say) didn’t get those rule changes right and they ended up with pretty much a rolling maul of all players which was extraordinarily dangerous. Apparently the 1905 season (the college season that is) led to 19 player deaths.

“Has rugby been scrutinized for brain-damage the way American football has? Having watched plenty of rugby, I would have thought it pretty damaging….”

It tends to be less damaging (although neck breaks in scrums are a serious danger). Simply because no one wears pads or helmets thus you simply cannot tackle in the same way (indeed, you must use your arms in a rugby tackle, so much American Football style tackling is illegal in the game). Back those centuries ago when I did play (very badly) club rugby in the US we were all terrified of one particular type of player. The High School player who had gone on to college but not as a college football player and then thought that rugby would be a nice game to switch over to. It would take them some good few games to realise that in the absence of pads and helmets you have to be much more careful about how you tackle. Thoroughly dangerous to themselves and everyone else on the field until they caught on.


soru 02.03.13 at 11:33 am

Has rugby been scrutinized for brain-damage the way American football has? Having watched plenty of rugby, I would have thought it pretty damaging….

Summary seems to be no, it’s only starting to be studied:


Chris Bertram 02.03.13 at 3:47 pm

Nigeria are ahead …. that would be an upset.


Chris Bertram 02.03.13 at 4:54 pm

Wow: Nigeria win and in the rugby Italy win.


Neville Morley 02.03.13 at 4:59 pm

As you said a week or so back, maybe Ivory Coast are the Netherlands of African football.


tomslee 02.03.13 at 7:25 pm

Has Tom Burka #38 been reading his Globe and Mail, or is the CFL-ization of the NFL now widely accepted as a thing? (Rest in Reruns, Liz Lemon).


Philip 02.03.13 at 7:59 pm

I played rugby as a kid and got a couple of concussions through clashing heads but that is probably more of a risk in association football. Players have become bigger and stronger since professionalisation and the rules have become stricter on tackling. As a kid refs were rightly very strict on high (above the shoulders) tackling but they were more lenient in the adult game, now refs punish all high tackles they see and are much stricter on spear/dump tackles.

The main risk of injury is to the neck and shoulders. Scrums have always been the area of the game with the biggest risk for serious injury with cases of people being paralysed from the neck down. With players becoming more powerful there have been changes to the scrum, especially the engagement. This has led to more scrums being reset and refs seemingly giving random penalties, both of which disrupt the flow of the game. There is a real skill to scrummaging and it would be a shame but I can see them becoming uncontested one day.


QB 02.03.13 at 8:43 pm

On the intellectual capacity required of an American football coach: “You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important.”

Attributed to Eugene McCarthy.


Andrew Burday 02.04.13 at 2:12 am

Well, at this point, let me just say, I hope the g*dd*mn rugby stadium can at least keep the g*dd*mn lights on until the g*dd*mn game ends.


nick s 02.04.13 at 5:29 am

I blame them for persuading the WRU that it was a good idea to ditch century-old traditions of club rugby and try to create regional sides to compete, with catastrophic consequences.

Does that argument still have traction? People who grew up with Rugby Special and see the ongoing mess of the regional system are right to feel sentimental about the old club traditions (in Scotland even more so) but that’s basically an argument against professionalism.

On the comparative thing: league seems to have become a lot more NFL-like over the past decade or so, not just in the gridironing of the pitch, but in the much greater emphasis on running at the defence after the play of the ball, and on field position in general. I blame the Aussies.


Neville Morley 02.04.13 at 9:17 am

@nick s #49: I wouldn’t see it as an argument against professionalism per se; obviously it is a consequence of professionalism = not enough money to go round ten clubs = decision to reduce number of clubs. But it’s debatable whether any of the regions is significantly stronger than the best of the old clubs, and they’re certainly not any more successful; of course you have to run as fast as you can to stand still against the better-funded English and French, so I’m not arguing that retaining the clubs would have brought more success, but simply that the creation of the regions hasn’t done so. Biggest problem is that the financial situation overall is worse, as the regions have shed far too many of the old supporters (partly because of the break with club traditions) and so they’re entirely reliant on WRU handouts rather than gate receipts, and that’s not enough to keep up with the competition. Meanwhile, once-thriving club scene below the regions goes into near-terminal decline, everyone goes off to watch and play soccer instead, and supply of Welsh players starts to dry up…


Katherine 02.04.13 at 5:24 pm

Despite knowing next to nothing about either sport, I’ve always been more likely to watch a film about baseball than one about American football. I’m not sure what, if anything, this signifies.

Also, what the heck is a ‘play off’?


js. 02.04.13 at 5:44 pm

Also, what the heck is a ‘play off’?

“Play-offs” refers to the tournament at the end of the regular league season which determines who the League champions for that season are. As one would expect, only a subset of the teams in the league (roughly, though not necessarily, the best-performing ones) play in the play-offs. Though I’ve also always found the term “play-offs” weird and somewhat off-putting — not sure why it’s called that.


rf 02.04.13 at 5:48 pm

Because they ‘play off’ against eachother? Like a dance off..

Also, as an addendum, I ended up getting drawn into watching something called the ‘puppy superbowl’, which was actually quite entertaining and not as nonsensical as you’d imagine .. does anyone know if this is big in the US?


js. 02.04.13 at 6:20 pm

‘puppy superbowl’, … does anyone know if this is big in the US

In my experience, it’s something to turn to during ad breaks/halftime, etc. Others may well watch it in a more sustained manner. (And yeah, you’re right re “play off”; still not entirely happy with the term but not sure I can articulate why.)


Katherine 02.05.13 at 1:21 pm

Ah okay that makes some sense. So after the season of league games, the top, say, five in the league play again to get the top spot? Is that a tournament or a mini-league, and is it what culminates in the Superbowl?


Katherine 02.05.13 at 1:22 pm

And thanks too of course.


JanieM 02.05.13 at 3:07 pm

Speaking as one American, but admittedly one without a TV, I had never heard of a puppy bowl til this year. So whether it’s big in the US … even though I’m the wrong person to ask, I kind of doubt it. Word of the Superbowl is absolutely everywhere in the US in the weeks leading up to it. The puppy bowl — not.

Katherine — it’s a tournament, not a mini-league, in that after each round of the playoffs, there are fewer teams. (But now I’m wondering what any of these words mean across cultural boundaries! :)

You all have just made me wonder: is it “playoff” not so much because you “play off against each other” (@rf) as because you play each other “off” the field? I.e., after each game (or each round, in US other sports, like baseball or the NBA), someone goes “off” and doesn’t come back…?


js. 02.05.13 at 3:23 pm

Is that a tournament or a mini-league, and is it what culminates in the Superbowl

It’s a bracket structure tournament with 12 teams to start with and 4 single elimination rounds (the last of which is the Superbowl). (Four teams automatically advance to the 2nd round, which is how you get 12 teams/4 rounds weirdness.)

It makes a bit more sense to do it this way than it does in the Premier League, say, (or European soccer/football leagues) because the league is broken up into conferences which are themselves divided into divisions, so that any given team plays fewer than half the teams in the league in the course of a season.

Yikes! That may be way more detail than you wanted.


Katherine 02.05.13 at 6:48 pm

Ha, I was doing fine until the second from last paragraph js! I’ll just ignore that bit and consider myself as educated as I need to be. Thanks all.


Philip 02.05.13 at 7:22 pm

js, you’ve lost me there. There are 12 teams in the playoffs, if it is a straight knockout tournament six would go through so how are another 2 teams eliminated or is it not a straight knockout? In the Premier League each team plays every other team twice so I don’t know where you get this bit from: ‘ so that any given team plays fewer than half the teams in the league in the course of a season’.

The Premier League is not separated into any divisions or conferences and I am not sure how you are using these terms. It was formed as a breakaway from the Football League which was separated into 4 divisions and it worked fine with promotion and relegation between the divisions. I am not sure how else you could arrange a competition between 92 teams other than a knockout tournament like the League Cup. There are playoffs to as teams placed 3-6 in the leagues below the PL challenge for the last promotion place.


js. 02.05.13 at 8:09 pm

There are 12 teams in the playoffs, if it is a straight knockout tournament six would go through so how are another 2 teams eliminated or is it not a straight knockout?

Four teams (for convenience’s sake, let’s say the four top placed teams), automatically advance to the 2nd round. So: 8 teams play in the first round, 4 get eliminated; but 8 teams again play in the second round (the 4 that advanced from the 1st round plus the four top placed ones). From then on, it’s a straight knockout.

I realize how the Premier League works. Frankly, it seems to me a much simpler and better system. The structure of most American leagues, and of the NFL (Am. football) is a good bit more complicated, and I’m going to leave that to Wikipedia


Martin Green 02.05.13 at 8:57 pm

As a lover of both American and Rugby Football last weekend was ‘heaven’. The 3 games of the 6 nations tournament were outstanding. The prospects for the rest of the competition are mouth watering. Oh to be in Dublin on Sunday to see the Emerald Isle’s finest run ragged by the English. As for the Superbowl – I loved the recording I made overnight such that I could wizz through the chat, power cut, time outs, adverts, Beyonce – difficult to do I know – and reviews. The tension, athleticism (brutality!) and power evident in the 49ers last drive countered by the Ravens ferocity, self-belief and sheer grunt was superb. The best English Rugby Union forward of the last 20 years, Martin Johnson, was in the ‘Big Easy’ as a fanatical 49ers fan. Have to say the only true ‘tackles’ are those executed with shoulder hits and arm wrap – anything else is just crazy dangerous!


rf 02.06.13 at 12:27 am

“Word of the Superbowl is absolutely everywhere in the US in the weeks leading up to it. The puppy bowl — not..”

That seems fair enough. Can’t say I’m overly surprised, though still a little disappointed. In it’s favour it does only go on for 2-3 hrs, as opposed to the Superbowls 17..


Anand Manikutty 02.06.13 at 3:40 am

And God said, Let there be Superbowl. And there was Superbowl. And God saw the Superbowl, that it was good. And the marketers saw that it was good too. And the fans who saw it on both TV and then DVR said that it was good. Especially the amazing Blackout Rally.


Niall McAuley 02.06.13 at 8:56 am

Martin at #62Oh to be in Dublin on Sunday to see the Emerald Isle’s finest run ragged by the English.

Come now, if you’re going to wish for fantasy sports events, you can aim higher than that.

Oh, to be in the Foliot Isles, to see the Lord Goldry Bluszco wrastle with Gorice, King of Witchland!


Philip 02.06.13 at 10:57 am

js, thanks I got it now, 4 teams get a bye to the second round similar to PL soccer teams starting in the third round of the FA cup.

Martin, this England team are very good and I would love them to win in Dublin. I do think they are being a bit over-hyped at the minute, they will need to be more clinical than they were against Scotland. I think it will be very close but Ireland will probably edge it. Do Ireland play France in Paris or Dublin? If it’s Paris England could still have a good chance of the championship even if they lose to Ireland.


Niall McAuley 02.06.13 at 12:04 pm

Ireland – France is at Lansdowne on the 9th of March.


Tom Hurka 02.06.13 at 3:08 pm

A difference between North American sports and European football is that in the former the cup competition happens after the regular season is over rather than simultaneously with it. Only the top teams (though sometimes more than half of them) qualify for the cup competition aka the playoffs, and the cup is what really matters — coming first in the regular season is nice but it’s winning the Stanley Cup/World Series/Superbowl that’s everyone’s main goal.

The European model has more variety at a given time — there’s alternation between regular season and cup games — and more opportunities to keep your hopes up. You can be having a bad regular season but not yet be out of the FA Cup. On the other hand, the post-season in North American sports is especially exciting, because it’s so concentrated, e.g., an NHL playoff series is up to 7 games in a row between the same teams, every second night or so. And in many sports the level of play is higher in the post-season: more energetic, more physical, more intense. In the basketball playoffs some teams even play defence.


Sam the Centipede 02.06.13 at 6:47 pm

Nobody’s picked up on the real plus point of the Six Nations tournament: unusually for a major sport tournament, it’s played between several countries who can all (pretty much*) beat each other if they play at their best, and their opponents don’t. Of course, in a way, that makes it a lottery, but much sport is like that: play the same fixture several times and you’d get different results depending on whether passes go to hand, kicks go between the posts or in the net, etc.

Unlike the competitors in the equivalent southern hemisphere tournament, the Six Nations are geographically close, so fans can easily make a weekend trip to away matches, which always improves the atmosphere. And because it’s annual, it doesn’t have the same buttock-clenching importance that the quadrennial competitions have, where losing is perceived to be a disaster; with the Six Nations, there’s always next year, and it’s a good opportunity to bring on novice international players.

The poor USians don’t have the opportunity for international competition in their big professional sports, because they’re so far ahead in rounders, American football and basketball, that there’s no fun or tension in playing other countries. I guess ice hockey could provide a more equitable tournament, but it’s crazy with its ridiculous emphasis on brutality.

So the Superbowl is a big game, but only between two teams who could well play each other any time, it’s not elite representative teams. And the ProBowl (between selected players from the two conferences) is a just a bit of fun.

In England, the domestic rugby union championship is decided by semifinals and a final played between the top 4 finishers in the professional league of 12 teams. There was a lot of resistance when it started about ten years ago, but actually it’s great (in my opinion) because it means there’s a definite climax to the season, rather than the league crawling slowly to an end, sometimes decided before the final weekend, and the atmosphere in Twickenham, with a capacity 80,000ish crowd, equally supporting the two teams, is tremendous. And lots more exposure and valuable ticket income for the successful participants.

* Italy haven’t yet beaten England, they’ve come close, but so far England have survived. It’s going to be embarrassing when it happens!


Salient 02.06.13 at 8:39 pm

dunno if this is helpful — “playoff” is used ’cause the most-winning team from each division plays in it — so the playoffs tournament is, technically, between teams who are ‘tied’ with each other in the nominal sense that each participating team is Division Winner of their devision. (In general a playoff, or a ?-off, is a procedure for the purpose of resolving a tie. I forget what the other kinds of ?-offs are though.) Whether the division winners are tied in the quantitative sense (same number of games won) is considered irrelevant. This is justified by the claim that some divisions have more sucky teams than others. So how to decide which division leader is champion? have them play against each other to break the tie.

But then all of this careful technical sensibleness falls apart hilariously badly because the league also invites wild-card teams who won more games than any other non-Devision-Winner and then they let some Division Winners skip out on the first round (all division winners are equal; some are more equal than others). Sorta like heats in running, I guess? At which point ‘playoff’ is a nonsense description…


js. 02.06.13 at 8:58 pm

coming first in the regular season is nice but it’s winning the Stanley Cup/World Series/Superbowl that’s everyone’s main goal.

This is a bit misleading though because given the structure of (most?) American leagues, you can’t really give a clear sense to “coming first in the regular season”. You might be able to pick out the team with the best record overall, but no one would really call that “first in the league” (at least in the NFL).

Salient @70:

That’s really helpful; I’d never made the connection between the divisional structure and the term “playoffs”.


Katherine 02.06.13 at 11:39 pm

Honestly though, the complications with divisions and play offs pales in comparison to the UEFA Champions League. It’s got qualifiers, a group round and a knock out tournament to top it all off. The rule book must resemble the Encyclopaedia Britannica.


Philip 02.07.13 at 12:34 pm

Katherine, the Champions’ League isn’t that complicated you pretty much just summed it up. It’s basically the same format as the World Cup: qualifiers, league stage, knockout stage.

The complicated bit comes from teams getting a place in the Champions’ League and Europa League. In England the top 4 teams in the Premier League qualify for the CL, except if like last year a team (Chelsea) win the CL but finish outside the top 4 in which case the 4th placed qualifies for the Europa League. The 5th placed team qualifies for the Europa League as do the winners of the FA cup and the League Cup. If the winners of the cup competition also qualify through the league then it gets more complicated. And the number of places is based on the FIFA coefficents of how well English teams have done in the competition previously.

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