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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Split season? Single-game playoff? Inadvertent leak suggests so as NASL prepares to announce major format changes

Posted by Google on Tue, Sep 4, 2012 at 10:22 PM

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UPDATE 2 11:00 a.m.: While much of the early reaction to the NASL's announcement appears positive, the criticisms revolve around two predominant issues: the lack of a two-leg championship final and allowing the Spring champion to host the "Soccer Bowl" as opposed to, for instance, the participant with the best overall record over the entire year.

While I agree with both concerns, particularly the lack of a two-leg final, the practical answer to both criticisms are probably the same: TV and travel. Holding a one-game final would be an easier, more practical package for potential television partners as opposed to trying to sell them on (or buy) two games a week apart. Moreover, a perennial problem with prolonged playoffs at the lower divisions of U.S. soccer are travel costs, particularly travel that must be arranged and purchased on short notice when airfares can be highest. Cutting the postseason to a single game eliminates those short-term costs for all but one team. Moreover, knowing the site of the championship final months in advance allows potential media partners, league officials, referees and even fans to plan for that location. Moreover, if the winner of the Fall session clinches their "title" several weeks before the end of that session, they can begin to arrange travel plans then as opposed to potentially having to wait until the week before the final to determine the team with the best overall record and, thus, the host site.

There's one more oddity this format could create: it's possible that the team with the best overall record over the entire year may not be able to participate in the championship final if it doesn't win either individual session.

UPDATE 10:20 a.m.: The promised announcement by NASL arrived as scheduled a few minutes ago. It is reproduced below.

In advance of tomorrow morning's self-described "major announcement" from the North American Soccer League, the Puerto Rico Islanders appear to have jumped the gun by posting the league's press release of the news, dated for Wednesday, Sept. 5, on their club's website.

In the premature posting—which has since been taken down—the NASL announces that beginning next season, the regular season will be divided into two parts, a spring and fall championship. The spring session will run from late March or early April until Thursday July 4. After roughly a one-month break, which clubs can spend as they see fit (including scheduling exhibitions, friendlies, etc.), the fall session will begin in late July or early August and run through November 2. Each session will comprise a round-robin schedule, during which each NASL club will face every other club both home and away.

The weekend following the end of the fall session, the winners of each competition will face off in a one-game league championship match, being billed the Soccer Bowl, for the right to be crowned the NASL's 2013 champion.

“Our Scheduling Sub-Committee arrived at this recommendation after an exhaustive review of a number of alternatives,” said a statement from NASL Commissioner David Downs, “and the new format takes into consideration a variety of factors including fan and player comfort in our many warm-weather cities." "But the bottom line,” Downs added, “is that we believe this new competitive format will bring more excitement and meaning to each of our regular season matches for all of our teams throughout the year.”

Soccer observers will note that this new regular season format is largely patterned after the Apertura and Clausura tournaments now held in many Latin American football leagues. According to the press release, the month-long, mid-season break is designed to coincide with the international transfer window open throughout Europe, Latin America and North America. One additional benefit for Southeast U.S. soccer fans will be avoiding competitive matches during the bulk of July, when erratic weather changes forced delays during several matches in Carolina and elsewhere this year.

Many who expected more momentous news from the league may shrug off this announcement. However, it is an interesting, innovative revamping of the league's schedule in a way that places increased emphasis on the regular season and less on a prolonged, costly and overly inclusive playoff format.

MIAMI, Fla. (September 5, 2012) — The North American Soccer League (NASL) has announced a change in its regular season competitive format for the 2013 season. Beginning in 2013, the NASL’s regular season will feature two separate and distinct round-robin competitions with the winners of each competition meeting in a single game on the weekend following the conclusion of the second competition. The winner of that match will claim the Soccer Bowl trophy as the NASL’s 2013 champions.

The first, or spring, championship will kick off in late March or early April and will culminate on Thursday, July 4. NASL member teams will then have roughly one month before the start of the second championship and each team is free during that period to prepare for that competition as they see fit, including touring or scheduling exhibition matches. The break will occur during the international transfer window that is open throughout much of Europe, Latin America and North America.

The second, or fall, championship will commence late July or early August and run through November 2. Following the conclusion of the fall championship the winner of the spring championship will host the winner of the fall championship (or, in the event the same team wins both competitions, the team with the second-best record for the full year’s games) to determine which team will be inscribed on the Soccer Bowl as the NASL’s annual champion.

Each individual championship will consist of a full round-robin schedule in which each NASL team plays every other NASL team once at home and once on the road. Other than the tie-breaking procedure to determine the opponent for the spring championship winner in the Soccer Bowl, there will be no carryover of points from the spring to the fall competition.

The new competitive format for the 2013 season was adopted by a unanimous vote of the NASL’s Board of Governors on August 24, 2012. It had been under discussion since the inception of the league.

“Our Scheduling Sub-Committee arrived at this recommendation after an exhaustive review of a number of alternatives,” said NASL Commissioner David Downs, “and the new format takes into consideration a variety of factors including fan and player comfort in our many warm-weather cities.” “But the bottom line,” Downs added, “is that we believe this new competitive format will bring more excitement and meaning to each of our regular season matches for all of our teams throughout the year.”

The 2012 NASL Regular Season will end on September 23with the 2012 NASL Playoffs set to start the following weekend, September 29-30. Please visit NASL.com for the latest news and information about the NASL Playoffs.

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Soccer observers will note that this new regular season format is largely patterned after the Apertura and Clausura tournaments now widely held in many Latin American football leagues.

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