No more Europa?

Apparently, there are talks going on about whether to scrap the Europa League and expand the Champions League. It’s one of the worst ideas UEFA has managed to come up with yet, and that’s saying something.

Their reasoning is that Europa doesn’t attract the same kinds of crowds and some clubs don’t try as hard for it as they do for the Champions League. That is a problem, but this is still not a good plan.

Five Reasons Why It’s a Terrible Idea

1) Right now, the Champions League is competitive while still allowing for a wide variety of teams and nations to participate. Expanding it would take away that competitive edge and add either a bunch of dead weight in earlier rounds that people still wouldn’t watch or force teams to play even more games. More games isn’t just a problem when it comes to player injury – it would also exacerbate the problems with competitiveness that is already widespread in major European leagues. Only the richest teams would have the depth necessary to routinely play a game every three days, and everyone else would see their form in both competitions suffer as a result.

2) As the season draws to a close, part of the excitement is Champions League qualification. Even in the top three leagues, which get four representatives, there are more good teams than there are Champions League spots, and the potential rewards for participating make the race every bit as heated as the title race or relegation. If it is expanded to more teams, that competitive edge will wear off.

3) The Champions League is exciting right now because there’s always the potential for an upset. Even things that seem like they should be straightforward aren’t always so – just this season, we’ve seen a lot of things that most people never would have predicted. Barcelona lost to Celtic. City lost to Ajax. The reason for that is that if you don’t come from a strong league/place high enough in your league to begin with, you have to go through playoffs to get into the group stage. Expand it, and there will be fewer upsets and less intrigue.

4) There’s something to be said for what Europa offers: the chance for smaller but still talented clubs to gain international recognition. Once you reach the knock out rounds of Europa it gets quite competitive and entertaining. The Europa Leagues gives teams like Atl├ętico Madrid – who have talent and drive but not the financial resources to really challenge for the Champions League title – something else to aim for, similar to domestic cups. It’s also good practice for the Champions League, which most clubs in Europa can reasonably aspire to.

5) The Europa League is an excellent way to judge league depth. Look at Spain: a lot of people dismiss La Liga as a boring, two-team league. However, if that’s all they were, Spanish teams wouldn’t also be dominating Europa. Expand the Champions League, and any understanding of any league beyond the title contenders would go out the window.

So how do you fix it?

1) Give out Champions League spots for performance in Europa. Both finalists should automatically get a berth, and if you’re really serious about it, give the Europa winner a place in the first pot, whatever their coefficient is. That would make it a lot more attractive.

2) Give out more money for participation. That would, at the moment, probably mean siphoning a little money away from the Champions League, but that’s okay. I’m not talking about the same kind of money, just enough that there’s some incentive.

3) Make it smaller. 12 groups is just too many, and letting everyone who doesn’t get through to the Champions League in is a bit ridiculous. I don’t mind letting them parachute down, but make them work for it. For example, the groups could be reduced to 8, and then the 4 worst runners up could have to play off against the 4 best third-placed CL teams. 1 leg, at home to the Europa runner up. If the CL reject gets through, they’ll actually deserve it.