The Pros and Cons of the Belgian Pro League Playoff System
Most of the world’s football leagues operate in the same manner, which makes them both reliably entertaining for old fans and readily accessible for newcomers, but the Belgian Pro League playoff system is different. The traditional system, used by most leagues, is simple, and it works: a number of teams compete in a round robin, division-based system, playing every other team in the league twice (both at home and away) in a lengthy run from late summer to mid-spring. Each win is worth three points, each draw is worth one point, and each loss is worth zero points. The soccer club with the most points in a division at the end of the season, naturally, wins the league.
If you’ve paid attention to the association football world at all, you are already familiar with this system. So why does the Belgian Pro League operate in a different way? And is Belgium’s way of organizing their league season better or worse than the way most other countries do it?
The Belgian Pro League System: How It Works
The first 30 games of the annual Belgian Pro League season operate the same way that other divisions in association football do. Starting in late July and lasting through to mid-March, Belgium’s top-flight soccer division more or less follows a standard round robin structure.
It’s in the last two months where the league deviates from what everyone else does. The top six teams in this “regular season” segment qualify for the championship playoffs, a second and smaller round robin competition that goes on for 10 weeks and determines the winner of the division.
So what’s good about this system? Why have Belgium kept the playoff structure instead of opting for something more standard and straightforward?
First of all, and most obviously, the playoff system is great if you are a fan of one of Belgium’s stronger soccer clubs. Not only do highly ranked teams get longer soccer seasons and more play time, but they also get second chances if they struggle early on in the season.
For instance, say a team starts the football season off in sloppy and rusty fashion. This happens frequently in association football, with causes ranging from new managers to incoming and outgoing players. Sometimes, the summer training season doesn’t provide enough time for players and coaches to really become a team. This can lead to a rough first month or two and can quickly kill a football club’s title hopes—even if they play brilliantly throughout the latter parts of the season.
The Belgian Pro League, with its championship playoff system, places more emphasis on a team’s performance at the end of the season than at the beginning. The early weeks and months are still important, granted, since they play a role in getting a team into the playoffs. However, if a team starts the season playing lukewarm football, and ends in top form, they still have a chance to win the league.
Last but not least, the playoff system keeps things consistently unpredictable in Belgium’s Pro League, which makes it exciting to follow. Everyone in England this year knew that Chelsea were going to win the Premier League from very early on in the season. The Belgian Pro League was much less obvious, with Gent, Anderlecht, Club Brugge, and Standard Liege all standing as viable contenders thanks to the promise of the playoff.
The drawbacks of the Belgian Pro League playoff system are more simply and succinctly stated. For one thing, the system robs fans of lesser teams the opportunity to watch those teams play for a significant portion of the season. By giving those clubs less play time, the system also makes them less attractive destinations for players, which in turn makes it more difficult for them to grow and improve.
In the same way that it benefits teams that struggle in the early parts of the season, the playoff system also somewhat undervalues teams that perform well all year. For instance, in 2013 – 2014, Standard Liege were easily the best team during the regular season, winning 20 games, drawing seven, and losing just three. In the playoffs, though, they were outplayed (and ultimately beaten) by RSC Anderlecht.
Each team who makes the playoffs starts with half of the points they earned in the regular season, a fact that allowed the wearers of the Anderlecht jersey to beat Standard Liege by two points in the final season standings. With the same exact win-draw-loss record, though (including games from both the regular season and the playoffs), Anderlecht would have lost to Standard Liege by three points in a regularly structured soccer league. In other words, Standard Liege had the best record in 2013 – 2014, but Anderlecht still won the Belgian Pro League because they peaked late in the year instead of early.
Regardless of the pros and cons of the Belgian Pro League playoff system, if you are interested in following the league next year, then stop by Soccer Box today! We have new stock available of the Anderlecht home jersey, as well as official merchandise for other Belgium teams like Club Brugge or Standard Liege. Stop by our shop today to check our official jerseys and other branded gear, and use the coupon code “BLOG2015” to save 12.5% on your order!