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Why the EFL Championship Playoffs are the greatest event in sport

Ryan O’HanlonESPN.com AuthorMay 26, 2023 at 4:00 am ET2 minutes reading

Coventry City haven’t been in the Premier League since the turn of the century but have 90 minutes to go before returning to England’s top flight.Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Don’t you love it when the title is decided while one team is sitting in the conference room and the others are losing a game against a team that is 51 points behind first place?

If you’re a Manchester City fan, staff member or family member, then you are. But for everyone else, a potentially classic race for the Premier League title quickly fizzled out when Arsenal capitulated after Easter. Ditto for a top-four pursuit that once featured more than six sides but suddenly seemed all but decided before the season was over, as Man United and Newcastle secured places over time. So has the relegation battle, which has spanned almost half of the league but now features just three sides (Everton, Leeds and Leicester) and a two-point gap between 17th and 18th, with Southampton already trailing behind.

– Stream LIVE: Coventry City vs Luton Town, Sat 5/27, 11:40am ET, ESPN+

Any commercial sporting competition seeks to strike a balance between identifying the best team and providing the most excitement possible. American sport tends towards the latter, with long regular seasons to determine the seeding followed by an abbreviated cup competition to determine the champion.

An analysis by Michael Lopez, now senior director of football data and analytics for the National Football League, found that the best team advances from a best-of-seven NBA series about 80% of the time. At the other end of the fairness spectrum, there’s baseball: a 162-game regular season and then a playoff series that would need to be a best-of-75 as many times as the NBA’s playoffs to determine the top team.

Both leagues are struggling with regular season devaluation, although that’s not the Premier League’s problem. The structure of a typical European national league is as fair as it gets: everyone plays to the same schedule and whoever has the most total points is the champion. Week 2 is just as important as Week 32, but when one team is a lot better than the others – which is inevitable given the unequal purchasing power in these leagues – a situation often arises like the one we’ll see this Sunday, where The Last Games of the season are also the least important.

Luckily, this weekend also sees the finale of the best designed competition in football – and perhaps any sport – the Championship Playoffs.

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