Friday, June 02, 2006

Spreading World Cup Fever Stateside: A How-To Guide

I've finally come to accept it, but I'll be damned if I understand it. Just like the popularity of the flat brim hat or why people think Nicole Kidman is hot, I have come to accept the fact that the majority of Americans care as much about the World Cup as the WNBA; but I confess that I never, ever, ever, will be able to understand it. Soccer, and in particular the World Cup, is far and above the most popular sport on the planet for a reason. Truly insane fans, outrageous individual personalities, and edge-of-your-seat drama that is on par with any walk-off homerun or game-winning field goal are only a few. To say nothing of the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, soccer is the only sport that ever directly led to a full-blown war.
However, in the eighteen years since I first took the pitch as a precocious five-year old, the many hours I have spent trying to convince my fellow Americans that professional soccer is a thrilling enterprise worthy of their attention, have mostly been in vain. I've heard all the standard excuses, like "They just stand around the whole game" (Hello? Baseball?), "What's it matter? Our team sucks anyway" (Newsflash. Not anymore.) and "They act like they've been shot anytime someone touches them" (Umm...yeah...that's annoying) and despite my best efforts, my guess would be that in my eighteen years of advocacy and lobbying, I've turned on exactly zero people to the world of professional soccer.
But no more. Driven by the thesis I proposed months ago on this very blog, namely that virtually all types of athletic activity, including free-throw contests and even the modern pentathlon, that can be transformed from unwatchable to captivating by having cold hard cash riding on the outcome, I've come to a foolproof solution to spread my favorite infectious disease, other than gonnorhea (kidding), World Cup Fever, to fans "from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam." Ladies and gentlemen, my proposal is simple. Create a World Cup fantasy league. Such leagues are already popular in Europe, and in the grand tradition of The Beatles, pizza, and Heidi Klum, it's time to bring the best of Europe to the States. So gather up seven of your friends with borderline gambling addictions, pick up two cases of Beck's, as a tribute to this year's host, and hold your first ever World Cup Fantasy Draft, according to the following rules:
  • The draft is four rounds long, and conducted in a "snake" format. (e.g. The owner who picks first in the first round picks last in the second round.)
  • Each nation can only be drafted by one owner. (e.g. Once Brazil is picked first, and it will be by anyone with an IQ greater than their shoe size, they cannot be picked again.)
  • Scoring is as follows:
  • Preliminary Round Win - 3 pts
  • Preliminary Round Tie - 1 pt
  • Advancing past Preliminary Round - 2 pts
  • Win in Round of 16 (Advancing to Quarterfinals) - 4 pts
  • Win in Round of 8 (Advancing to Semifinals) - 6 pts
  • Win in Round of 4 (Advancing to Finals) - 8 pts
  • Winning Third Place Match - 6 pts
  • Losing Finals (Finishing in Second Place) - 8 pts
  • Winning World Cup - 10 pts
  • The owner whose four teams garner the greatest combined points is the winner. Ties can be decided by highest finish of any nation on an owner's team. (e.g. An owner who has the nation that finished in second place on his team wins over an owner who has no teams that advanced past the quarterfinals.)

What could be greater than cheering wildly as the bottom line on ESPN2 informs you that Ukraine (your seventh round sleeper), in fact, did manage to hold off Saudi Arabia to secure their passage through to the second round. Or being unable to tear your eyes from the TV as the Czech Republic faces off against Argentina in the finals on July 9 in Berlin, not because of your affinity for the women of Prague or your love of a fine Argentine steak (apparently it's delicious), but because if those former Commies can hold off those pony-tailed pretty boys, you'll pocket $180 bucks and be able to say you are the master prognosticator in the world of professional soccer amongst your friends for the next, not one, not two, not three, but four years. That is, of course, unless my idea for an MLS Fantasy League begins to gain momentum. But hey, one step at a time for now.