Welcome to another installment of Bundesliga 101. For more background on this series of posts, please see Bundesliga 101: An Introduction.
I have to assume at least a passing familiarity with the sport itself, don’t I? It’s not as if I’m qualified, whatsoever, to teach anyone the game. I would be only too happy to sit and watch a game with someone in order to maybe point out things that I find appealing, but explaining the glory of football/Fußball/soccer itself? Might as well try to write an essay on why people should enjoy literature or music, or a toddler’s laughter, or a cold glass of beer . . . it’s outside my limited abilities as a wannabe sports writer.
Therefore, I’m going to assume anyone reading this has already decided that, at least a little bit, they are interested in following the sport that fascinates most of the world. .
What does that leave as a launching point?
How about the basic structure and operation of our club’s primary competition?
The Bundesliga is an 18-club league which sits atop the German football system as the top competition in Germany. Each member club plays every other club in the league twice, once at home and once at the home of the opponent. That means each club has just 34 games in which to build their case for their end-of-season placement and according accolades.
The completely balanced schedule and absence of a post-season, means that there is no need for divisions, conferences, or anything other than the “table,” as football-league standings are generally called. All clubs are ranked in the same table, meaning that there is only one “first place” to be held in the standings, rather being among as many as eight first-place teams as we have in the National Football League at any given time. The team sitting first in the table is always the top team in the league.
Teams are arranged in the table according to their point total. The league operates on a points system that is fairly standard across football leagues. A win is awarded three points, and a tie (aka ‘draw’) earns one point. No points, of course, for a loss.
For teams with equal points totals, the first tiebreaker “goal differential.” As one might suspect, it’s the difference between the number of goals a club has scored and the number of goals they’ve conceded.
Should clubs have the same number of points and the same goal differential, the next thing considered is total goals scored. It’s fairly rare for clubs to have the same points total after 34 matches, much less for them to also have a goal differential in common.
Now, my fellow Americans, brace yourselves . . .
The league championship is awarded the club that finishes the season atop the table based on their superior points total.
That’s right! NO PLAYOFFS!
I know. I was there once, too. When I first got to know the league, I was flabbergasted at the idea of there being no Super Bowl-like event to pit two teams against one another to battle for the ultimate prize. The season ends and . . . that’s all folks!
Perhaps even more anti-climatic is that the league title can, and often is, decided before the season has concluded.
But once you move past the shock of the absence of a post-season, there is much to love about this set-up. Essentially, all the importance and urgency of a post-season is injected into the regular season. It does spread the pressure a bit, considering there is no single “winner take all” match, for the most part, but it does boost the importance of the bulk of the games a team plays.
Additionally, there are multiple prizes to be had!
Okay, that sounds a little “participation medal,” but stick with me here.
Second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers, though, get the very lucrative consolation prize of joining the league victor in UEFA Champions League, a competition organized under the banner of the Union of European Football Associations.
The league championship is the top prize, without question. No club enters a season without a desire for it, even though few realistically have a chance at it at all. But the fact remains that with the financial windfall that comes with a season in Champions League, that clubs can live very comfortably with a season that fell short of that first-place finish but got them into Europe’s premiere competition.
Additionally, the teams finishing fifth and sixth gain entry to a second UEFA competition called ‘Europa League.’ While it’s neither as lucrative nor as prestigious as Champions League, it still carries the benefits of additional competition on the European continent and additional revenue.
So that is six of 18 squads getting a prize from the season, which is just 33% of the league gaining the football equivalent of a post-season berth . . . and there’s more!
Because the German league system, like those of most other non-US nations, employs a system of promotion and relegation, there remains the prize that goes to the teams finishing seventh through 15th: not dropping to the second division.
Through the open system that is the German football ‘pyramid’, any and all clubs are eligible to earn their way into the top flight through competition, which means that any and all clubs are likewise eligible to fall out of the Bundesliga.
The teams which finish in places 17 and 18 each season are sent directly to the 2. Bundesliga, which is the second tier of the German system, and replaced with the top two finishers from that league.
Additionally, the 16th place Bundesliga team competes with the third-place 2. Bundesliga side in the “relegation playoff.” With each side hosting one of the matches of the two-legged competition, the team with the superior aggregated score from the two matches gets a spot in the Bundesliga, leaving the defeated side in the 2. Bundesliga.
This, my friends, concludes a high-level look at the Bundesliga’s primary structure. For more-detailed information on individual elements, click the links and continue reading. And, should you have further questions, please ask in the comments. There are bound to be things that come up and can be added to this to the benefit of others, for which we would all be thankful.
Until then, enjoy the matches!