What’s the Point of Consolation Games?

Third Place

In my on-again, off-again following of the World Cup this year, I’ve been wondering why the tournament has a third place game.

The NFL doesn’t have consolation game. Neither does Major League Baseball. Ditto for the NBA and NHL. The NCAA basketball tournament used to until 1981 when someone wised up and realized that third place games are pointless. I thought it might be a soccer thing but after doing some research I realized that Major League Soccer doesn’t have a third place game either.

From a player’s perspective, I’d think the third place game would be an emotional letdown. You came this close to making it to the biggest game of your life and didn’t do it. Now you have to run around on a field for 90 minutes with a bunch of other people who, like you, also didn’t make it to the big one. What, exactly, are you playing for?

From a fan’s point of view, I’d personally have a hard time rooting for any of my favorite sports teams in a consolation game. You don’t root for your team because you want them to be number three. You want them to be champions so you can beat your chest and brag to everyone about how awesome your team is.

In sports, you’re either a champion or you’re not. It’s that simple.

If anyone can tell me why the World Cup third place game is a big deal (KS, maybe?), let me know. And for those who think the World Cup consolation games serve a purpose, how many of you can tell me who won the third place game in the 1994 World Cup without the help of Google or some other search engine? (As a hint, the winner, loser, and score of that game is probably the only World Cup game I know off the top of my head.)

Lukewarm World Cup Fever

2010 World Cup Fever

I’m not much of a soccer fan but enjoy it when the World Cup rolls around every four years mostly because it’s fun to watch many of my coworkers work get into it.

Most of my coworkers have lived in or are from different countries and tend root for those countries. Several cubes around the office are overflowing with the flags of Mexico, Brazil, England, South Korea and other competing teams. (The coworker on my right is a big Germany fan—albeit it without the insanely decorated cube.) Today I even saw few guys wearing soccer jerseys over their regular work attire.

I’d be more included to join the party if Bulgaria was part of the action but, alas, they couldn’t get out of their European qualifying group. I would have been thrilled if they could have pulled off that upset but wasn’t expecting it. The one thing I learned while living in Sofia is that Bulgaria is the Detroit Tigers of soccer. Occasionally they do well but most of the time their fans are resigned to the fact that their soccer team is destined for mediocrity.

The one oddity is that with all the World Cup hoopla at work, no one seems to be rooting for the United States. I think my soccer-crazed coworkers would like to see the United States do well in the tournament (as would I) and would probably root for the US after their other team is eliminated, but their soccer hearts are with other countries.

It does make wonder that if so many coworkers weren’t born or had lived overseas, if anyone at work would even care that the World Cup was going on. I doubt cubes would be decorated with red, white, and blue or people would be wearing US soccer jerseys to work. I know I wouldn’t care half as much (if at all) if I hadn’t lived overseas and been exposed to how seriously the rest of the world takes the sport.

But during this World Cup I’ll put in a half-hearted effort to keep an eye on the US team and hope that Bulgaria qualifies for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.