The question arises every sports season. When is the best time of year in the sports world?
Football fans, January and February probably seems like heaven. The BCS bowls and National Championship followed by the pinnacle of the pigskin: The Super Bowl.
Maybe you're a baseball fan. The best times of year are certainly book ends for you. Many try to suppress elation when pitchers and catchers report, but most find their pastime bliss in October and early November.
Basketball and hockey fans seem to have an eternity of a season. Ask most and you'll certainly here about June.
For me, none qualify as the best time in sports. As the title states, the best time of year is the end of May. Not because the English Premier League will be crowning a champion, but due rather to the battle at the other end of the table: the fight against relegation.
For those unfamiliar with relegation in soccer, allow me for a moment, soccer connoisseurs, to explain to those novices like me reading.
Take all levels of professional baseball for example: A, AA, AAA, and the Major League. Eliminate the whole farm system affiliations and make each team its own business entity that can hire and fire as it pleases.
The EPL replicates this idea with the Premier League (Majors), League Championship (AAA), League 1 (AA)and League 2 (A). The only difference is the top three teams get promoted at season's end, and the bottom three teams get relegated.
So based on last season, the Washington Nationals, Seattle Mariners, and San Diego Padres would be competing this season in AAA. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, Louisville Bats, and Pawtucket Red Sox, all of the International League, would be playing Major League baseball in 2009.
Think of how that might change professional sports in America.
Even though I'm a basketball guy, the last few weeks of May present to us something quite unique in sports.
The majority of sports fans are average Joes, but more times than not, professional sports is a tale of nobility. The biggest, strongest, richest, and athletically gifted win the championships.
Players who could not be further from who we are or the roles we have in society prevail while the ordinary begin reciting the infamous sports maxim, "there's always next year."
Sure we want our favorite teams to win, but since that is rarely the case, we often look for an underdog. Why? Because the underdog represents us.
Why do you think the best story come March is a Cinderella team? It's a reflection of who we are.
Every season, The bottom the EPL becomes a perfect microcosm of middle-class America. The CEOs, like Manchester United, continually challenge for the top spot while the average employee, such as Sunderland, just wants to survive another day with the company.
The rich prosper and bask in the glory of championships and trophies. Meanwhile, the peons like me struggle to make ends meet month-to-month and are left only with delusions of grandeur.
American sports are unrealistic. If a team fails miserably, there's no consequences. In fact, fail bad enough, and teams get rewarded with picking the new hot shot player for next season.
Not in the EPL. Finish in the bottom three and it's a punishment. Moreover, teams won't be bidding on top players; they'll struggle to keep those who are good enough to be loaned to Premier league team. That's more representative of life.
Time and again we see smaller clubs fighting for their Premiership lives by the end of May. Big clubs like Liverpool and Chelsea may feel dejected if they don't win a championship, but smaller clubs, like Fulham last season, feel uninhibited respite when they narrowly avoid being relegated.
The joy of fans' faces as the referee blows the final whistle exudes a feeling not often seen in sports: the feeling of accepted mediocrity only relative to those bidding adieu to the topflight football.
West Bromwich Albion, Middlesbrough, Hull City, Newcastle United, Sunderland, and Portsmouth will all be playing for the Premiership lives in the final two weeks of the 2008-2009 season.
Their respective matches are sure to be entertaining and hard fought. Fans will either sob for their club's demise, or, for those lucky clubs who narrowly avoid the bottom three, revel in the fact that for another season, even if by only an inch, they can say that they're competing with the best.
I'm a little guy. I love my teams, but they aren't me; they suffer no consequences if they tank a season.
So you can have your NBA Finals, Stanley Cup, and game sevens. Take your Super Bowl Sunday and Mr. Octobers. Every year, I can't wait for the end of May to watch the purest form of sport on display in any professional league.
Where teams are playing at their highest level until the very end. Where fans are more than proud to finish seventeenth. Where the common man takes center stage and plays with more heart and grit than a jaded, inflated payroll ever could.