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Balance and the Premier League

The English Premier League kicks off a week from Saturday, and the market odds say that the title race is already over for all but a handful of teams. At Tradesports, there are bids for but five of the twenty teams to win the title, propped up by Everton at 1 cent (to return a dollar), with "The Field" trading at a penny and a half. Chelsea are the odds-in favorites (last trade at 53.5 cents), with a youthful Arsenal and an aging Man Utd rated the only serious challengers at about 20 cents each. My opinion is about the same as most: it is Chelsea's title to lose. They are loaded with talent, and their depth minimizes the risk from injury. Chelsea might win in a walk, just as they did last year, making for yet another boring title race.

Fortunately, as Brian has mentioned before, the European setup gives many teams something to play for. Two domestic knockout competitions** plus the UEFA Cup and the Champions League will keep the teams in the middle of the pack interested in sharpening their form while they strive for trophies. And the teams in the lower half of the table will scrap and claw for every point to avoid the trap door of relegation. So the season's competition will be keen, in spite of the lack of interest in the title race per se.

Nevertheless, I am somewhat cautious - more so than Stefan Syzmanski, perhaps less so than Rodney Fort - about competitive balance in the EPL. As this story in the Telegraph points out, last season was the most imbalanced in history, and is part of a clear trend concentrating points at the top. The prices at Tradesports show that this season promises more of the same. But I do not share the opinion of Professors Oughton and Michie, who documented these facts, that structural changes are required, for reasons I advanced earlier. In large part, market forces are behind these changes, and country-specific remedies are more likely to harm the League than help it. (A unilaterally imposed salary cap, for example, would be a disaster.) You might differ by pointing out that Malcolm Glazer and Roman Abramovich - the oligarchic owners of Man Utd and Chelsea - are idiosyncrasies orthogonal to market forces, but I doubt that is correct, and regardless, a policy to manage idiosyncrasies is no policy at all.

**Though perhaps the Carling Cup should be permanently placed in Chelsea's trophy case. Most top teams play their reserves through the early stages of the Carling Cup, and Chelsea's reserves might themselves be title contenders. Getting to the Cup Final would seem to be a stroll in the park for them.