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Cap fits nicely for sport in America

Last weekend the reigning Superbowl champions Pittsburgh Steelers failed to qualify for the NFL play-offs. The Steelers were good enough to win the big one in 2006 and 2009 but this year they're not even among the top 12.

Our American cousins like this kind of thing because they like to see the honours being spread around.

In fact, their big sports are set up in a way that ensures you don't see the kind of dominance exercised by the big football clubs on this side of the pond. That's why no team has ever won the Superbowl three times in a row, why there have been eight different winners of the World Series in the last ten years and why eight different teams have appeared in the last five NBA finals.

To achieve this end, the Americans impose a salary cap on teams in the NFL, NBA and ice hockey's NHL (seven different winners in a decade), and a heavy 'luxury tax' on clubs exceeding the cap, though few do, in Major League Baseball. They also operate a draft system where the weakest clubs in the league one year get first crack at the most promising players the following season. The result is that these sports are gloriously unpredictable and that every year a huge number of clubs set off with genuine hopes of making finals and winning titles.

I couldn't help thinking about this when I heard a man on Sky Sports proclaim that this was the most exciting Premier League season because there was a genuine battle for fourth place.

That America, the home of cut-throat capitalism, refuses to let sporting competition be decided by market forces while Europe allows its most popular sport to become more of an oligarchy with every season that passes is a signal irony.

Suggest a salary cap to Roman Abramovich, Malcolm Glazer or Sheikh M'anchezt Ar Siti and they'd probably laugh in your face.

Sadly, the joke is on us. God Bless America.

Sunday Independent