As a general rule of life, I try to refrain from expending sympathy on entities that possess 10 or more TV networks to program as they choose. Yet on this momentous weekend of sports on Earth, I feel a little sorry for NBC. Its good ambition deserved better.
It's not bad, the annual closing Sunday of the EPL, which technically stands for "English Premier League" but is really the Earth Premier League. There's some doubt at the top going into the last day, and we always like some doubt at the top going into the last day. It could have been worse.
It's just that a concept this inspired -- televising 10 matches concurrently on 10 different channels -- deserved more suspense all up and down the listings. It's nobody's fault except David Moyes', and even that's just a failed one-liner.
If you follow the world's biggest sports league, as NBC has in this initial season, you know a few things. You know all the matches on the closing Sunday begin at the same time, 10 a.m. ET, so as to maximize the meaning of the whole 10-match lot. You know they use the word "table" instead of "standings." You know the EPL-mad world could have gotten to this 38th match and final day with suspense here and there and everywhere. NBC's bold plan could have ended up with so much tension, on so many levels and so many channels, that a curious viewer could have gone half-mad switching around, which is a basic human goal in the 21st century.
As producer Pierre Moossa said Thursday in a teleconference, "Instead of us making the choice, us forcing which match you're going to watch, we're giving everybody else the choice to choose whatever match they want to watch." There'll be matches on NBC, NBCSN, USA, CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo, Syfy, Esquire Network, E! and Oxygen. You can almost hear some gruff octogenarian flipping around, questioning his own lucidity and thinking his country has suffered invasion.
Resistance is futile (not to mention passé). Resistance should be futile. As Americans grow more familiar, we know the Premier League is a goose-bumpy marvel. A TV idea this good deserved to go five-for-five. Instead, the five table hotspots are mostly settled. The chase for 17th place, often riveting to follow, is settled (with a tiny asterisk). Sixth place is unsettled and mildly curious. Fourth place is settled. Third place, less meaningful than the others, is settled (with a tiny asterisk). First place is unsettled but needs strangeness to get curious. There's hope.
In 17th place -- the last position of survival, avoiding a devastating relegation -- there's West Bromwich Albion with a calm pulse. Eighteenth-place Norwich could tie Albion in the table, but to win the tiebreaker based on goal difference, Norwich would have to beat Arsenal by some 16 or 17 goals on Sunday. Boldly, I predict that's not going to happen.
In fourth place -- a coveted spot, because it grants England's last berth in the towering European Champions League -- there's Arsenal (76 points), disentangled from fifth-place Everton (69 points), that resourceful bunch for whom a last-day chase for fourth would have been a thrill. In third, three points ahead of Arsenal, there's Chelsea, but to catch Chelsea and avoid an extra layer of Champions League duty next fall, Arsenal would have to beat Norwich by probably 17 or 18 goals. Boldly, I predict that's not going to happen.
That leaves sixth and first. After a season of relative and sometimes shocking fecklessness -- Wait, is that really Manchester United? -- Manchester United lurks in seventh, three points behind Tottenham. The former plays at Southampton (on Syfy) and the latter at home to Aston Villa (on USA). Sixth place gets the last spot in the Europa League, Europe's big AAA competition. That raises the question of whether Manchester United should want to get into the Europa League, seeing as how Liverpool didn't last year, and the unspent exertion did seem helpful for league play. As of Saturday evening, a poll of fans in the Manchester Evening News had "No" leading "Yes," 61 percent to 39 (although you should one vote from "No," because I clicked it so I could see the results).
Still, the top of the table looked primed for untold drama, until the last 21 days. Chelsea couldn't beat Sunderland or Norwich at home and faded. Liverpool, with the rich legacy mismatched with a 24-year league drought, brimmed with hope after that 3-2 thriller over Manchester City on April 13. Then it lost at home to Chelsea, and the brain still attempts to process what it then did last Monday, when Liverpool led 3-0 on 78 minutes at Crystal Palace but did not win. Did that really happen? The match reports say so. The video footage says so. The table also says so, as that 3-3 draw leaves Liverpool (81) two points behind Manchester City (83). Man City has a goal-difference lead of 13, so a Man City win or draw at home against 12th-place West Ham (on NBC) will suffice.
So everyone craving beautiful tension looks back to 2012. On that preposterous final Sunday, Man City had to score twice in extra time at home to beat Queens Park Rangers to win the league, so that everyone could feel sorry for the somberly deprived Sir Alex Ferguson, denied a 13th title in 20 years and forced to seek a 13th title in 21 the ensuing spring. It's good to crave beautiful tension, but that Man City edition had just started getting its bank transfers from Abu Dhabi; it was newly elite and navigating frontier. Its previous league title (1968) preceded the births of all its players. This edition has 2012 stashed in its gilded cranium.
Of course, in the interim, Manchester United won that 13th EPL title, in a season that ended officially on May 19 but which United clinched on April 22. On the plus side, leagues without playoffs tend to do a better job pinpointing the best team. And on the plus side for NBC, this could have been like 2013. It could have been worse. It's just that an idea this superb deserved better. Here's wishing NBC and everyone else a phantasmagorical May 2015.