New year, new rules: Rule No. 21

Updated: December 16, 2010, 5:13 PM ET
ESPN The Magazine

Rule No. 21: Hold the World Cup every three years

South Africa 2010 reminded us that the planet's biggest sporting event gets bigger every four years. Which is exactly why it should happen every three.

If the USA's recent failure to land the 2022 edition proves anything -- other than the shadiness of the voting process -- it's that the demand to host the Cup greatly outweighs the supply. In the 80 years since the first showcase in Uruguay, only 16 countries have held the event, and the trophy has been awarded just 19 times. Sure, infrequency adds mystique. It also leaves us hanging, not to mention players who peak between Cups. Would anyone suggest playing the Super Bowl every four years?

Bring this proposal to FIFA and it would surely cite scheduling issues. Well, we've solved those. We're not adding off-year matches, just making existing ones more meaningful. To reach the European championship, Euro 2012, current titlist Spain has to play four games against Lithuania (46th in the world) and Liechtenstein (158th). Instead of holding separate qualifiers for the World Cup and continental championships, confederations should give Cup qualifiers auto berths into their regional tourneys, then let the best of the rest fight for the final spots during the summer of the Cup. It's a three-year cycle: qualifying, followed by the World Cup, then regional championships, with minnows playing each other for the right to face the whales.

This is where FIFA would fall back to this-is-what-we've-always-done mode. In fact, Chuck Blazer, the lone American on FIFA's executive committee, got that treatment when he brought up a triennial Cup a couple of years ago. But there is one thing FIFA loves more than tradition: money. And 95% of its operating income comes from the Cup. The fastest way to make more is to hold its main event more often.