Brazil’s state championships are a unique set of 26 leagues that run across the different federal areas of the country.

Most states run their championship between January and April. However, there are some states where the competition runs slightly later.

The state championships include the famous Brazilian teams who compete within the national Campeonato Brasileiro Série A -D structure and other prominent teams within their state.

Brazil’s state championships were created due to the size and scale of the country and the travel challenges this creates. Brazil is the fifth largest country by area, with many remote areas that are difficult to travel through.

These include parts of the Amazon, the Mantiqueira mountains, and the Xingu River.

Currently, 16 of the 20 Brasileiro teams play in the southeast and none in western or northern Brazil. The lack of representation across different areas is why state championships thrived before modern times and were very important to Brazil’s soccer economy.

As advancements in transportation continued, like better private planes, better buses, and more roads, the state championships lost their appeal.

Teams began to focus on Brazil’s national league system, which promised a national audience and possible qualification to the Copa Libertadores and Sudamericana.

But, the state competitions themselves are going strong.

The Campeonato Carioca, based in Rio de Janeiro, is in its semi-final stage, with teams like Fluminense, Flamengo, and Vasco da Gama still alive in the competition.

Several Sao Paulo contenders like Palmeiras and Bragantino are still in the Campeonato Paulista, while Gremio and Internacional are in the semifinals of Rio Grande du Sul’s Campeonato Gaucho.

Even if Brazil’s elite look down on the competition, there are still a lot of rivalry games and fierce competition in the tournament.

How it fits in Brazil

Unlike in England or France, you cannot form a team and immediately put it in the Brazilian league system.

There are four domestic leagues in Brazil, from Serie A to Serie D. You can only get into the league system with good performances in the Brazilian state championships.

If you do not immediately earn promotion to Serie C, you have to do well in those state championships again.

Although the Brazilian league system is ruthless, it’s tough to progress and easy to fall lower on the ladder; there are instances where a newly-founded club achieved promotion to the nation’s higher levels.

One of the clubs to do that was Paraná Clube, a merger between two successful clubs. They started high on the Paranaense football ladder in 1989 and won the title championship two years after its founding.

They then rocketed up to Brazil’s Serie A by the year 1993 and enjoyed moderate success for a few years before suffering relegation in 1999.

The fact is that state championships can link the professional and amateur while creating a pathway to the game’s top levels, but state championships often do more harm than good. World Soccer Magazine writer Tim Vickery wrote that the Brazilian state championship was a sign of the Brazilian league’s decline.

There is a giant question looming over the Brazilian game. The big clubs are forced into a structure which is not in their interests. They play meaningless, loss making matches, making it harder to attract good players. The current arrangement kills off the start of the national championship; a league needs a pause beforehand to start hot, and fulfill its potential. But there is no pause in Brazil. The State Championships come to a close less than a week before the league starts, undermining any ‘big kick off’ effect. Why, then, do the big clubs stay put? Why do they choose not to break away and form their own league?

Tim Vickery in a 2018 column for WorldSoccer

It’s a key motive in the breakaway league headed by teams like Santos, Corinthians, Flamengo, and Vasco da Gama.

The Premier League-inspired format would transfer power from the national team to the clubs. That would likely spell the end of Brazilian state championships, at least for Serie A and B teams, and it would also generate more money, helping Brazil keep their top talents inside their country and away from Europe.

For big household names, the state competition is all but useless, and the only thing preventing them from withdrawing is the promise of a prestigious, historic trophy.

It clogs up the season with meaningless fixtures, takes away a natural rest period, and forces teams to play in the always-humid spring months.

For smaller clubs, the state championships are the lifeblood of potential financial security, huge fanbases, and a clear future, but big teams get the spotlight and small teams bounce out early.

It would be a huge loss to Brazilian soccer culture if the Brazilian state championship stopped, and the league pyramid would have to be completely restructured.

But right now, the tournaments are not doing anyone any favors. It remains to be seen whether teams will slog on with their huge slate of fixtures or whether the proposed league will leave the competitions behind.

Would it fit in America?

The American league system is very different than the Brazilian system. For starters, there are way more tiers.

Brazil has Serie A-D, and the US has MLS, USL Championship, USL League One, NISA, and MLS Next Pro in its ranks. The Brazilian system is also centered around relegation and promotion, with Serie D relegating 60 teams from its ranks.

But, if the US Federation wanted to include state championships in its league pyramid, it would be possible.

You would have to include amateur teams from the US Adult Soccer Association, and split the US into eight or so main regional leagues(New England, the Mideast, the Southeast, the Great Lakes, the Plains, the Southwest, the Rocky Mountains, and the Far West), and make the MLS Next Pro.

It was a lot of work to even think about how a Brazil-type state championship would squeeze into the rigid US league system, much less put in place.

The closest thing we will have to the state championships is youth soccer with ECNL and MLS Next academies and high school teams.

Photo credit: IMAGO / Panthermedia