Death to Promotion and Relegation

I know there's other stuff going on.  There are the big games this weekend, and there's the looming World Cup draw.  And boy, is that SOB ever looming.  You've run through the simulators too, and they look pretty terrifying. But I'm still giddy over Orlando entering MLS.  Tuesday, November 19 was VPR Day.  When Phil Rawlins signed up, that was the last shovelful of dirt on the promotion and relegation grave as far as MLS was concerned.  Orlando City joins Seattle, Portland, Montreal and Vancouver as teams which spent millions upon millions of dollars to join a first division, rather than force their way in through victory on the field and through public opinion.  Throw in Toronto, Philly and Steinbrenner City joining on the understanding that no, they won't be temporary teams, and we're well north of two hundred million fun bucks bet on MLS not putting in relegation.  That's because it's not a bet – it's a certainty.

So when on your travels you meet someone who says "I think MLS should have promotion and relegation," treat them the same way as someone who says "I think Jesus was a tyrannosaurus."  However you would choose to do that.  You could say, "the owners won't allow it," just as you could say "Jesus had the power of speech, he didn't eat the Gadarene swine, the Sermon on the Mount was not recorded to have ended in hundreds fleeing in terror, he was able to fit in the room for the Last Supper, he was able to fit in Pilate's palace, he was frequently called the Son of Man and not the Son of Therapod, crucifying a dinosaur was beyond Roman technology, crucifying a T-rex in particular is impossible because the arms wouldn't reach far enough, and after his resurrection Jesus shows Thomas his hands, not floppy little things with claws.  Also, paleontology."

Yes, the other person might say, "Clearly INRI was meant to be INRT – Jesus of Nazareth, Rex Tyrannosaur."  You have my permission to end the conversation at that point.  Same with promotion and relegation.  A third division market is now a first division market.  If anyone complains, refer them to the landmark Supreme Court decision, Life Should Be Fair v. Tough Titty Toenails.

So now that promotion and relegation has been defeated in the United States and Canada, it is our manifest destiny to stamp it out abroad.  It's time for fans everywhere to overthrow this outdated, malicious, poisonous relic of Victorian aristocratic arrogance.  There have been better models working for decades, and it's time we liberated the world in the name of freedom and democracy.

Mostly because there are actually no good arguments for promotion and relegation in any professional sport.  Anything promotion and relegation would be accomplished better by a system currently in place in the United States.

"But Sir Alex Ferguson blah blah blah derp derp derp shmurple pleeble vlax bliff!"

Hey, good point.  Yes, Sir Alex Ferguson did say that getting rid of promotion and relegation would be suicide.  Say, you know what would be fun?  Actually reading what he said.  What do you say, you want to give it a try, gang?  You can do it!  I believe in you!

"If you look at the Championship at the moment, we have at least eight teams with tradition and history," Ferguson said. "What do you say to those eight teams? That they can never play in the premier division? I think that would be absolute suicide for the rest of league and particularly the teams in the Championship.

"You might as well lock the doors. The only place you can make money and realise your ambitions is in the Premier League and you can't take that away from clubs like Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday.

"All these great teams, who formed the nucleus of our old First Division all those years ago. It would be unwise to do that."

Gosh.  Strong words.  If only it were possible to design a system that includes more than twenty teams.  But how to solve such a conundrum?  If literally every team sport in America could come up with a solution, then how can English football HEY WAIT A MOMENT – I THINK I HAVE AN IDEA!

A few years ago I pointed out that it would be possible to organize all of English professional football along geographical lines.  Regional rivalries would be preserved and enhanced, and smaller clubs would be instantly given the legitimate chance to compete for the championship on an equal footing – without the risk of being punished for their failure by indefinite exile.  The winners of the divisions would meet in a playoff tournament, the winner of which would be crowned champion of England.

Supporters of promotion and relegation, if they were honest, would rush to embrace this clearly superior system.  In the vanishingly rare instances where defenders of promotion and relegation even bother to make a case, one of the claims is that Leyton Orient can one day dream of being in the Premier League.  I have granted that dream, and made it permanent.  Leyton Orient will be in the London Division (or whatever), able to compete with some of the most famous teams and players in the world – indefinitely.  Stoke City will no longer have to mortgage their future hopes on questionable Americans – they'll even get their rivalry with Port Vale back.  Luton Town will be back in the big time.

There are benefits for big teams, too, Manchester United probably won't need to play their A-team against Burton Albion.  Since fixture congestion is a thing of the past – I'm also blowing up the League Cup, as it is even more pointless in this system – Champions League glory beckons.

Excuse me?  Were you about to write how Manchester United shouldn't have to bother with Burton Albion?  Were you about to tell me that Burton Albion has no chance against Manchester United?  Were you going to tell me that the gap in economic power means United would lose money playing such a small team?  But…golly, that would mean when people say the glory of the promotion and relegation system is that Burton Albion can climb to the top…they're either being insincere or deluded.  That…that can't be true, can it?

Besides, won't Real True Supporters show up no matter who the opponent is?

No, there's no downside to a nationwide divisional plan.  Unless the big teams decided they'd rather split the television money amongst themselves…but that would never happen.

"But important games at the end of the season duh excitement duh shiny objects!"

Did I not just show you a system where every game is against a local rival?  Okay, this is where looking out a window helps out occasionally – fans get fired up for games against the Scum, even when it's bottom feeder against bottom feeder.  Familiarity also helps breed contempt.  The divisional system has built solid, exciting rivalries across the nation throughout the year.

Look at how many objectively meaningless games there are in the college sports, as far as determining the eventual champion.  Now, look at how popular college football and college basketball are.  Why is that?  High quality of play?  Pretty uniforms?

But you're not interested in Cal-Stanford or Iowa-Minnesota or Harvard-Yale, or Clemson-USC-UCLA.  Those fans are.  Which leads me to question the motivations, quite frankly.  What people say is the most exciting part of soccer can be duplicated in any sport, simply by a change in league structure.  If Major League Baseball or the NFL or the NBA were to declare promotion and relegation next year, they too would allegedly be playing "meaningful" games at the end of the year.

Forget for a moment that these leagues, which have not missed too many opportunities to increase cash flow, have had that option for decades, and studiously avoided it.  Those owners are content with Mariners-Astros and Jaguars-Chargers dicking around at the end of the year instead of relegating teams to make the games "meaningful" because – I don't know, I suppose they're just real stupid.  But forget that for a moment.

Why does it offend you so much that teams are playing games simply to see who wins?

And if you're calling yourself a soccer fan, shouldn't your main reason for following the sport have something to do with the actual sport?  Promotion and relegation is just a format.  If it could easily duplicated by baseball and gridiron, then what makes soccer special at all?  Are you a fan of soccer?  Or standingsball?

"But relegation games are high stakes and risking everything and punishing the bad and rahr blood death suffering!"

By the way, if you think I'm being condescending about the arguments put forward in favor of promotion and relegation, you clearly haven't suffered through as many articles, blog posts, interviews and tweets as I have.  Might as well argue with your Words With Friends rack.

I mean, for crying out loud, VIIEEOG?  What the hell am I supposed to do with that?  If I put "VIA" down, I open up the triple word score tile and my sister-in-law is going to land on me like goddamn Skylab.

But when I lose to my sister-in-law, I don't have to wait a whole year before I get another chance.  Although maybe I should.  I'm 1-100 against her – the one time I beat her I ran around the house yelling with triumph – I got "CARTOONS" on a double word score and the C on a triple letter tile and won by four points – the point is, I still get my shot.  So what if YOU don't care?

We, as fans of teams A and B, do not have the right to demand that a game between C and D end with either team disappearing from the league.  That game between C and D might hold our interest for a day, but the fans of C or D will have to suffer exile for an entire season.  All because of neutral fans' limited attention span.  Promotion and relegation zealots are the people who slow down on the freeway to look at accident victims.

Which isn't surprising, because when you look at the most popular teams in the world – you know what doesn't stand out?  Relegation battles.  Wikipedia is the lazy man's crutch, so let's go there.  Here's the list of the richest teams in the world.

Not a lot of relegation battles in recent years.  Well, apart from Juve, I guess.  You know, this may sound crazy, but I heard a rumor that Manchester City are more popular now than they were ten years ago, when they were bouncing around lower divisions and having meaningful games all the freaking time.  I don't know how to explain that, except with the oddball theory that good teams outdraw bad ones.

"But players play hard if something at stake blood guts gore terror hate blahrrr!"

Yeah, I'd never heard of a relegation release clause until I played Football Manager, either.  Also, the assumption that there's much of an entertainment difference between bad players trying hard and good players not trying hard is fairly difficult to falsify.  Fortunately, the spectre of players going through the motions is not as worrisome as it seems.

For one thing, we're just generally insulting to professional players and coaches – these are guys who have very short careers, and who have gotten as far as they have, especially in an American and Canadian context, through making enormous sacrifices for the love of the sport.  So maybe these aren't the guys who would just take a week off because neutral fans aren't enthralled at the standings.

Besides – what do you think is going to happen to Chivas USA players and coaches in the offseason?  After all, they weren't relegated.  According to promotion and relegation dogma, there will be no punishment.  The team will be back in MLS next year, after all.  But, as the saying goes, the dogma will be run over by the karma.  Few if anyone involved with Chivas USA '13 will draw a professional soccer salary in 2014.  I do not recognize Chivas USA's right to exist, but that has nothing to do with the quality of the players and coaches.

"But where's the incentive to get better!  As someone who is not a fan of Chivas USA, I demand accountability!"

You think Vergara likes drawing worse than Wrexham?  (Not "officially," but c'mon.)  His incentive to get better is the same that exists with the Clippers, the Bengals, the Astros, and so forth.  Not selling tickets and not getting ratings costs him money.  Not as much money as full-on relegation, but enough to say that the incentive is there.  Let's don't even bring up DC United.  They were hapless this year – entirely and utterly bereft of hap – but they would like to build a stadium, and they won't do that by replacing "Tradition" on the collars with "SSDS".

We can have evenly divided divisions, like in American pro sports.  We can have self-selected conferences, like in American college sports, and pick post-season playoff contenders based on a committee (ugh) or a poll (oops) or a coefficient of the strength of conferences.

That last is being done in every remotely important tournament these days, sadly for us, and fortunately for Switzerland.  But that's a different post.