Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Promotion and relegation is a popular process in professional sports in which teams are demoted or promoted based on how well they play from one year to the next.Relegation is considered by many to be a very important part of sports, but it has yet to make its way to the U.S. (with one notable exception being the PGA Tour).
And there are a lot of people that would like to see that changed.
But for all the good things that relegation can bring, there are some downsides. And even if Americans were convinced to adopt relegation, it would require a complete overhaul of the way professional sports operate in the United States.
The English Premier League features 20 soccer teams. At the end of each season, the bottom three teams in the standings are relegated to the second division. In the second division (Football League Championship), the top two teams are automatically promoted to the Premier League. The next four teams in the standings compete in a playoff to determine the third team to make the jump.
This process continues down through eight different levels throughout England.
One of the most important aspects of this system is that it keeps teams from giving up on the season. Teams in the bottom half of the standings must continue to play hard throughout the year to avoid being demoted to a lower level.
If the NFL had relegation, there wouldn't be a threat of teams tanking games late in the season just for a shot at drafting Andrew Luck. That's because, next year, they wouldn't even be in the NFL.
Whether it is 'Hoosiers,' or 'Rudy,' or the 2006 George Mason men's basketball team, everybody loves the underdog. That team that comes out of nowhere and doesn't seem to realise that they are out of their league.
Well, in the Premier League, this dream can be a reality. The Manchester Uniteds, the Chelseas and the Arsenals are always going to be there. But there are also the Swansea Citys and Queens Parks Rangers that can rise up from the lower ranks and play as equals with the big boys.
You would like to think that this would never be a problem. But the unfortunate reality is that some owners understand that they can still make a profit even if their team loses. But as long as the teams fool just enough fans into thinking that they are trying to win, the team will be profitable and the owner will make money. On top of that, the value of each franchise will continue to go up as long as the league is healthy.
But with relegation, there is a real danger of losing those profit margins if a team is demoted to a lower division. It could mean the loss of shared revenue within the league, or the loss of television revenue. And it could mean less interest from the fans.
Consider what would happen in the NFL this season if there was relegation and promotion.
The Indianapolis Colts are well on their way to finishing with one of the worst records in the NFL simply because Peyton Manning got hurt. Is it fair to the Colts and their fans that the team be demoted to the minor leagues in 2012 just because of one injury?
If Manning comes back healthy next season, the Colts will automatically be considered one of the better teams in the NFL. But under relegation they would forced to play against the Omaha Nighthawks in the UFL.
In the United States, sports are driven by the stars. And it is in the best interest of the leagues and the teams to make sure the best players are playing at the highest levels.
With relegation, Peyton Manning would be in the second division next year. That would be two straight seasons without the NFL's biggest star. And in Major League Baseball, both Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins and Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners would be spending the 2012 season in the minor leagues just because the rest of their teams sucked.
If the pro sports leagues had relegation, the top three picks in the draft each year would automatically start their careers in the second division. In other words, the demotion system would penalise the three best prospects each season.
Would it benefit the NBA if LeBron James had to spend a year in a minor league? At some point, players would just refuse to sign with a team that had one of the top three picks.
Unless of course the leagues open the draft to teams at all levels. Or just get rid of the draft all together. Think the New York Yankees have an advantage now? Imagine a world without a baseball draft.
Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated argued that baseball 'with its established tiered format...would be the U.S. sport most adaptable to promotion and relegation.' But Wahl misses the most important point about baseball and why it is the sport least favourable for relegation.
That is, major league and minor league baseball teams are not independent. Players in the minors are property of big league teams.
A major league team would never want its minor league team promoted to the big leagues. That would mean 25 more players that they would have to pay major league salaries. Not to mention, what happens if Dustin Pedroia gets injured and the Red Sox need a replacement and the Pawtucket Red Sox are already in the major leagues? It would be a mess.
It makes no sense for the Durham Bulls to have a 40,000 seat state of the art stadium for a triple-A team. But the stadium they do have would never be big enough to host games against the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.
Teams can't build $500 million stadiums on the hopes of making it to the big leagues. And they can't build $500 million stadiums once they are there if there is no guarantee that they will stay.
Ultimately, there is just too much money at risk and a lot of that money is coming from television revenue.
The NBA is not going to get as much money in their next television contract if there is a possibility that some of the games are going to feature teams in Grand Rapids, Michigan, or Des Moines, Iowa, or another small television market.
And in baseball, teams like the Texas Rangers are not pulling in a $1.5 billion television deal if there is a possibility that the Rangers will be in triple-A in a couple of years and not facing other big league teams.
Team are not going to want, and may not be able to pay players top prices if the team is demoted to a lower division. A player could potential lose millions that he has earned just because his teammates suck and his team was demoted.
Under the relegation system, the Minnesota Twins and their star catcher, Joe Mauer, would be sent to triple-A next season. Would the Twins still be willing to pay Mauer $23 million next season? So either he takes a pay cut, or he gets traded.
Relegation means less security for the players. And no union would ever allow less security without a fight.
Someday we might see relegation in the MLS. But in the four major sports, where so much money is riding on teams being in the biggest television markets, it just won't work.
Even if it is kinda awesome.
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