By Roger Grossman
News Now Warsaw
I love what we Americans call “soccer.”
I loved playing it, and I enjoy watching others play it now that I am … uh … older.
What I enjoyed most about it was that your height was irrelevant to the game, because most of the time the ball is on the ground. It’s true that there are moments in a match that being tall is very helpful, but gravity demands that eventually that ball will come back down to the ground where everyone has equal access to it.
I understand that not everyone likes soccer. I grew up with it in a community that didn’t have a football team. The sport is part of my DNA.
And here in the United States, we have been trying to join the rest of the world in its passionate love affair with only moderate success at the very best. We do get pretty jacked up for the World Cup every four years, but the world mocks us for coming to their party and crashing their scene.
And let’s be 100 percent honest — the professional soccer league in America is just not getting anyone’s attention.
So many of us who love “the beautiful game” turn to Great Britain and the English Premier League season to scratch that itch for us.
That league gives us great pageantry and rivalries. We don’t know the songs the fans are singing but we don’t have to for knowing what we are listening to.
The English Football League covers all 10 divisions of British football. The Premier League is the 20 best teams in the country. And teams must qualify to remain in the top league. If they don’t, they are “relegated” to the next level down.
And that’s what I want to spend this space talking about today.
Could relegation work in America’s professional sports leagues?
Before you reject it outright in your mind, let me fill you in on how it works in English football.
Those 20 best teams in the EPL play 38 matches—one home and one away against the other 19 sides. After those 38 matches, the teams with the three worst records (based on the system of 3 points for a win and 1 point for a tie) are automatically sent down to the second level.
The two best teams from the second level are automatically moved up to the top league, and the next four teams have a tournament to see who gets the third and final spot in the upper division.
When they get to the final five matches of their season, the drama in the EPL comes from both ends of the table (what we would call standings). People are watching eagerly to see who wins the championship, but they are also watching the teams who are desperate to avoid being relegated.
What would that mean here for our leagues?
Imagine if the Bears, the Texans and the Cardinals — the teams with the three worst records in the NFL last season — were relegated to play in the USFL.
Maybe a better example would be major league baseball. What if Oakland, Kansas City and St. Louis finished with the worst records in MLB and were relegated to Triple-A for 2024 and Norfolk, St. Paul and Durham were elevated to the major leagues?
What if the Pistons, Spurs and Rockets were relegated to the “G League” and the top 3 GL teams elevated to the NBA?
The difference is the draft. International sports leagues and franchises are on their own for improving their rosters and making their teams better. That is the exact opposite of American leagues, who allow the worst teams to pick the best players in an effort to help make the league more balanced and competitive.
The cool part of it would be the end of tanking.
Tanking would get you “relegated,” wouldn’t get you a top pick or lottery pick, and would be humiliating. It’s embarrassing to get moved down! It hurts your sponsorship revenue, it doesn’t make you attractive to free agents who are looking for new teams and your image gets put in the stocks in the public square for people to hurl old produce at you.
And for that reason, I don’t see the concept of relegation ever working here in the states.
But I do think there are ideas we can take from the process to use here. For example: if 20 teams in your 30-team league don’t make the playoffs, what if we take teams 11-20 and give them the better picks and make the last 10 teams pick after them?
Teams would be motivated to win games so they would move up in the standings and ultimately become more of a championship-caliber franchise.
Relegation probably wouldn’t work here, but I think it’s worth seeing what parts of it we could use to make our sports leagues better from top to bottom.
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Roger Grossman has been covering local sports in Kosciusko County for more than 30 years and is employed with News Now Warsaw. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.