If there was one person on the Internet that I disagree with about 99 percent of the time, it'd be BC's comments editor, Christopher Rose. Sports, politics, religion — probably music, although we haven't gone down that path, which probably benefits both our healths — it's right down the line between us. But one of his thoughts on American sports always stuck out to me, and that was the lack of a relegation/promotion system.
I love the idea. If a team is so bad, they get kicked down a rung and play against lesser competition the following year, having to earn their way back up the ladder. But in our most profitable and watched sports, it's probably not going to happen in the next century. Instead, the Detroit Lions will continue to finish 0-16 in the NFL and be perennially rewarded with the top college athlete* in the NFL Draft.
* – Well, not exactly the "best" athlete, because they take who they think is the best college player, a thought process which is usually more comical than Dan Orlovsky's end zone presence.
Relegation might ruin some leagues' main selling point, which is parity. In MLB, 19 different franchises have won the last 25 championships. In the NFL, no team has ever won three straight Super Bowls, (plus, holy crap, the Arizona Cardinals reached the Super Bowl). And in the NBA … well, never mind. So maybe relegation isn't for baseball or football. Correction: this isn't for the NFL. There is a perfect football league to try out relegation, though.
The AFL. (No, not the one in Australia.)
If you recall, the Arena Football League suspended its 2009 season because they couldn't make enough money. It's kind of a shame. While I've never been to an AFL game, I have heard whispers from fans that no other league in America puts more effort into entertaining you the minute you walk in the door. Fans are close to the action, points are plentiful, and balls are often errantly thrown into the stands and are allowed to be kept. If they need more of a distinguishing feature for their product, perhaps relegation is it.
I've nominated the AFL because it already has a lesser league, dubbed arenafootball2. It's not so much a "minor league" since the 25 af2 teams are not directly or even loosely affiliated with any AFL franchises and therefore should have no qualms being their direct rivals (except for the fact that their players are probably much worse).
But just think of the outcome. With AFL and af2 (and maybe a third tier?) working in a relegation system, suddenly there's a reason for casual fans to follow the AFL year after year. "Wait 'til next year" becomes "Wait 'til the next election year." Perhaps a midseason interleague week allows lesser teams to see how they stack up against the top-tier teams. And when it comes to fringe sports like arena football, fans don't necessarily care how prestigious the championship is, so long as they win it. After all, some college basketball teams take a sort of bittersweet pride in winning the NIT after not getting selected to play in the NCAA tournament.
Were this to be implemented, I'm sure Mr. Rose and I would, at some point, break bread and discuss how well it's worked out. But I can guarantee we'll have conflicting answers.Powered by Sidelines