Of the few things that the English have done right (and let’s be honest, it’s a short list) one of them has been the idea of relegation and the other has been the idea of a domestic cup competition, found most distinctly in soccer. We as Americans, and thus the better of the two countries, should have already taken over and bastardized these two concepts, which is why I’m thoroughly surprised that it hasn’t happened yet.
For all of you who don’t follow English sports and have no idea that relegation is actually a sports term, allow me to clue you in with a spectacular example. The Premier League has 20 teams. At the end of every season, the bottom three teams get thrown out in favor of the top three teams in the lower Championship division.
This goes on for all four divisions of soccer. Unlike the problem in the U.S., where crappy teams lose half their fanbase midway through the season (is there a reason to follow the Kansas City Royals past May?), teams that suck in the Premiere League captivate their fans with their fight against relegation. Every game is life and death, fans go insane for every win, newspapers that have no reason to cover certain teams speculate endlessly, because relegation means losing millions of dollars while smaller clubs that win the battle for promotion can rake it in.
Would this work for every U.S. sport? Obviously not. English soccer is highly organized into different divisions that make such a system work. With a little bit of work, football could probably make the relegation idea work. Establish a 20-team league in the smaller cities of the U.S. (San Antonio, Las Vegas, Portland, etc.) promise the chance to have the best two teams make it to the NFL and threaten the worst teams in the league with demotions.
Perhaps that would make the Oakland Raiders kill off Al Davis and start anew. With the amount of money that the NFL makes through television, it would provide enormous incentive for teams to make good decisions (and not sign players like JeMarcus Russell to $70 million deals).
Imagine the drama: The Raiders, Rams, Buccaneers and the Chiefs are tied for the worst record going into the last week of the season and they play each other with the losers being kicked out of the league. Everyone would be glued to his or her television and the action would be intense. Usually, the last week of the season is a time for the worst teams to play their youngest (read worst) players. Not anymore. Now it would be high drama.
The second great idea that England has provided is the in-season, domestic competition. It involves all divisions of teams as they play a knock-out tournament during the season for the chance to be proclaimed as the best soccer team in the country. In the U.S., this would probably work best with basketball. There are a myriad of basketball leagues around America (D-League, CBA, etc). Invite all of them to play in the competition. They all get paired up in a bracket and start the competition right before the seasons start it would end right before the playoffs begin. Hypothetically, the Rochester Razorsharks could play the Boston Celtics in the first round of competition and there could be a legitimate (if small) chance of a major upset. Plus, the winner could get a trophy and a cash prize.
Obviously there would have to be some changes made, shortening the NBA season by 7-10 games, more players for depth, etc., but it could work. The addition of knock-out games would soften the blow of losing a few games the regular season. Teams in the NBA that don’t have a chance to make the playoffs would turn its focus on winning the domestic tournament. Teams in the CBA or D-League that would host an NBA team during a knockout game would gain millions of dollars in gate receipts and television revenue. It would make for some great games during the mid-point of the season when the allure of the beginning of the season has passed, but the playoffs have yet to begin.
Spicing up the competitions with relegation and a domestic competition would only add to the excitement and drama that sports are meant to provide. American sports are all about the underdog and these two minor changes could give us greater story lines and more compelling characters.
Maystrovsky is a member of the class of 2010.