When a professional sports team in America has a bad season, as the old saying goes, there’s always next season — but not in European soccer.
End-of-season discussions around some European professional soccer leagues are about survival. Mainly, which teams are going to survive to play another year in a given country’s top league. The English Premier League, the world’s most prominent soccer league, is among those leagues where suspense almost always carries into the final minutes of the season.
The EPL has a stipulation in place that relegates or downgrades its bottom three teams in any one season to the Football Association’s Championship division.
In return, the top three teams of the Championship are promoted to the Premier League. Conceptually, it would be like the Columbus Clippers having the best record in Triple-A baseball and then moving up to play Major League Baseball the following season.
And the same goes for the Championship, as well as the two divisions below it — the FA’s League One and League Two. The top and bottom three teams from each of England’s four divisions shuffle back and forth season after season.
With its season concluding on Sunday, this year’s EPL relegated teams are Wolverhampton F.C., Blackburn F.C. and Bolton F.C. No club is safe from the relegation rule as Blackburn (1995 EPL Champions) becomes the first former Premier League champion to be relegated.
How harsh is that? 17 years removed from a championship and you’re deemed not good enough to compete in the league.
Harsh or not, the rule is ingenious on some levels. It creates a level playing field and makes every game in a season matter. There certainly isn’t any talk of “tanking” game in the Premier League for any reason.
So, what if American sports leagues adopted its European counterparts relegation and promotion rules? Would it be a good thing? Is it even possible? Would the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats have lost 23 games in a row to end the season?
Whether it would be good for leagues like the NFL, MLB, NBA and the NHL to adopt the relegation-promotion rule is purely subjective. It would be good in the sense teams likely wouldn’t tank, and every regular-season game matters, but at what cost?
Would the playoffs have to be eliminated? The EPL crowns its champion based solely on regular season performance. If there were no Super Bowl or World Series, would that be a good thing?
The question of whether it’s even possible to have a relegation-promotion rule in American professional sports is interesting. As it stands now, only two of the top four leagues have the type of minor-league system in place to piggyback off the system used English soccer.
The NHL has the American Hockey League (AHL) below it as an incremental level and MLB has Triple-A baseball with the International League and Pacific Coast League.
Even then, those leagues would need adjustment. The NHL or MLB teams couldn’t have ties to the AHL or Triple-A teams as they do now using the lower level teams as a means of producing players within a farm system.
The Premier League’s relegation and promotion rule is something American sports fans envy, and although some fans wish it would be adopted tomorrow by America’s sports leagues, it’s not a simple as it may seem.