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The Joys of Relegation

May 12th, 2015 · No Comments · Baseball, Clippers, English Premier League, Lakers, NBA, NFL

Relegation would be a handy thing to have in U.S. sports.

Most Americans, I think, understand the concept, by now.

In nearly all global soccer leagues that aren’t Major League Soccer, two or three teams at the bottom of the standings go down to the next-lowest league. Which is pretty much a disaster. (And the two or three best, at the lower level, join the top league, rewarding upwardly mobile clubs.)

And in cases where things at the top of the league are pretty much sorted out with significant chunks of the season still to play, like in England’s Premier League this year, the attention then turns to the “relegation battle” at the bottom of the standings.

What would relegation in U.S. sports mean?

Well, for starters, it would never work in the Big Four sports because you are “major league” or you are not (even if everything about your team is, in reality, pretty much minor league), and that status never changes.

But, in theory, if baseball had relegation the Houston Astros would have gone down to the second division (Triple-A?) several years ago. The Pirates and Kansas City Royals would have spent most of the past two decades in Triple A — or maybe lower.

The Los Angeles Clippers would have fallen out of the NBA about 1982 and been in the D-League nonstop until a few years ago. The Philadelphia 76ers would have “gone down” a while back. Actually, the Lakers probably would be relegated after their 2014-15 disaster.

The Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars would have been out of the NFL for most of a decade. The Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres would be out of the NHL.

And so on.

Relegation is handy in a couple of senses.

1. It punishes badly run teams.

In American sports, the badly run “major league” teams hang around forever. They never go away no matter how many they lose and how long they keep doing it. (Ask the Pirates.) They ought to be punished, removed from our sight and starved of the funds all big-league teams can depend on, but no system exists for it. No hierarchy of leagues with mobility up and down. So crappy teams stick around no matter what and take their share of TV money and steal money from their fans.

2. The other great reason for relegation … is that it gives league competition another “race” for fans to follow: Escaping “the drop”.

That’s all we have left in England, and it’s often quite entertaining.

This year? Queens Park Rangers, badly run, and now they are going down. The obscure Burnley FC, which plays in a stadium that would embarrass the MLS, are goners, too.

But the third team?

Still wide open, which is why many of us actually paid attention to Hull City and Burnley last weekend. Hull was at home but contrived to lose 1-0 to Burnley, which didn’t save Burnley but put Hull at major risk.

At the moment, they are 18th — which means they also would go down to the second level — known, incongruously, as the Championship.

But Hull aren’t dead yet. Newcastle, a “big” club that shouldn’t be mucking around like this, is only two points ahead of Hull. (Whether Newcastle will be relegated has been a major late-season story.) Same for Sutherland (not as big, but also only two points ahead). Leicester City, only three points ahead.

So, all the games involving those four crappy teams over the next two weeks are fraught with meaning. (As opposed to what Chelsea does, having clinched the championship a week ago.)

The difference between playing in the Premier League and in the Championship is tens of millions of dollars in revenue. Money is at stake, too!

So, it’s quite fun. And also sort of cathartic/cleansing to get rid of the worst of the worst.

American sports will never have that, which in many cases is unfortunate.



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