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Ending relegation is nonsensical

You may have heard the recent scaremongering from Richard Bevan, head of England's League Managers' Association. He said this week that a number of "overaeas-owned" clubs are "already talking about the avoidance of promotion and relegation in the Barclays Premier League. If we have four or five more new owners, that could happen."

From what I can tell and the people I've spoken to, Bevan's statement is rooted in nothing. Only one English club has brought up anything comparable to what he's suggesting in that last few years and that was Bolton who 1. Are not foreign owned and 2. Were laughed out of the building. In fact, Aston Villa, one of those clubs who you might speculate Bevan was talking about (midtable, American-owner, lost money in recent years) were quick to distance themselves, saying the idea had never crossed its mind, daring Bevan to name names and generally rubbishing it altogether.

In fact, I don't think you're going to find anybody in the English game -- foreign or otherwise -- who favors eliminating the promotion/ relegation system and is willing to speak up. So, with that in mind -- and remembering I'm dead set against this silly idea -- here is an argument in favor of scrapping relegation and one against it.

It removes a major element of risk to running a football club and therefore would enable owners to plan better and invest more. When you're relegated, you lose TV money (parachute payments offset this somewhat, but, they run out and still don't fully cover the losses you make), you lose stadium receipts, you lose sponsorship and you lose out on merchandising sales. In other words, you lose money: lots of it.

And if an owner faces the possibility of earning up to 50 percent less next season, he's going to be more reluctant to invest. If you buy a £10 million ($15M) striker and give him a four-year deal, you still need to pay him over the length of that contract (assuming you don't sell him at a loss). And if you're making less money, it's more difficult to pay him, which means you're less likely to want to sign him in the first place. Equally, you're going to be more reluctant to invest in your youth academy or your stadium if you don't know what level you'll be playing at in two or three years' time. Without the risk of relegation, a club would know it would have a steady stream of revenue for the foreseeable future, one that might go up or down somewhat, but which won't fluctuate wildly. And that makes it easier to plan and more attractive to invest.

It's also easier to build and retain a fan base when you know what division you're in. For yo-yo teams there' a big difference between being poor in the Premier League or strong in the Championship. Some fans might actually prefer to see their team winning regularly in the second tier rather than getting the stuffing knocked out of them in the top tier. Without the needless rollercoaster of promotion and relegation you can actually strengthen community ties. People would support their local club, not just because they've gone up a division, but because it's part of their community.

What's more, if you franchise the clubs along geographic and demographic lines, you ensure that the greatest possible percentage of people in the country get guaranteed access to top-flight soccer.

And surely that's fair. Why should a huge and historic club such as Leeds United be denied their rightful place in the top flight?

Oh, and one more thing. I know you're going to bring up tradition as a reason not to scrap promotion and relegation. Well, until 24 years ago, there was no automatic promotion to the football league. You had to be "voted in." So, in reality, it's simply not true that promotion and relegation have always been with us.

OK, there are the obvious arguments. Most of world soccer has some kind of pyramid structure where you move up and down year after year.

It's what has allowed clubs such as Wimbledon, Chievo or Levante to make it to the very top. Fans like it. Hope springs eternal. Plus there's the fairness argument. Why should you get a piece of the Premier League pie (or any pie for that matter) if you don't do enough on the pitch to deserve it?

Sure, it works in American sports. But part of it might have to do with the fact that it has never been challenged. Might the USBL or CBA still be around if success actually meant getting a crack at the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat? Might Triple A baseball be more exciting if rather than playing out a pointless season you actually played for something worthwhile? (Triple A didn't even have a national championship until 2006: and if you know that the Columbus Clippers won it in 2011 beating the Omaha Storm Chasers 8-3 for the title, then give yourself a pat on the back.)

More to the point, it works in American sports because, on the one hand. deep into the season, many of the teams still have a shot at making the playoffs (thereby keeping up interest). And, on the other hand, bad teams tend not to stay bad (unless they have really, really bad management). A bad team is rewarded with high draft picks and unless it's run by morons, sooner or later, it will have plenty of space under the salary cap to sign quality free agents. In soccer, that's not the case. No salary cap and no draft. So if you're regularly finishing 16th but know you can't be relegated, that's it, that's your lot in life. Why should fans bother showing up under those circumstances? In the U.S., you may have nothing to play for, but at least you have something to look forward to. In non-relegation Premier League, all you'd get is a bad team getting beat most weeks and no hope that things will ever change.

There's also a pretty strong "realpolitik" argument. Without the threat of relegation, what's to stop a team throwing games late in the season? In fact, why would an owner want to continue investing in a team that goes nowhere? If I run a small Premier League team and I know I can't win the title, why bother spending money to send out the best possible team I can? I'm still getting a fat share of TV revenue, so why not simply save money by selling all my best players, replacing them with cheap dudes and counting my profits? Follow that argument to its logical conclusion and you would see that, pretty soon, interest would wane, first in the lesser clubs and later in the bigger ones (even 5-0 victories get boring over time) and the league as a whole would find it more difficult to sell its TV rights.

The more I think of it, the only way abolishing relegation would work is if you had a salary cap and a draft of youngsters and maybe some kind of centralized control as well. But, heck, we already have that.

It's called Major League Soccer.

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