I had an insane thought this morning.
I love soccer. European Football. The beautiful game. Whatever you want to call it. I love that the different leagues have tournaments so that the best teams in each league get to face off. I love the various regional competitions that each league/league system has (if you weren't aware or perhaps became aware through this video, the UEFA leagues do not have playoffs, which is a little weird. Instead they have multiple tournaments that feature teams from the entire league system, not just the highest level, which is totally awesome). I find the free agency concepts fascinating. The vast majority of the time, a player doesn't become a "free agent." Instead, he is sold from one team to another, then signs a new contract with that team. The money from the sale goes directly to the selling team, not the player. One of the most interesting concepts to me is the tiered league system and the interaction between the leagues that takes place in the offseason. This interaction is known as promotion and relegation. Permit me to explain a bit further, then I’ll get to my ultimate insane thought.
For example, take the English league system, simply known as The FA. There’s further breakdown within the FA, but it’s not relevant for our discussion. The top league is the English Premier League (or EPL), and it houses the 20 best teams of the entire FA. Beneath the EPL is The Championship. Next comes League 1, then "last" is League 2. I say "last" because there are multiple levels beneath League 2, but again, for our purposes we don’t need to go lower. Some people try to equate the lower level leagues to the MLB farm system, but that’s a flawed comparison. Someone playing in League 2 isn't playing for a team in the Arsenal, Manchester United, or Liverpool system. Each team is independent of the others. Now to the interaction between these leagues.
At the end of the season, the bottom three teams from the EPL are relegated to the Championship. The top three teams of the Championship are promoted to the EPL. The same thing happens all the way through the FA, with the bottom three teams of each league being relegated to the lower level league, and the top three teams being promoted. The top two teams are promoted automatically, while the third team is decided through a four-team playoff. While this system may sound a bit odd to someone without a grid of understanding it, it keeps things interesting and fans engaged. Instead of hoping that your team loses so that they get better draft picks, fans are cheering that their team be saved from the humiliation of demotion to the lower level league. Often the last week of the season features two real races - one for the winner of the league, and the other for who will be relegated. It gets quite tense, and can be a lot of fun to watch, because the final matches of the day are all played at the same time.
With all of the recent talk about a possible separation of the "power conferences" from the NCAA and the formation of a new "Division 4" (or whatever you want to call it, for our purposes we’ll call it the "Elite Division"), one of the thoughts and concerns is for the schools that don’t belong to one of the traditional power conferences, but probably deserves to be in the elite division of college football. So, here’s my insane idea: What if college football implemented a promotion/relegation system to facilitate the movement of schools to their proper place? The bottom three teams of the new Elite Division are relegated to what currently exists as NCAA Division I, or however the divisions are reformed after the shakeup. The top three teams of the lower division are promoted. Those three teams could be determined by a playoff system, similar to the FCS system, but where the losers of the semifinal games play each other to determine the third promoted team.
Having a promotion/relegation system may increase the intrigue at the lower levels. Promoted teams would have access to increased funds from being in the top tier league, plus they’d benefit from the notoriety of being the team that was at the top of the league and won (or came close to winning) the playoffs. It also has the benefit of helping figure out which teams belong in which conference. You may see the weaker teams from traditional power conferences drop out of the top division, while other unsung programs rise to the occasion and cement their place in the top tier of college football. It could eliminate that fear of being left behind when the shakeup happens, since the best teams that don’t automatically go with the Elite Division would have the opportunity to play into the division.
The idea isn't without problems, though. For starters, there are only 20-24 teams in each of the leagues I mentioned in the FA. The EPL teams play each team twice, and standings are based on points. There is a natural separation that occurs, with usually four to five teams competing to stay out of the "relegation zone." With a schedule of only twelve games, it would probably be difficult to determine exactly who is at the bottom of the league. I’m also not sure how the concept of conferences in college football would play into it. If a team is in a particularly tough conference, their record may not reflect the actual quality of their team.
Of course, to even consider this idea, you have to assume a bunch of things about the changes in the NCAA. The seismic shifts in the NCAA’s political landscape that would have to happen for this idea to even be considered are staggering. The "lesser" schools in power conferences would fight this idea tooth and nail, since they would be the ones destined for relegation to lower divisions and would be without the protection of their more powerful conference brethren. Hence my lead admission that this is an insane idea - I recognize that this will never happen. But set all of that aside for a moment. Take all of the politics and jockeying and set that aside for a moment, and consider the idea itself. Assume that the heavens opened, the stars aligned and all of the political garbage and the maneuvering was set aside. What do you think about it? Could this idea of promotion and relegation work? Tell me your thoughts, but don’t tell me that it won’t ever happen because of the politics or the "lesser" schools in the power conferences. Consider the idea in its pure form.
What do you think?