By Alex Hooper | 92.3 The Fan

If you pay any attention to world soccer, you know that the differences between it and any American pro sports league are vast, for better or worse.

American sports are working just fine as a fabric of our society, but sometimes America tends to overlook the operation of others in some self-important fit. There are improvements that could be made with the blueprint of world soccer in mind, but commerce simply has prevented it to this point.

The NBA is easily the most open-minded, progressive league in the States, and by far the most influenced by the rest of the world. Part of the reason for the latter is because the two games are most similar in terms of spacing, player movement and rules.

While these improvements could carry over to other leagues from a systematic perspective, Adam Silver’s league provides the most logical laboratory to do some experimenting.

The largest and most complex difference between FIFA and American sports is the relegation and promotion system.

For those who aren’t familiar, the British Premier League has 20 teams, with the bottom three teams each season being relegated to the second division, EFL Championship.

(There is a complex reason for the second division being called the “Championship.” Read about that HERE.)

Each season, the top two teams from Championship are promoted to the Premier League automatically with the third- through sixth-place teams competing in a playoff for the final spot. The bottom three from Championship are relegated to Football League 1. There are eight official divisions in Britain with “non-league” clubs below, and the systems differ from there.

Regardless, imagine a second-tier NBA, which you could create from the NBADL’s teams, granted those owned by NBA teams are willing to sell. Teams under NBA umbrellas could still exist, just without the chance for promotion. We will delve into who could fill extra spaces later on.

Relegation and promotion does not even exist in American soccer, with the MLS expanding rapidly, and opening a gap between themselves and lower-tier leagues like the USL and NASL.

A recent study by Deloitte says that the system would be beneficial for US Soccer, and it could work for other American pro sports. There is already a strong movement for the system domestically.

There is another movement, spearheaded by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, to bring a mid-season cup tournament to the NBA.

It would shorten the NBA season, like players ask for. With relegation, it could open up the chance for lower-tier teams to get a shot at competing against NBA players each season. With the new NBA CBA allowing two-way spots on rosters, stars could rest while players like D-League MVP Quinn Cook and others could get a chance to shine at the NBA level.

Why it could work:

Don’t like tanking? Here is your solution.

No team is racing to the bottom when the bottom means a trip to the league below, which comes with stout financial implications. It is as simple as that. “The process” ends, and the fight to avoid relegation begins at the end of the season, erasing most of the dullness in games where teams rest their starters.

It also opens up a world of financial possibilities that would aid the NBA as an umbrella organization for lower leagues.

While the number of clubs varies from year to year, Britain soccer alone has around 5,300 clubs (some in Wales) within 50,301 square miles in Britain and a population estimate of 54,786,300 in 2015. For comparison, the USA goes 3,796,742 square miles and 324,099,593 people.

All these clubs must survive on their own, financially, and despite there being a club every 9.5 square miles, they do, though most toil in the lower leagues which doesn’t seem to matter to them.

Because of how expansive the US is, and how obsessive our culture is over sport, the idea of being able to have clubs littered throughout the country seems better suited for our nation than the smaller ones in Europe.

Imagine the Canton Charge or a team from a college town working their way from nothing to NBA Champion. It is a longshot, but a fun idea, and something that happened in the Premier League as recent as… last season.

Why it may not:

The overhaul of any league that tried to implement the relegation system would be astronomical. It is hard to believe that any league owner would vote for a system that could see them stripped of a large chunk of value in just one season’s time, especially after owners are paying upwards of a billion dollars for team.

The stout financial implications referred to earlier can be crippling. The average BPL team receives £55 million from TV revenue alone, with the average FL Championship team earning £2 million.

It is not hard to believe that the gap would be as wide, if not wider, if the NBA went to the relegation system. The first three current NBA teams to be relegated would not see a tremendous drop-off otherwise because of years of loyalty, but only die-hards would watch their team play NBDL teams with the only prize being a potential return to the NBA basement a year later.

That is just the tip of the iceberg.

Because of when the systems were established, and how geographical markets are formed, the teams in current NBA markets would hold a stout financial and competitive advantage over the startups. Not to mention the obvious advantages of large markets.

How to make it work:

  1. Disband the NCAA.

Another problem solved.

With the newly formed second and third tiers needing teams, who would be better to fill those vacancies than existing college teams that already have built-in fan bases and arenas?

It would not be a no-brainer for all college teams, as amateurism provides a fine financial buffer for institutions who would like to hold on to as much cash as they can. But since clubs would be signing players at much earlier ages, any team that would remain under the umbrella of amateurism would more than likely become obsolete once clubs begin payment when players are teenagers.

Private institutions could afford to pay their players a low wage if they wished to enter the market of a potential boom in branding. Public institutions would be at a bit of a disadvantage, as paying players with tax money is not terribly population-friendly.

  1. Augment the salary floor

With teams starting from nothing, it is obvious that a team from the NBDL would not carry 90% of the constantly rising NBA salary cap.

This would be an obvious formality for what is essentially a useless rule, depending on who you ask.

  1. No trades, just transfers

Aren’t we beyond the days of binding contracts where players can be sent off to a place in the country a thousand miles from their families on a whim?

The transfer system is simple. Teams receive monetary compensation for a player’s rights, contingent on the player and his new club agreeing to a contract and yearly salary.

This gives more power to the players, and makes team-building more interesting. With a salary cap – something missing from European soccer – you can avoid all of the best players from joining up, though you will still have that to a degree.

For the lower-level players, they can play themselves into higher leagues by excelling in lower ones, and should not be bound to struggling teams, awaiting their NBA time to come while held hostage.

  1. The Octahedron raise a solid point that because of the size of the US, and the need for a balanced schedule, two second-level tiers could be utilized.

The relegation system relies heavily on its double-round robin schedule, with a home game and away game against each team in the league. In the NBA, that would mean a 58-game regular season before the playoffs. Hopefully, the mid-season cup would take the place of some of those games.

It might not be as important in the NBA’s umbrella, but it would certainly make things easier on the lower-level teams having to travel across the nation on a limited budget.

  1. A slow transition

The key to enacting all of this change would be a gradual move that takes years.

As Soccerreform points out in their article about the Octahedron, there would be no relegation in the highest division until the lower leagues were filled. Clubs would only be promoted until the lowest sanctioned division is filled, and move up the chain from there.

All divisions filled? That is the year the NBA begins their relegation system.

The move would drive investment at all levels, and teams would have to meet financial and arena specifications outlined in Soccerreform’s piece.

The concern for the NBA would be that it is already too big to begin this sort of undertaking. There are many more roadblocks for the relegation system to make it into American pro sports that we won’t consider at this point.

The absence of a major competition like the UEFA Champions League would also take away from the incentive for propping up club competition, though it is doable.

Regardless, the usefulness of a relegation system would prop up American soccer and basketball, and arguably all sports, on the financial and talent development fronts. Hopefully one day, our leagues can overcome whatever it may be that is preventing us from growing the game.


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