International Soccer
Scrapping relegation would be a step in the wrong direction

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One of the more appealing things about club soccer is the concept of relegation and promotion, in which an underachieving side in the top division can be dropped down to a lower league after a poor season.

Teams in the lower divisions can also find themselves rubbing elbows with the elite if they have enough success to be promoted.

It is a way to remove the class system from the sport and gives it a unique charm while also providing some of the season's most drama-filled moments.

But an increase in foreign ownership among English Premier League clubs is threatening to bring an end to the system in that country for the first time.

Since its beginning in 1888, English soccer has always used a tier system, but a more American-style franchise model seems to be the preferred method of a few foreign owners, who have voiced that opinion recently.

It would be similar to the NFL, NBA or any other American professional sports league where franchises remain in the same league no matter how poorly they finish the season.

The first big problem with this would be how to determine which teams belong in the top flight and who would be sent to the lower reaches of the sport with no opportunity to ever return to the big stage.

What would make a team like Norwich City or Swansea City any more deserving of a place in the Premiership over a club like West Ham or Southampton?

Clearly that would cause a major uproar around the country, not to mention the excitement and drama that would be sucked out of the season's final games at the bottom of the table.

"How can you not have promotion and relegation?" Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp told BBC Sport. "It's scandalous.
"How can you not have promotion and relegation?" Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp told BBC Sport.

"What is more exciting than the last day of the season when teams are looking to stay up and win the championship? You have to have promotion and relegation."

For most fans of the English game this sentiment seems practical, but for the men who write the checks and bring their sizeable bank accounts into the league, that statement rings hollow.

From the perspective of the owners it would be beneficial to get rid of relegation because they would not have the threat of being dropped down to the Championship and losing out on approximately $35 million a year, most of which would be television revenue.

The worst fear for an owner would be to invest hundreds of millions of dollars and then have his team relegated a year or two later.

But that is the cost of doing business in the EPL, and if owners don't want to take the chance of operating without a safety net, they shouldn't get involved in the first place.

One of the benefits of the recent surge in foreign ownership is all of the money that it brings to the league and how that in turn allows the EPL to attract top talent from all over the world.

There is no doubt that there is a clear disparity in financial resources between top teams in England like Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United as opposed to clubs like Bolton, Everton and Wolverhampton.

But if you take away the threat of relegation there is even less incentive for smaller-spending clubs to improve because their status as a top-flight team is not in jeopardy.

The Pittsburgh Pirates in Major League Baseball have consistently been one of the worst teams in the league for over a decade. However, there has not been any urgency to spend money to get better because the team will still bring in around the same amount of money each year.

Bolton is a team that hasn't spent a great deal in the transfer window recently, but you can bet Wanderers would spend even less with the guarantee of a place in the Premiership and the TV money its brings already secured for next season.

So the question becomes, how likely is the removal of the relegation system?

In order for the idea to pass, 14 of the 20 owners in the league would have to agree.

At the moment there are nine foreign owners in the Premier League with American Stan Kroenke holding a majority share in Arsenal to take the number to 10.

However, even if the idea passes it would still have to be approved by the Football Association, which shot down the idea of playing at least one league match abroad a few years ago.

There is no doubt that the game is evolving and becoming more of a global enterprise than ever before.

It is not always a good idea to stand in the way of change, but in this case the relegation system is a tradition worth keeping.

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