Requirements for American Sports to Adopt Relegation-and-Promotion Systems

For some reason, I seem stuck on the idea of implementing relegation-and-promotion systems in the major American sports.  To be honest, I have been for years.  I know that this fascination is foolhardy and will never be more than an interesting thought experiment, but I still cling to the ideal.  Lately, I have been considering what would be necessary for a sport to have before it could possibly consider the changeover, approval and business model aside.  At the end of this article, I will reveal which sport I believe is most suited to a switch at this moment.

Here are the requirements, in no particular order:

  • Have an established domestic minor league system.  This is almost a given.  If you don’t have strength at the lower levels, the entire system will fall apart.  This is especially crucial when considering that established teams, if relegated, should not be falling into a substantially inferior system.  I mean, the Nets can’t go from playing in cities ranging from New York to Charlotte to cities ranging from Austin to Hidalgo, Texas, as is currently the case in basketball.  Furthermore, not only do the cities have to be moderately large, but the playing level has to be somewhat substantial.  Using the previous example, it wouldn’t look good for the Nets to go 73-9 in their first season in Tier 2.  Therefore, I can officially rule out basketball and football.  It also greatly damages soccer’s appeal.
  • Have a minor league system with some independence.  In the Western Hemisphere, this is a real stopping point.  If this was not necessary, baseball would be the major sport for having relegation-and-promotion with its (most) free market, large talent pool, and positioning in most cities of relevance.  However, do you honestly expect a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates to let all of its minor leaguers go, especially if there is a good chance that the two of them may play at the same level in the near future?  A system with at least some autonomy would be able to have teams and leagues of some quality to enter the lower rungs.  This is a major negative for baseball’s implementing a relegation-and-promotion system.
  • Have an established youth system that either has independence of the major leagues or differ from minor leagues.  I will say that American sports have the former in the form of the NCAA, while hockey has both the NCAA and the CHL (Canadian Hockey League).  The NFL uses the NCAA as just about its only minor league system.  What I mean by the latter example is a European-style system where the players are owned by the teams from an age where they are too young to reasonably consider full professionalism.  (I apologize for that being such a mouthful.)  In other words, it closer resembles Europe’s U-16 leagues than MiLB (Minor League Baseball) A ball.  The differentiation is key because systems like the MiLB would now be the lower tiers of competition.  If minor leagues were as extensive as baseball’s are, then any Joe Schmo out of a decent baseball college could latch onto a job in the low minor leagues of a low tier.  The sheer number of teams would be mind-blowing, and the system would be overextended.  This does not affect any sport’s candidacy because of the NCAA.  (Of course, that would have to be reconsidered if the NCAA self-destructs.  I would not mention this if it were not entirely possible….)
  • Having or being able to implement a largely free market at the entry-level.  This seems redundant, but it isn’t.  What this basically means is that they have to get rid of the draft.  In my experience, there is no easy, comprehensible way to implement an amateur draft in a system covering multiple tiers.  Yes, this means that unproven rookies will receive massively inflated contracts, at least in the beginning.  Yes, this also means that, in many ways, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer, at least in the beginning.  However, I find it ridiculous to assume that rookie salary, bonuses, etc. would never stabilize because spending too much money on unproven talent is not sustainable unless you hit right almost every time.  Like any strategy, with enough apparent failure it will eventually die out.  (The key word is apparent; I mean, the sacrifice bunt has lived on for over a hundred years!)  None of the major sports have it, but I think all of them could implement it, again because of the NCAA.
  • Have a large talent pool.  Naturally, there needs to be enough players to fill out several rungs of competitive competition (and by competitive, I mean good, not parity-driven.)  If the lower levels are not very good, at a certain point you will see lower-level teams never lasting long in the higher level without a great influx of new talent.  This further knocks the NFL because of its limited international appeal and likely-decreasing popularity.
  • Have a free market system that approaches, but isn’t completely, laissez-faire.  Basically, this means that each sport has a hard salary cap that has the same ceiling and no minimum for every level, which can only be circumvented to resign its own players if at all, which has a small subset concerning entry-level players.  This last clause may or may not be included in the regular cap.  Either that or require teams to live within their means.  Having a uniform cap allows relegated teams to maintain their roster if they so wish and not needlessly crippling teams.  Besides, most teams in the lower levels would not even approach the cap; otherwise, many of them would go bankrupt.  Hockey and football do a good job of this, although they need to get rid of their salary floors, which often cause teams to needlessly waste money.  Basketball and soccer both needed to heighten and tighten their caps, with basketball being in more need.  I’m no longer sure (although I once was) that baseball needs a cap considering that most teams live within their means.
  • Have an amnesty for players whose teams have been relegated.  Allow a team to cheaply buy-out players whose teams have been relegated.  This is not in any of the major sports, nor does it need to be unless relegation-and-promotion is implemented.

I’m not sure that this is a complete list, but it is important.  I think that hockey best fits these needs.  Its main AA league, the ECHL, has teams in cities ranging from Wheeling, West Virginia to Cincinnati, Ohio.  However, not all minor league players are directly tied to their major league affiliate, and there are three ECHL teams that are completely unaffiliated (as is the majority of the Central Hockey League, the other AA league).  Between Europe, the CHL, and the USHL/NCAA (I clumped them because most USHL players go to the NCAA), it has an established youth system and a sizeable talent pool.  Finally, other than entry-level contracts and restricted free agency, it has no major financial restrictions besides the salary cap.  However, the former would be done away with because of the free-market league entry.  Of course, hockey must add major cities to its minor league level; it is far from being completely represented.  I have a long shortlist of cities that might be usable.  (Aside from Kansas City and Indianapolis, all of these cities have $10 billion in Available Personal Income; I included Kansas City because I know it has shown interest in having a hockey team.  Naturally, I was more strict when selecting cities from the South.  I apologize if I list a city that already has a minor league team.)  The list is, in alphabetical order:

  • Akron, Ohio
  • Allentown, Pennsylvania (soon to receive an AHL team)
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Atlantic City, New Jersey
  • Augusta, Georgia
  • Austin, Texas
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Birmingham, Alabama
  • Boulder, Colorado
  • Canton, Ohio
  • Charleston, South Carolina
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Columbia, South Carolina (has an ECHL team that has been on hiatus for years)
  • Duluth, Minnesota
  • Durham, North Carolina
  • El Paso, Texas
  • Eugene, Oregon
  • Ft. Myers, Florida
  • Ft. Wayne, Indiana
  • Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Huntsville, Alabama
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Jacksonville, Florida
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Lansing, Michigan
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Lexington, Kentucky
  • Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Long Beach, California
  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Melbourne, Florida
  • Memphis, Tennessee
  • Miami, Florida
  • New Haven, Connecticut
  • Ogden, Utah
  • Omaha, Nebraska
  • Oxnard, California
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Reno, Nevada
  • Richmond, Virginia
  • Riverside, California
  • Sacramento, California
  • San Diego, California
  • Santa Barbara, California
  • Santa Rosa, California
  • Sarasota, Florida
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Spokane, Washington
  • Tucson, Arizona
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Wichita, Kansas
  • York, Pennsylvania
  • Youngstown, Ohio

Thank you for reading.

P.S.  The sheer number of minor leaguers tied to a major league team ultimately undermined my respect for baseball being the top candidate.  Without this, baseball unquestionably would have been my selection.

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3 thoughts on “Requirements for American Sports to Adopt Relegation-and-Promotion Systems

  1. What minor league team is headquarted in Ann Arbor. Michigan? Or Honolulu, for that matter….I live there and I don’t even know. Which is why I read blogs like this one; so I can be well-informed instead of ignorant.

    • There is none. That list was made up of cities that I think have the resources to possibly have a minor league hockey team, not cities that already have one. Sorry for the confusion-did you like the rest of the article?

  2. I’m not sure exactly why but this site is loading very slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a issue on my end? I’ll check back later and see if the
    problem still exists.

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