Beating a Dead Horse: Ideas for How a Basketball Relegation-and-Promotion System Might Work

During my recent blogging hiatus, I discovered the website http://basketball.realgm.com.  While I had been on the site previously, I had not quite appreciated just how good and expansive it is, with regularly updated statistics for a whole host of international leagues-including places so far-flung as Bulgaria and Cyprus-to bare bones versions of ESPN articles.  Furthermore, they have a handful of bloggers who write short, interesting, and presumably original articles concerning the basketball world.  Thus far, my favorite of these columnists happens to be Jonathan Tjarks.  Tjarks is a very good writer with interesting ideas that seem to play the role of the moderate in the partisan arguments of analytical and conventional wisdom.  In this regard, I consider him preferable to Zach Lowe, although I will not go so far as to say that I agree with all of Tjarks’s opinions.

Those of you who have read my work for some time-and I quite honestly have no clue how many of you that is-know that I have a seemingly incurable fixation with relegation and promotion.  Well, Jonathan Tjarks inadvertently conspired to rekindle those fascinations as I got some ideas after a reading an article he wrote on the Sacramento Kings relocation situation.  In that article, Tjarks pointed across the pond and stated that European teams rarely ever relocate or con cities out of millions upon millions of dollars because most major cities already have teams.  The article reads to some degree as a scathing condemnation of the franchise system, referring to it as a “rotten foundation,” and advocates the institution of relegation and promotion as a way to end this rigmarole.  Personally, I was salivating at this support when I read the article, and with a little thinking, I was able to think of some ideas for the structuring of a relegation-and-promotion system for American professional basketball.

If I were a proponent of the franchise system who was not already a part of it, my one of my first retorts against releg/promo (which I will from now on use to shorten relegation and promotion) would be that the European clubs often have a long, established history, a history that we do not have in American sports.  In fact, baseball is the only sport that does have minor clubs with an established history, but the minor leagues are so hopelessly tied to the big league clubs that doing anything resembling releg/promo in American baseball would a fantasy.  While European soccer clubs do fail, these are seldom in a major division; have you ever heard of a team in the Football League or Serie B going under?  Therefore, a way to make releg/promo feasible in any American sport would be to monitor the creation of the lower-level teams.  There are many ways to go about doing this, and my ideas are really the basis of the article.

I believe that one factor that would aid fan support would be a guarantee of the club’s short-term existence.  One of the fears lying in the back of the mind of any fan of a lower-level American sports club must be that their beloved franchise will sooner or later disappear or relocate.  As such, I think that there would be several steps to ensuring that the clubs do not indeed go under.

Of course, the first one would be thorough vetting of any prospective owners.  They must be reputable people with solid finances.  This is obvious.  However, I think that another aspect of same idea would be to have low or (perhaps preferably) nonexistent expansion fees, provided that the owner is on solid financial ground and is reputable.  While this seems counterintutive-if an owner has invested a lot of money just to start a club, he will naturally want to ensure its success-it also makes the expansion process more open.  The idea here is that there needs to be a large number of clubs established at the lower levels to even have a prayer of the lower levels’ long-term success and viability.  If there are more clubs, then by extension more markets have a team.  In this scenario, one  major impetus for instituting releg/promo would be to curbstomp attempts at relocation, and so the more stable teams, the less likely those fiascos will occur.

Of course, the lack of expansion fees is not practical without the next part of my plan.  In fact, the lack of expansion fees would almost be counterproductive without this next segment for reasons already outlined above.  This important portion would be to guarantee that the club will continue to exist in its current location for an extended period of times; my current thoughts lean toward five years.  This is the method I believe would encourage fans to come to the arena; they know that the club will be there for long enough for them to become attached to the team.  This would be maintained by instituting prohibitive fines to the owners for relinquishing club control to the league, which would occur if the owner tried to sell the club and failed to find a buyer who met the league’s approval.  If the owner tried to fold the club, the league would pay him a settlement in order for the club to remain above water.

In order for the club to remain in business beyond the five-year window, the league would have a rule taking effect after the five years stating that the club must have a balanced budget or face penalties.  This is an idea very similar to, and inspired by, the regulations trying to be instituted in European soccer.  Ultimately, I believe that this, coupled with the prevailing attitude among American businessmen that sports are to be a profitable enterprise and the greater number of large markets, would eventually make American releg/promo stronger than the European version.  While I have not quite thought of penalties that would be suitable in this case, particularly since fining the owner would be counterproductive, while the vacation of games appears draconian and would remind some of the NCAA in a none-too-fond way.  However, the key point here is that the penalties would be punitive and accumulative while still being sympathetic.  For example, they would not apply to teams within the five-year window, the revenues considered would be for earlier seasons rather than the current year to safeguard against major drops, and the cap would be adjusted up if a team was promoted.  Having a balanced budget required would be beneficial as it might attract more owners and prevent them from overspending unsustainably, as the former guarantees them a profit unless they fall into the latter group, which would lead to stiff penalties.

Another possible method to attract fans would be to have Local Player discounts.  In these instances, players who went to high school or college in the same general area as one of the clubs could be classified as a “Local Player”.  Teams would be able to have a small quota of designated Local Players-I’m thinking that three would be a good number-for whom the league pays a percentage of their salary.  While The Wages of Wins and other such works have discounted the viability of individual players increasing attendance at the major league level, lesser professional teams could benefit from local players buoying support at least initially.  It would also help relieve the financial burden on newer teams by allowing them to sign a bigger-name player from their area to boost their record.

One of the appealing aspects of playing basketball in Europe is that many of the teams pay taxes and some amenities, such as a house or a car, for their players.  This, while far from crucial to the league’s success, would definitely be a positive, especially for the smaller teams who might not otherwise be able to sway less talented but still able Americans away from crossing the pond.

In order to ease these payments and the structure of the league, the cost of membership would come in the form of a tax on revenues.  The leagues would probably be highly localized to diminish travel costs and use play-off series to decide which teams are promoted and relegated.  If there would be a salary cap, I would ideally have it be a hard cap slightly higher than the current cap with no salary floor.  There would be no floor because the threat of relegation eliminates any advantages that could be gained from fielding a bargain basement team and because there would be such a variety of markets involved.

I know that these ideas are crazy and infeasible as far as implementation is concerned, but I honestly believe that they are fiscally reasonable.  It really is ironic that releg/promo was originally an American idea borrowed by the English.  Nothing but sympathy can be felt for diehard fans whose franchises are being moved because of greedy billionaires who want to take their ball and go home.  Too many will simply point to the major talent gap between the NBA and the D-League and say that is that, never mind that European teams beat NBA squads in the preseason every year.  Thank you for reading, please comment, and please come back.

 

 

Advertisements

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.

Proposals for How a Relegation-and-Promotion System in College Basketball Might Work

This post is a continuation of my May 7 article, “Relegation and Promotion in College Sports.”  At the end of it, I mentioned that I might in the future write a follow-up article about how I would implement it for basketball.  While I do not have a single concrete idea, I do have several proposals and sub-ideas for individual portions and the system as a whole.  In a way, this is better than having just one idea because it lends itself to fleixibility.  Here goes nothing:

First of all, let me summarize my position for those of you who did not read my original article.  Even if you did read the original article, there are things I believe I should make clear coming that I cannot remember whether or not they were stated back on May 7.  I believe that college sports could be made better if they used a relegation-and-promotion system similar to those used in European sports.  Each region would be divided into tiers, and each year the best teams would advance and the weakest teams would be downgraded, based on a three-year weighted average.  I have been thinking about this idea for a long time, even before the current realignment craze.  With certain safeguards and restrictions, a somewhat regionalized NCAA system would allow mid-majors to get a chance at the big boys, prevent teams like Seton Hall and Washington St. from permanently holding onto berths in major conferences while clearly underpreforming, and still maintain key rivalries.  (Note that despite its format, that sentence was not my thesis statement.)  Although it may be undesirable to some people and will, in all likelihood, never be implemented, it’s a nice thought experiment that I enjoy doing.

I think that any relegation-and-promotion system should be somewhat regionalized (at least in conference play) to minimize travel costs.  Major colleges like Syracuse and Michigan St. could probably handle it, but what about Canisius and Holy Cross?  I have two proposals for these divisions: one with four regions and one with six.  I’ll start with the four-region one.

West: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington

Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin

South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina

East: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, D.C.

We would allow the Ivy League to remain separate from the relegation-and-promotion system, with some rules allowing it to maintain postseason berths.  With that exception, the East would have about 86 teams, the Midwest would have about 86, the West about 83, and the South about 81.  (I use “about” to leave room for error.)  I would build the conferences based on a six-tier 16-16-16-12-12-remainder model while ensuring that no tier had exactly 13 or 14 teams.  However, I prefer this second, six-region proposal.

West: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming

Central: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas

Great Lakes: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin

South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee

Atlantic: Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington D.C., West Virginia

Northeast/New England: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont

I know that this second proposal has some odd-shaped regions, but on the whole I prefer this one over the other one as far as travel and rivalries go.  Kentucky is in the Midwest under both proposals because the South is one of the larger regions; South Carolina is in the Atlantic for that same reason and that separating the Carolinas just didn’t feel right.  As for the Central, it could be a lot worse.  On the whole, I like this proposal better, even though you would never get Army-Navy conference play.  (Although the rivalry would not be killed.)  For this proposal, I would also give the MEAC and the SWAC, two conferences of historically black colleges, an exemption, but it works either way.  That leaves the Northeast with about 58 teams, the Great Lakes with about 55, the West and South with about 53, the Atlantic with about 48, and the Central with approximately 47 (again using “about” to leave room for error).   I would have five tiers per regional, with the number of teams possibly different for each region.

First, I will address the issue of how teams are relegated and promoted.  First of all, teams should be ranked by what I call Neutralized Points.  Neutralized Points would be a combination of a point system rewarding teams for winning games against opponents, adjusted using a series of computer rankings.  This way, teams are credited for scheduling tough competition and winning games without rewarding teams that feast on teams near the bottom of tiers or who underachieved.

The point system would be inherently simple, with different points being allotted for regulation wins, overtime wins, overtime losses, and regulation losses.  When recording point totals, I will do so in that order.  When playing conference opponents or those in a comparable tier, the points would be given out on a 3-2-1-0 basis.  I differentiate between overtime and regulation games simply because, in overtime, so much rides on the occurrences of a short timeframe.  If the opponent was from a higher tier, it would be 5-3-2-0.  If the opponent was in a tier directly below the team, the points would be 2-1-0-_1 (_ being negative), and two tiers would below would result in a 2-0-_1-_2 point award.  This is to award teams for scheduling tougher opponents while punishing teams for scheduling weaker oppositiion.  There would be no difference in points for home, road, or neutral play.

Then, a combination of several computer rankings (such as the Sagarin, Ken Pomeroy, RPI, and BRI) would combined in an average.  The NCAA average would be then normalized at 1.  After that, the computer ranking amalgamation, multiplied by the number of points, would result in the total Neutralized Points.

After that, the Neutralized Points would be boiled down to a three-year weighted average.  This weighted average would be used to determine the relegated teams.  The team with the lowest average would play the team with the forth-lowest average in a home-and-home series, and the second-lowest would play the third-lowest.  The loser of that series would be relegated.  No team in the top half of its division or quad (see tier scheduling) could be relegated.  If a top-half is team is in the bottom four, then teams would go down the list until a suitable replacement is found.  The exact opposite in each case, with no exceptions whatsoever, would used to determine promoted teams.

Of course, with a relegation-and-promtion system, there will always be the issues of games played and rivalries.  For the first, I propose having 10 non-conference games, 18 conference games, plus cup and relegation competitions which I will get to later.  In all, I believe that each team would play anywhere from 29 to 49 or 51 games, depending on which of my College Championship proposals is used.  I know it sounds like a lot, but it would still fall into the November-April timeframe if properly scheduled with lots of games during vacations.

How conference games would work would depend on how many teams are in that particular tier.  Up front, I mentioned that I did not want to have either an odd number of teams or 14-team conferences; when I do that, the eighteen-game scheduling gets pretty weird.  However, having a fifteen-team conference works.  I wanted to regulate the number of conference games to help keep everything symmetrical and in perspective.  Here it goes:

10 Teams: Double round-robin

12 Teams: Divide into two six-team divisions.  Play division opponents twice, conference opponents once, and see Extra Games Proposal for the other two games.

15 Teams: Divide into three five-team divisions.  Play division opponents twice and conference opponents once.

16 Teams: Divide into four-four team quads.  Play quad opponents twice and conference opponents once.

My Extra Games Proposal for 12-team conferences can take one of multiple forms.  For one, it could take the shape of a permanent, four-game annual rivalry between two teams.  If the situation were to arise, an example would be Duke-North Carolina.  The other possiblity is to have the two games split between two teams, either in the form of permanent rivalries and/or on a rotating basis amongst divisional opponents.

With any relegation-and-promotion system, there will be the issue of rivals that play in different tiers.  This is compounded by the fact that not all rivals are necessarily located in the same region.  A safeguard to help with the maintenance of these rivalries would to have them registered with the NCAA.  If a rivalry is registered, then the teams are required to play each other in a regular season game, excluding cup competitions.  Rivalries do not always have to be between just two teams; an example of a multi-team rivalry would be the Philadelphia Big 5 rivalry with Pennsylvania, La Salle, St. Joseph’s, Temple, and Villanova.

There would also be two cup competitions: one styled after England’s FA Cup, and the other similar to the UEFA Champions League.  The FA Cup-style tournament be a single-elimination cup competition, starting at the very beginning of the season with Teams No. 344 and 345, as ranked by the three-year Neutralized Points average, facing off at Team No. 344’s stadium.  Teams would gradually be added round-by-round, with the last byes entering in the Round of 64.  Games would be held with one round each week at the higher seed’s home court.  Teams would be unable to schedule games where it would be possible for them to play a Cup game and a regular season game on the same day or schedule a game on the day before a potential cup game.  (Cup games would be scheduled in order to allow to teams to accommodate two total games each week.)  The champion would receive an automatic bye into the group stage of the Champions League-style tournament.

The Champions League-style tournament would have 80 teams, selected by performance in their league.  For the actual Champions League, each nation’s system is ranked by a numerical coefficient based on success in European competition.  The qualifiers would be determined by a similar method.  Furthermore, the defending champions and the Cup winner would receive automatic byes into the group stage (bear with me).

It would start with 32 teams playing home-and-homes to qualify for a group stage.  These would take place on either a Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday schedule.  For the 48 teams that are already safely in the group stage, it would be an off week.

Then, each team would be seeded 1-4.  A publically televised draw would determine 16 groups of 4.  No two teams from the same conference could participate in the same group.  Each No. 1 seed would host their group in either a three-game group stage or a double-elimination tourney.  (I would imagine that the latter would be easier to schedule since you know that there will be one or two games per group every day.)  Either way. the group stage would take place over a single weekend, preferably during either spring break or a holiday weekend to minimize lost class time.  The winners of each group would advance to the knockout stage.

There would be another draw selecting the eight matchups for the knockout stage.  Each round would be a home-and-home determined by aggregate points.  An five or ten-(I prefer ten) minute overtime would settle any ties.  I propose that there should be a rule that if the two games are split, then the aggregate total must be greater than the margin of victory in the game the aggregate loser lost in order to prevent overtime.  In other words, I believe that if one team wins the first game by 21 and the other team wins the second game by 13, an overtime period should still be played because 13 (the lower scoring team’s margin of victory) is greater than 8 (the difference in aggregate scores).  I believe that this might help competitive balance.  Of course, it’s also a harebrained idea (like so many of my other ideas).  The final would still be a home-and-home as well as every stage in my ideal dream world, although preserving the Final Four may just be a must.  The winner of this Champions League-style tournament would be the true NCAA champion.

Thank you for reading this post.  I would like to thank Uncle Popov’s Drunken Sports Rant (unclepopov.wordpress.com) and fetch9 from Rock Chalk Talk, a Kansas Jayhawks fansite (www.rockchalktalk.com) for ideas on the points system and the European-style tournaments, respectively.  (I understand that fetch9’s ideas were also inspired by others, but still.)  Although I have never communicated with either of them, I would like to say that I appreciate their ideas.  Please comment with your opinions.

P.S. This article was the cause of a blogging rut and the corresponding gap between my posts.  Sorry about that.

My Old Baseball Relegation-and-Promotion Essay

Last year, I wrote an essay called The Re-formation of American Baseball into a Relegation and Promotion System for a private Google Site.  Since I am in a bit of a blogging rut, I have decided to publish it.  Even though I no longer agree with the premise itself or many of its ideas, I feel compelled to publish something.  So here it is:

In European soccer, there is a system of player movement and team structure that is both functional and systematic.  Unlike the American format, each league system in European soccer has hundreds of privately-owned teams.  These teams are formatted in a system where every year, the top teams are promoted to a higher league, while the weakest teams are “relegated” into a lower one.  Instead of exchanging players for players, they are bought and sold for various, and often extremely high, amounts of money.  When this happens, their original contract is declared null and void.  On the other hand, American professional sports have several attributes and clauses, such as those of salary caps, that either the Europeans have considered copying, or would work in either situation.  This manual, for lack of a better term, describes how I would propose such a system to be implemented in baseball.  Due to out traditional use of the franchise system, this is mainly a personal release and food for thought.

Players

With the transfer of the minor leaguesand the sacrifice of all farm players from the major league to the minor league teams, which would occur if such a system were to be implemented, the use of player formatting comes into question.  The minors would have to be drastically adjusted.  My solution would be to have:

Farm Systems

Parent and Reserve Teams

Each team has a 40-man roster.  For each week, the team submits between twenty-three  and twenty-five players that are eligible to play for that team during the week.  There must be at least ten pitchers and twelve fielders.  The remaining players are optioned to a reserve team for the week.  Each Reserve Team is shared by two parent clubs.  Players may only be recalled during the registration period.  All salaries are paid in full by the parent club.  Reserve Teams may occupy the stadium of one of the parents clubs when the parent club is on on the road or play as a doubleheader with the parent club.

Youth Clubs

In addition to the parent and reserve teams, players may be optioned to a youth club.  At any one time, a team can send up to ten players to the Youth Club.  Each Youth Club is a joint venture by three teams.  A team may abstain from optioning the full number of players.  In this case, the other teams have a lottery to determine how many additional slots each team receives.  Each team must have five of the players optioned under the age of twenty-three, and eight of the players must be under the age of twenty-five.  The Youth Clubs are required to be financially self-sufficient, but the parent club would pay 75% of all salaries.  Stadium structure is the same as under those of the Reserve Teams.

Salary Caps

One element of most American sports that is extremely effective, and one that both baseball and European soccer sorely lack, is that of a salary cap.  This system works with a highly stringent salary cap containing both a floor and a ceiling.  The maximum cap may only be broken for three reasons: a) the team to resign a free agent for 75% of his previous year’s salary, b) to resign a player with less than one year of major league service who is younger than twenty-five for 100% of his previous years salary, or c) as a result of a lost arbitration case (see later) where the team’s offer was compliant with the salary cap.  There are also applicable reasons for breaching the salary floor.  They are a) a team is already in the red, b) the team was promoted for that season and was compliant with the previous level’s salary cap but, even after the Relegation Draft (see later), was still under the minimum cap, c) a team is currently in the black but, if it met the salary floor, it would be in the red, or d) it is undergoing an ownership change.

Spring Training

Spring Training would take place between March 1 and April 8.  Sixty-five players would be able to start on trial runs.  Each team would play thirty games, including at least game on every Saturday.  On March 31, rosters would have to be cut to fifty-five players, and final fifty-man squad would be declared on April 8.

Individual Salaries

At the onset of this system, players are able to retain their current contracts.  However, beyond that, all salaries must be compliant with the salary cap.  A single player’s salary may not consume more than 15% of the cap ceiling or 20% of the team payroll.  At the opposite end, players must consume at least 1% of the minimum cap and 0.25% of the team’s payroll.  These figures do not include the 25% salary that the Youth Club would pay while the player is optioned there.  Once a contract has been signed and agreed upon, paycuts can only be made at the mutual consent of the Owner, Vice President of Baseball Operations, and the player concerned.  However, the contract would then be either extended or pensioned, whichever the player decides.  If a player is released, 25% of the remaining salary would be pensioned, and the remaining 75% would be null and void.  Bonuses do not count against the salary cap unless they exceed one million dollars.

Contract Lengths

Recent draftees, after the draft, sign specific contracts (see more under arbitration) .  However, for players who have already  lived out a contract, no deal can exceed seven seasons, including team and player options.  This does not include lengthenings caused by paycuts.  Loan Deals and Waiver Wire acquisitions are not exempt from the Seven-Year Limit.  Contracts may be extended at any time, but this voids the original document.

The Draft

As opposed to one, major, all-encompassing Amateur Draft, there will be several siphoned off into regions.  Each Draft would be required t have at least one team in each level participate.  The Draft Order would be determined by level and standing in that level.  Relegated and promoted teams are considered to be how they stood in the previous season as opposed to how they would stand as if their records had been transferred to the corresponding league.  There would be five rounds of a standard Draft.  Teams may select any player from the region who declared themselves eligible for the Draft.  College Seniors are automatically eligible; Juniors, Junior College transfers, and High School players must declare their eligibility.  College Freshmen and Sophomores from four-year colleges are ineligible unless they have already graduated.  Players who did declare their eligibility may elect to return to school if they either go undrafted or cannot secure a contract before the Free Agency Period.  If either occurs, they may also become a Free Agent.   The Draft will be held the first Saturday after season’s end.  Between the draft and Spring Training, no draftees may be released.  Teams in Level 5 or lower may select a sixth pick the day before the Free Agency Period.

Rookie Contracts

Rookie contracts behave the same way as a normal contract except that they are automatically five years long.  At the end of the contract, if the team and the player cannot agree to a deal, they must hold an arbitration hearing where both teams provide a two-year contract offer and a judge selects which one will be valid.  One contract must be decided.

Player Movement

With the instituion of several levels, there comes the question of how players can be moved.  Although the old system worked before, that, to a degree, goes out the window.  In addition, in European soccer, teams are known to drastically overpay other teams in exchanging players.  To combat these issues, the system of player movement would change to include:

Trades

Characteristics: Teams may exchange players for players (and draft picks) in the same way teams in American sports always have.  However,  teams of no more than two levels may be concerned in any one trade, and cash flow in these trades would be disallowed.

Transfer Periods: Between the day after season’s end and July 31 for teams of the same level; Between the beginning of the Free Agency Period and March 1, or June 17 and July 31 for teams of different levels.

Free Agency

Characteristics: Any uncontracted player may be signed to a new contract.

Transfer Period: Between the beginning of the Free Agency and March 1, or between April 15 and July 31

Transfers

Characteristics: A team may declare any particular player Transfer Listed.  The League reviews the player and assigns a monetary value to him.  Teams may then offer cash to the player’s team in exchange for his services.  The offer must be between 90 and 125% of the Transfer Value.   The team may accept  offers for the player as they wish.  Then, the player negotiates with the teams whose offers  were accepted.   In the meantime, his current team may choose whether or not to play him in the current games.  Once contracts with the player and one the teams are agreed upon, the player chooses which team he wants to play for.  All Transfers take effect immediately after League Approval.  When a Transfer is finalized, the player’s original contract is declared null and void. Periods: Between the beginning of the Free Agency Period and March 1, or between June 17 and July 31

Waiver Wires

Characteristics: A player is Waived as opposed to being released.  After that, all the other teams in the level, in order from worst to best record at the time of the Waiving, have twelve hours to claim the player.  They may refuse the player at any time during the period, and, after twelve hours, the player remains unclaimed.  Teams that claim a player have seventy-two hours to agree to a Trade or a Transfer with the original team.  If no deal is agreed upon, the cycle continues in the same order.   If no team in the same level claims the player, the cycle continues with the level directly below, then directly above.  If he is still unclaimed, he returns tot the team. Periods: Same as Transfers

Loans

Characteristics: Two teams establish a player’s temporary movement to another team.  Loans may take place over a period of between one and twelve months.  The two teams agree upon which percentage of a player’s salary is paid by which team.   Loaned players count against the acquiring teams’ cap if  the spell is sixth months or longer, the current team’s if less than sixth months.   The acquiring team may choose whether or not they want to pay the current team, but if they do not pay, the player is recallable. Periods: Same as Free Agency

Revenue Sharing

Oftentimes, teams lose money.  Therefore, teams might need a financial boost from teams with a positive balance sheet.  Teams would only need to revenue share with teams that were in their level during the previous season.  For each level, a median profit level would be found.  All of the teams above the median would be required to share 25% of the excess  above the median.  Teams in the red would not have to share revenue.  The shared money is thrown into a pot and evenly distributed among the teams that had profits below the median.

Relegation Penalties and Promotion Bonuses

When a team is relegated or promoted, there are catches.  For promoted teams they are positive, for relegated teams, they are negative.  Many of the promotion rewards are at the expense of the relegated team.

The Dispersal Draft

When a team is relegated, they must have excess cap room for the lower level.  To do so, the relegated team releases some of its players into a pot.  After this, the team must have $50K cap room for every player released.  Then, the promoted teams are free to draft any of the players in an order selected by a lottery.  If there are not enough players remaining for each team to draft one, the excess players become Free Agents.  If a drafting team exceeds the player and cap limits, it may release only one of its draftees.  All other released players must have been on the roster since at least July 31.  The relegated player may resign the release player for a 75% cap hit for twelve hours after the release.  If the two parties fail to agree on a contract within the time limit, the cap reduction is lost, and business returns as usual.

Team Bonuses

The relegated team must pay the promoted team 75% of the previous year’s revenue share, regardless of whether they shared or received.

Drafts

The promoted team receives an additional draft pick from either its own or the relegated team’s region, applicable at the end of the draft.  The relegated team is unaffected.

Pros and Cons

Pros

Minor league cities with teams that do well get a major financial boost

Players are not “stuck” in a specific level if their team does well

More players have a chance to play professional baseball

The system is less foreign to Europeans

Home-grown players raise ticket sales

Horrible teams do not stink up the major league perennially

The best players play in the best leagues

Well-performing teams are rewarded

Players get to the big leagues faster

There are salary limits

There is a salary cap

Cons

The initial price is highly negative

A good prospect could get stuck on a really bad team

Towns with really bad lower-level teams will suffer

The minor league system basically unravels

A Status Update

As you may have noticed, my posts have become more infrequent.  This is in large part due to the fact that the NBA regular season has ended, and thus, I now have less to write about.  Unfortunately, The NBA Geek (Patrick Minton) does not publish play-off Wins Produced data.  Therefore, I think I am going to have my posts focus more on my re-drafts and my “hypothetical” articles (like my relegation-and-promotion one).  This also means that my posts will still be infrequent because these posts take a really long time (my 2000 NBA Re-Draft tooks me about four hours).  Please come and read these posts though, I spend a lot of time on them.

P.S. If you’re trying to find J.J. Barea’s data on The NBA Geek, it’s under Jose Barea.  However, his 2010-11 data is actually under Jose juan Barea, so it’s separated from the rest.  I have also found that Stromile Swift’s 2000-01 season data is missing both there and on The Wages of Wins website.  Just thought you should know.

Relegation and Promotion in College Sports

For years, I have been thinking of devising a relegation-and-promotion system for college sports.  In all likelihood this will never happen, so most of this is in reality a thought experiment.  One can dream, though, and I think that embracing this European system in some form would improve the NCAA.  This weekend, I read a lot of articles concerning this issue, and this post is a combination of all of these and some of my own ideas.  Unlike many of these other articles, I will also try to address the issue of other sports.

The basic premise of a relegation-and-promotion system is that the system is comprised of several tiers, and each year the weakest teams drop to a lower tier while the best teams advance.  Barring the case that there is an exceptionally good lower-tier team (which is extremely unlikely), the champion of the top tier would truly be the best team in the whole system, especially if the season was long enough.  The great flurries of realignment that have rocked college sports in the past two years have encouraged more people to write articles endorsing this for college sports, but I may have already been thinking about this before-I can’t remember exactly.  I will say that I can be a bit of an anglophile when it comes to sports.

The core of the idea is that the NCAA would be divided into four to eight regions, divided geographically.  The tiers would not have to be of equal size, but they would have to be approximately equal.  I believe that a lower number of regions might better encompass some of the other sports, although some of these, like ice hockey, are so regionalized and/or have so few teams that having more than one or two would be unnecessary.  Ultimately, sports like basketball would have the most regions, while sports like rifling (which only has thirty-four programs) would only have one.

Each tier would have a number of teams so that each team would at least play every member of its division and at least three other conference opponents.  Each sport would have a set number of conference and non-conference games.  For example, each top tier in football might have twelve teams, geographically split into two divisions, with eight conference and four non-conference games.

Each team would be ranked two ways: by a point system and by an amalgamation of several computer rankings.  Points would be earned based on game results.  Two points would be earned for beating a team of the same tier, while one would be earned for an overtime loss, while none are awarded for a regulation loss.  However, one point is subtracted from each of these totals when playing a team from a lower tier and a team would lose two points when losing to a team from two tiers below it.  Conversely, a team would gain three points for beating a team from a higher tier and five points from beating a team two tiers above it.  Overtime losses would not be greater than one point.  Possibly, road games that warrant a point could be credited with an extra tally.

Computerized formulas would also be used to officially rank the teams.  There would be three to six different rankings systems that would be averaged together to produce the rankings.  In football, they could use the six already found in the BCS, while basketball could use the Kenpom, Sagarin, RPI, and BRI rankings.  The scores would be averaged out, and the NCAA average would be set at 1.  Then, this total would be multiplied by the number of points to come up with a final number.

Relegation would be decided based on a weighted three-year average of these normalized point totals.  I believe that this normalization is necessary in case a team in a higher tier plays very poorly or a team in a lower tier plays very well.  The weighted average should be used simply because of the nature of college athletics.  Furthermore, the points system does not cover variables such as point spread, and the adjustments that do exist are rudimentary.  The teams with the lowest totals would be relegated, while those with the highest totals would be promoted.  The number of teams changing tiers on both ends of the spectrum should neither exceed two teams per division or twenty percent of all teams.

Another approach to decide which teams advance could be to calculate the percentage of possible points each team earns.  This may or may not be used in tandem with the computer rankings.  This would not punish teams that mostly scheduled within teams of their own tier level.  Conversely, it would also encourage higher-level teams to almost exclusively schedule home games against lower-level teams while also discouraging lower-level teams to challenge the big boys.  However, this system would be very open to incentives that would discourage the disadvantages.  Furthermore, using this in combination with the computer rankings might neutralize the negatives.

An idea that I got from reading online articles is to incorporate soccer-style cup competitions into the NCAA.  An example would be a conversion of the FA Cup.  The FA Cup is an English soccer tournament designed to allow teams in the top twelve tiers to compete in a (mostly) single-elimination knockout.  This year, 825 teams applied and 763 were accepted.  The tournament is played in midweek games throughout the regular season.  Two types of sports could use this type of tournament.  Sports like basketball that can sustain a high number of games played could start it early in the season and play through February or March.  No team that could reasonably compete for the title would play more than six or seven games, but it would still allow for upsets and Cinderella teams to take center stage.  Another type of sport would be ice hockey or water polo where there are a comparatively small number of teams primarily clustered around a single geographic area (the Northeast/Midwest and California, respectively).  In fact, hockey fits into both categories.  This cup’s rankings would be determined by recent success.

Another tournament that could be adapted to fit the NCAA’s needs would be the UEFA Champions League.  Each conference would receive a certain number of automatic bids into a group stage and another number into play-in rounds.  After the group stage, they would play home-and-homes based on total points until a Final Four at a neutral site.  Although this would not completely neutralize the possibility of an upset, it would greatly enhance the probability that the best team wins.  For the basketball, the group stages could be played on consecutive days at a neutral site, while the home-and-homes could be set up like the incumbent NCAA tournament is.  There is the problem that thirteen extra games would be added to the schedule, but schools could load up on regular games during winter break and other off-days.  For football, there could be four regional winners and the four best runners-up in a group stage, with the group winners advancing to a final at a major bowl game.

In reference to the Champions League idea, one blogger posed the problem of the massive year-to-year turnover of college teams.  His idea was strictly related to basketball, which is probably the most variable in the NCAA, and it is a good point.  However, I believe that this could be used as a play-off system taking place after the season officially ends.  There is the issue of what happens to the automatic qualifiers during the play-in rounds, but I believe that non-conference games could be scheduled during this period.  If a team were to play during the play-in rounds, then they would be required to financially compensate their opponent.  I know this is not a great idea, but the other solution is to make the play-in games single-elimination, and I am not sold on that idea, even though it is a better proposal.  I mean, who wants to play five games in a week, which a system of the latter format might advocate.

One of the major problems with implementing these European-style tournaments would be the greatly increased number of games.  However, I do not believe that this is a major issue.  With the exception of football, I am unaware of any collegiate sport that could not stand to add a handful of games to its schedule.  Although I am not extremely literate in fringier Olympic sports, I do know about the schedules for basketball, ice hockey, baseball/softball, lacrosse, and soccer.  I know that it would be possible to add games to these sports’ schedules without overtaxing the players, at least compared to their professional counterparts.  Furthermore, talent evaluators would greatly appreciate more opportunities to view and assess talent.  Games could be added during breaks, holidays, etc.  In the case of basketball, I am confident that the season could stay within the traditional November to April window without adding an extreme number of midweek games, most of which would concern the FA Cup-style tourney.  Conference tournaments could also be eliminated to free up space; besides, many of those at least partially include midweek games.  In the end, I do not see this as being too much of an issue.

Of course, here come the two major issues of a relegation-and-promotion system: revenue and crossing divisions (that is Division I, Division II, and Division III).  For revenue, TV contracts would be negotiated with each region for each tier.  For example, ESPN may negotiate a deal for the West Region’s Tier I, the Midwest Region’s Tier I, etc., while Fox might negotiate with the South’s Tier II.  The annual splits of the revenue would then be divided evenly among the current members of that regional tier.  Tournament money would be divided by conference based on number of teams and rounds traveled, similar to the way it is now.  However, individual school moneys would still not have to be shared.

As for crossing divisions, I believe that any Tier I champion should be able to apply to join the higher division.  However, relegation would not be necessary unless a school was interested in doing so, which I would imagine to be very rare.  The teams would then be placed in the lowest tier of the appropriate region.  However, if a school had promoted three of its programs, it would then be required to promote its remaining programs if one of them was football, basketball, or baseball/softball.  To ease the process, the separation between the FBS and the FCS for football should be eliminated; this would simply eliminate any problems.  There comes to the issue that there would be too many or an unequal number of tiers, but there can always be two conferences at the same tier in the same region; it happens in European soccer regularly.

There is also the issue of traditional rivalries.  Because of the way relegation-and-promotion is set up, it is highly likely that traditional rivals may be split by tier or even region.  My solution for that would be to allow schools to register a certain number of rivalry games that would ensure that these games occur on a regular basis if not annually.  This portion of the scheduling may be taken out of the schools’ hands if they so approve.  For example, the entire Ivy League could register as a rivalry.  A third party would ensure that as many of these games as possible would be scheduled while still allowing for the schools to schedule other nonconference games if they so wish.  Since it is equally likely that several of these teams will be playing in the same conference at the same time, it is probable that more than half of these games would be played each year.  Furthermore, I have read that some English soccer fans believe that it is not necessarily a good idea for rivals to play every year; in fact, sometimes they view it as a negative.  Granted that some English rivalries are fiercer than some American ones and that English fans are traditionally more prone to hooliganism, this may not be fully valid, but it is true.

Alas, this will never happen.  I believe that this proposal is a solid amalgamation of some bloggers’ viewpoints as well as my own.  I have been fostering this idea for several years, and I have occasionally refined it, but this is the first time I have ever published it.  I hope you enjoy my ideas, and please feel free to comment below with any ideas, fixes, solutions, opinions, etc.  Thank you for reading, and come back soon!  I may provide an outline for college basketball as a Part Two in the future.