My Position on Promotion and Relegation in the USA


You’ll notice that I have a number of frankly enormous entries that relate either directly or partly to the subject of promotion and relegation in the USA.

I want to make sure that my stance is clear on this topic.

I’m not against the concept or practice of promotion and relegation in football.  In fact, having being born and raised in England and residing there until a few months short of my thirtieth birthday, it’s actually the system I’m most used to.

As recently as 2009, there are posts on where I champion the system and advocate its implementation in professional US soccer.

I’ve clearly been persuaded since, that the sport in America is most likely not ready for such a system.  I certainly think it’s clear that MLS owners who have spent hundreds of millions (at the very least) on taking the sport off life-support, as it effectively was between the folding of the NASL in 1984 and the debut of Major League Soccer in 1996, would be unlikely to willingly implement it in the foreseeable future.

Something I think needs to be understood about pro/rel is this: the sole reason for its invention and initial use was as a logistical tool to cope with the problem of having too many teams to operate in a single division.

It was that simple.  The Football League (the first ever professional national football league in the world) had merged with an upstart rival national league, The Football Alliance.  As a result, the league swelled to about twice the number of teams virtually overnight.

Divisions were the clear answer.

Regional divisions were somewhat out of the question as they effectively defeated the object of having a national league in the first place: it was intended to be an evolution beyond the regional contests that already took place.  It was also a means to allow professional players a yearly program of games, so they could play for a living.

As a result, they devised the hierarchical divisional system we know today.

It wasn’t set up as a means to foster youth development, to stimulate investment, to create “opportunity” or to “open the game to the people”.  In fact, on the latter two points, the league was largely a closed shop to the non-league outfits.  New teams were only admitted by election or broad expansion (usually to assimilate emerging, stronger “non-league” leagues).  Barring such expansions, the Football League only successfully “promoted” a handful of teams from non-league football between WWII and 1987.

Regardless, promotion and relegation proved to be a resounding success in meeting its aim and was subsequently adopted globally, with nations such as Italy and Spain starting leagues with a couple of national tiers at inception.

If US soccer stood today with MLS declared as full and the expansion process complete, while other teams sat outside it with the support, resources and infrastructure to be competitive with those within, I would be in favour of pro/rel as probably the best option after continued expansion.

I do not believe that pro/rel is an end in itself.  US soccer should not be building toward it purely for the sake of it.

I do not believe that pro/rel is the reason for football’s global popularity.  In fact, I feel the facts clearly show that pro/rel was born out of the game’s burgeoning popularity, not vice-versa.

I absolutely do not believe that the pro/rel argument is a social or a civil rights issue.

I do not believe that MLS is a monopoly, as it competes with other leagues domestically and internationally.

I do not believe that MLS colludes with the USSF for the sake of remaining the only “Division 1” in the nation.  There is evidence of USSF accepting “D1” applications from other leagues.

I believe that issues such as youth development and scouting should be addressed and handled directly, not as the assumptive byproduct of a league structure.

I do not believe that pro/rel is the only option in the long-term.

I DO believe that if every American that supports a global football power, also lent some support and enthusiasm to a local football team, be it MLS, NASL, USL or whatever is available, it would likely create a scenario where promotion and relegation would finally have an outstanding case.