American Intrigue: Promotion/Relegation


I was listening to the EPLTalk Podcast Weekend Review this morning on the way to work (and it probably isn’t said enough, thank you to Richard, Laurence, Kartik, and the Gaffer for this valuable resource!). Richard and Kartik discussed an impact game this weekend in the nPower Championship between Queens Park Rangers and Cardiff City, which was taken by QPR 2-1. And with all of the controversy surrounding Major League Soccer’s struggles to find identity in a crowded American sports scene, this concept of reward/punishment becomes an enigma to the fan who newly embraces European soccer.

In the process of deciding to write this article, I actually came up with a number of unique, intriguing aspects of Premier League football that appeals to the American. Now I know that this is probably a rehash to an extent. I also know there are a few other 2010 WC Babies out there, if I may have license to coin this term for those of us who developed our love for the game based on a few weeks this summer.  So for those of you who have long been fans of soccer universe, I ask that you indulge me with this. For my fellow newbs, I hope this sparks your interest.

In America, we don’t exactly have promotion or relegation in our sports world. The closest we come to this is in the individual sports. In professional golf, you have to complete a grueling tournament called the Q-School to gain your Tour Card. If you don’t finish well enough, you can still play your way onto the Tour through the developmental Nationwide Tour. After you gain your card, you gain a year’s exemption to the tour, just like a promotion in Euro soccer. To remain, you have to complete the season in the Top 125 cash earners to keep your card. Otherwise, it’s back to the Q-School, lesser tours, and/or fighting for exemptions into a few PGA events, depending upon your clout within the golf world.

In professional team sports, this promotion/relegation function truly is foreign to us. In “amateur” college sports (you can decide the accuracy of that label), a school may be able to push their way towards Division I-A status, but that’s more because of school size, scholarships, and money. One example of this was Marshall University, a successful I-AA school that made the transition up in 1997 when the vaunted Randy Moss was catching everything within his reach.

At this point in my sports fanaticism, I wish the United States had a promotion/relegation history. Let’s take Major League Baseball for example, wouldn’t it be great to see teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals fight their way back from the minors? As a fan of those teams, wouldn’t you be that much more impressed if they were able to build their youth ranks, and have them succeed at a lower level?

The most endearing aspect to the nPower Championship is that these teams are experiencing what it means to win. One of the toughest aspects of being a lesser team in American sports is learning how to secure victory. It would be true to point out that most sports in the United States have a college feeder system, where the best players often experience victory. But oftentimes it can be more about a coach, general manager, ownership, and even the fan base bringing forth the “winning attitude,” or the latest cliché term for this aspect, “swagger,” to the organization. If a team like the Memphis Grizzlies earned their way back to the NBA from relegation, what would that do for confidence within the organization?

Promotion and relegation aren’t perfect. Aside from Blackburn Rovers, no promoted team has subsequently won a Premier League title (Blackburn was promoted into the inaugural group of EPL clubs from the 2nd Division and won in 1995). In most European leagues, there are one or two dominant juggernauts who rarely can be derailed. And many times in England, the promoted teams find it difficult to maintain their membership in the Premier League past the first season. In the current campaign, all three promoted teams are mid-table, which gives hope for their ability to persist. For any of them to remain in contention for so much as a UEFA slot in the table would be considered an historic accomplishment. Yet you look at the table, and all three of the clubs are a point out of the 7th place, which would qualify them for the Europa League.

As an American, promotion and relegation have become a fascination for me. It’s now something that I’d love to see incorporated into our sporting culture, though that’s not likely with the corporate nature of the major leagues. It’s one of the many intriguing facets to the Premier League (and other leagues around Europe) that make it standout in my mind and probably yours. In the coming weeks, I’ll touch on a few more of these.

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