The topic of promotion and relegation in MLS has been debated for decades. Fans, pundits, and league officials have gone back and forth on the subject tirelessly. In recent years, league commissioner Don Garber has addressed the idea multiple times. The topic keeps coming up again. This week, Garber once again toyed with the idea.

Commissioner claims ‘never say never’

Speaking with The Athletic, Garber gave hope to those that want to see promotion and relegation in MLS. “This is the ‘never say never’ thing,” Garber said. “I’ve been pretty consistent on that. We shouldn’t walk away from having the courage to evolve over time.”

“And as the league continues to grow and evolve, and our fanbase and the market continue to grow and evolve, I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be thinking about new structures. I don’t see how that works today, but I can’t look far enough in the future to say never.”

Asked about how other leagues are able to do promotion and relegation, Garber responded,

“They don’t have to build stadiums on their own dime and then, if they don’t win, all of a sudden they have to play in another league,” he said. “And with no disrespect to any other league — I learned my lesson with comments I made about Chattanooga many many years ago — it doesn’t quite exist today where you can have the economic environment to be able to support promotion and relegation. That might exist at some point in the future, maybe way after I’m no longer the commissioner, but life’s a long time.”

MLS vs promotion and relegation: Garber has history of being indecisive on issue

However, Garber has made similar claims before. During a 2009 interview, the commissioner said that implementing the new structure wouldn’t work, but declared that it would be revisited later.

“Unfortunately our country does not have the infrastructure to support promotion/relegation at this time,” stated Garber over a decade ago. “We’ll continue to monitor this, but it will likely be at least 10 years before promotion/relegation could be considered.”

Two years later in 2011, Garber addressed the situation once again. “[It’s not going to happen] anytime soon,” proclaimed the commissioner. “I think it would be an exciting thing for us to be able to achieve. But the structure of American leagues are such that it’s almost impossible to think of that at any time soon.”

“I think the rest of the football community thinks it’s odd that all of the sudden the Vancouver Whitecaps appear in our league. We sell them an expansion team and all of the sudden they’re playing as opposed to moving up.” 

Despite revisiting the promotion and relegation debate for years, plans for a potential structure change haven’t really gained any traction. Garber’s comments perhaps pacifies many soccer fans because they may believe that promotion/relegation will eventually come. However, it appears highly unlikely that MLS will make any changes as long as he is commissioner.

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