Promotion and relegation remains a hot-button issue in American soccer. While the vast majority of soccer fans tend to not think about the division pyramid and whether the Pittsburgh Riverhounds can play in MLS without paying upwards of $100 million, the debate has been kept alive by one dedicated zealot and his merry band of Pro/Rel Truthers. Their greatest enemy, as they will happily explain to you (whether you want them to or not), is an entrenched corporatized establishment in American soccer that prioritizes big business over fans and community-minded clubs.
These league structure clerics may be feeling a bit more agitated than usual today.
That’s because of recent comments by USSF president Sunil Gulati addressing the lack of promotion and relegation in American soccer. In an interview with Grant Wahl for Sports Illustrated, Gulati tackled the issue head-on and offered an assessment of how likely it is that pro/rel would finally come to America. His take, in essence: “don’t hold your breath.”
”There are a number of issues that come up with that particular format of competition, but the biggest one is it’s not the rules of the game that people bought into when they made investments, whether it’s in the USL, the NASL or MLS. It’s not the rules that we set out when teams came in. And so whether that happens or not, is it possible? Sure. Is it going to happen in the next few years? I don’t think it is, but it’s not going to be that we dictate it should happen or shouldn’t happen. You’ve got investments that have been made. And so if the leagues get together and say we should look at this, are we willing to help facilitate that discussion? Sure, we’d be willing to. But if you make an investment today and the next day the government—in this case, us—changes the rules completely and changes the value of your investment? That’s going to lead to some serious problems. That’s point one.”
But wait— there’s more.
”Point two: I’ve seen a lot of the empirical evidence on it, and there’s not a lot of empirical evidence on the benefits and costs of a promotion/relegation system. Yes, there was the Deloitte study, and I’ve met with the author of that and we’ve talked about it. But for example, one of the benefits that comes out there is that teams that are at the bottom in a particular first division, let’s say, will do whatever they have to to make investments to stay up, so that increases the competition. O.K., that’s true. But in a salary cap world, is that true? The answer is no. It can’t be.”
You can catch Gulati’s full comments at the link above. It’s definitely worth a listen, regadless of whether or not you agree with his appraisal.