Friday, December 2, 2016

What About Promotion 'Without' Relegation for MLS?...part II

Is this the perfect time for USSF to reorganize 'Division 2' and include a Promotion only tool?

There are new developments and transitions taking place in the minor leagues of pro soccer in the U.S. The NASL is in tumult and its complete demise may not be far away. Its rival, USL, appears ready to take over the mantle of 'Division 2', the highest level of pro soccer below MLS. There are rumors of all the NASL teams moving over into USL and rumors of the New York Cosmos closing its doors for good. USSF is involved and reigning over some of the key decision processes for the leagues because it is the organization that creates parameters for how leagues must exist.

If the remaining teams from NASL do move over to USL, it may have close to 40 teams in it.

The most interesting dilemma for the next level, Division 2, is how to manage a competitive league with a significant amount of teams playing as 'reserve' teams. Reserve teams are the minor league partnerships for MLS teams, playing for experience at the highest level possible.

As the soccer minor leagues in the U.S. readjusts to a new landscape, one of the lingering issues that many soccer fans feel has not been fully addressed is promotion/relegation. As MLS grows to 28 teams for sure, according to commissioner, Don Garber, there remains speculation for how many more teams will come into the league. As I've written before, I believe there could be a total of 40 someday, with two conferences of 20 teams each. My belief is that MLS needs more teams than MLB, the NBA and the NFL because it needs to break the mainstream barrier.

Whatever the settled number of maximum teams ends up being for MLS, some well-populated metro areas will still be out of luck for entry into the league.

Back in 2011, after it was decided that the NHL's Thrashers would no longer be making a home in Atlanta, I wrote the article, 'NHL Moves Out; MLS Moves In?' Sure enough, some years later, six to be exact, and here comes Atlanta United FC to begin its inaugural season in 2017. Now, the same lingo can be applied to St. Louis, 'NFL Moves Out; MLS Moves In?'

St. Louis, with its soccer investment and infrastructure, looks to be a shoo-in. MLS is the perfect solution for a metro area that has a sports franchise leaving. However, this won't be the case for very long. An MLS franchise is becoming an essential stimulus to have for any large metro area community.

Of the top 20 (encompassing combined) most populated metro areas in the U.S., St. Louis joins Detroit, San Diego, Phoenix, Tampa and Miami as the areas without an MLS franchise. We all know the story with Miami. David Beckham has the rights and is trying to nail down where and how to get a stadium built. All the others look to be part of the long-range plans for MLS. It's common sense. These areas are too big and too important to avoid for MLS.

In fact, if you expand the statistical areas further to top 30 or top 40, numerous big city metros without a team in MLS come into play, like Pittsburgh, Sacramento and Cincinnati, just to name a few.

I've written before that the solution for USSF and forming its 'Division 2' should include 'promotion without relegation.' I wrote about this in 2015 and I'm emphasizing this again. MLS and USSF would be smart to put parameters on stadium requirements for Division 2 teams who want to win a 'Division 2' Cup (which looks to be USL, at this point).

I suggest that 'reserve' squads from USL get a different label, become part of another league or Division, or get reconstructed to service their own fan bases and not the development of players on behalf of MLS teams. Division 2 should operate with independent teams of metro areas with the idea of trying to win a championship. If they succeed and their stadium is serviceable enough (probably 8,000 minimum seats), allow that team/metro area to have one year in MLS with the understanding that it can win an MLS Cup, but would be returning to Division 2 after that one year.

The modern U.S. pro sports franchise model functioning since the 1970's doesn't have a 'relegation' framework that makes common sense. Owners don't buy-in thinking their franchise value can fall drastically by losing. They make their investments according to how the sport functions holistically in society. And, a franchisee can move a team, if necessary.

The potential fall of NASL and the propping up of USL has created the perfect time for USSF to reorganize its 'Division 2.' With the U.S. and Canada being so grand and encompassing, it makes sense to give those metro areas not granted MLS status the opportunity to find out how 'Division 1' feels for a season after winning a 'Division 2' Cup.

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