Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What if the NBA, NFL and MLB had a Relegation System?

The most fascinating aspect of professional sports outside of America has to be the concept of relegation and promotion. It is predominantly associated with soccer where teams that finish at the bottom of a league, usually the bottom three, are relegated to a lower league. Conversely, if a team finishes at or near the top of a league, again usually the top three, the teams earn a promotion to a higher league if one exists. This system would be a great addition to the US and could help separate the wheat from the chaff in professional sports.

It is a device that is intended to make late season games of underperforming clubs from being meaningless. It motivates clubs not to tank games in hopes of getting a better draft position. Relegation and promotion also creates financial incentives to be promoted or to avoid relegation. Finally, the fight for promotion or fight to avoid relegation creates a large amount of drama for supporters of the clubs.

It would be nice to have this system in the US sports leagues. Teams like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Kansas City Royals, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bulls of the late 90s and early 2000s and the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies would all have spent significant amount of time in a lower division and the fans wouldn't have to watch the junk the teams have put on fields/floors over time. It would also prevent teams from conducting firesales, i.e. the Florida Marlins after the '97 World Series title, because of the financial repercussions of relegation. Despite what owners may say, professional athletics in America is a lucrative business even if the team is a perennial loser.

Look at the Clippers, Donald Serling has owned the team forever and it has rarely fielded a winner, yet the team hasn't been such a financial drain that he would sell it. There are numerous other examples out there of the same type of perennial losing yet no sale of the team. It can only mean that these teams are still making some money. The system of relegation and promotion would create an incentive for these teams to make better attempts at winning.

If you look at the bottom teams of the three major sports leagues, particularly baseball and basketball, you will see that the teams are habitual offenders. To help the image, I have selected the teams from each league that would have suffered relegation over the past ten years. In soccer the leagues generally have about 20 teams in each league and three teams will be relegated or promoted. Since American leagues have about 30 teams each, four teams should be subject to this penalty/benefit and I have chosen to select two teams with the worst records from each conference/league. As you will see below, there are some teams who probably would be demoted to a lower league for quite a while given the performances over the last decade.


Eastern Conference
05-06 NY Knicks 23–59; Atlanta 26–56
04-05 Atlanta 13–69; Charlotte 18–64
03-04 Orlando 21-61; Chicago 23–59
02-03 Cleveland 17–65; Toronto 24-58
01-02 Chicago 21-61; Cleveland 29-53
00-01 Chicago 15–67; Washington 19-63
99-00 Chicago 17-65; Atlanta 28-54
98-99 Chicago 13-37; NJ 16-34
97-98 Toronto 16-66; Philadelphia 31-51
96-97 Boston 15-67; Philadelphia 22-60
95-96 Philadelphia 18-64; Toronto 21-61

Western Conference
05-06 Portland 21–61; Minnesota 33–49
04-05 New Orleans 18–64; Utah 26–56
03-04 LA Clippers 28–54; Phoenix 29-53
02-03 Denver 17–65; LA Clippers 27–55
01-02 Golden State 21-61; Memphis 23-59
00-01 Golden State 17-65; Vancouver 23-59
99-00 LA Clippers 15-67; Golden State 19-63
98-99 Vancouver 8-42; LA Clippers 9-41
97-98 Denver 11-71; LA Clippers 17-65
96-97 Vancouver 14-68; San Antonio 20-62
95-96 Vancouver 15-67; Minnesota 26-56


‘05 New Orleans 3-13; SF 49ers 4-12
‘04 SF 49ers 2-14; Chicago 5-11
‘03 Arizona 4-12; NY Giants 4-12
‘02 Detroit 3-13; Chicago 4-12
‘01 Carolina 1-15; Detroit 2-14
‘00 Arizona 3-13; Atlanta 4-12
‘99 New Orleans 3-13; SF 4-12
‘98 Philadelphia 3-13; Chicago 4-12
‘97 Arizona 4-12; Chicago 4-12
‘96 Atlanta 3-13; New Orleans 3-13

‘05 Houston 2-14; NY Jets 4-12
‘04 Miami 4-12; Cleveland 4-12
‘03 Oakland Raiders 4-12; San Diego 4-12
‘02 Cincinnati 2-14; Houston 4-12
‘01 Buffalo 3-13; San Diego 5-11
‘00 San Diego 1-15; Cleveland 3-13
‘99 Cleveland 2-14; Cincinnati 4-12
‘98 Cincinnati 3-13; Indianapolis 3-13
‘97 Indianapolis 3-13; San Diego 4-12
‘96 NY Jets 1-15; Baltimore 4-12


‘05 Colorado 67-95 ; Pittsburgh 67-95
‘04 Arizona 51-111; Montreal 67-95
‘03 San Diego 64-98; NYM 66-95
‘02 Milwaukee 56-106; San Diego 66-96
‘01 Pittsburgh 62-100; Cincinnati 66-96
‘00 Chicago Cubs 65-97; Phila. 65-97
‘99 Florida 64-98; Chicago Cubs 67-95
‘98 Florida 54-108; Arizona 65-97
‘97 Chicago Cubs 68-94; Phila. 68-94
‘96 SF 68-94; Phila. 67-95

‘05 KC 56-106; Tampa Bay 67-95
‘04 KC 58-104; Seattle 63-99
‘03 Detroit 43-119; Tampa Bay 63-99
‘02 Detroit 55-106; Tampa Bay 55-106
‘01 Tampa Bay 62-100; Baltimore 63-98
‘00 Tampa Bay 69-92; Minnesota 69-93
‘99 Minnesota 63-97; KC 64-97
‘98 Tampa Bay 63-99; Detroit 65-97
‘97 Oakland 65-97; KC 67-94
‘96 Detroit 53-109; California Angels 70-91


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steelerfn8286 said...

This may sound like a good idea, but there are alot of problems that would be created. In America, all of the teams draft players, if say the Atlanta Hawks were demoted, they wouldn't be able to draft becuase they would be a differnt league. If you can't draft good players, the team can never get better.

The Fan's Attic said...

steelerfn: i agree, the system isn't really here in america to have this. like you mention, the draft would cause problems. that's why it doesn't exist in most of these other leagues. the teams would have to go to a more club like structure where they find players at a young age and develop them through the team's system rather than allowing the NCAA to use the athletes. you would also need to have viable lower leagues.

the whole structure would have to be revamped but i like the idea breaking the hegemony of the owners in the major sports leagues in america. i think it would work best for baseball and basketball.

The Fan's Attic said...

anonymous: thanks for the tip. i think tiger and phil will be on TNT tomorrow. they have a later tee time i think.

Data Based said...

The winner of the lower league (promoted team) could receive first pick of the NBA Draft. Theoretically, the weakest tier one team should still be competitive in a lower league and can earn their draft pick the next season.

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