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America Needs More Ideas From Soccer! A Discussion On Relegation

"Yes!  Now, we won't play Clem(p)son for years to come!"
"Yes! Now, we won't play Clem(p)son for years to come!"

Avinash: So SB Nation's college football editor has been doing a fun thought experiment this week which has become very popular: The idea of soccer-like relegation to organize all of the major college football conferences.

Here are the posts from this week.

I was wondering if anyone wanted to do it from a Cal perspective (namely, Cal would've never been relegated, but would have had to start facing more difficult opponents in our conferences. UCLA gets relegated once I think, hahahahaha). Bill Connolly gathered all the data on it.

Considering we have a strong cross-section of soccer and Cal fans (plus it's a pretty cool proposal), I figure it'd be worth looking into for anyone who wants to look into it. Or maybe a roundtable on the subject?

TwistNHook: If we ever wondered whether it was the off-season! That is a lot of work that those guys have put in on a hypothetical. I looked at the conferences being arranged and I was surprised at how many West Coast-only leagues there were compared to other parts of the country. I wonder what that is all about.

In their relegation analysis, they appear to have done about 7 years worth of ups and downs to figure out what the Pac10ish would look like today. Voila:


Membership: Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, BYU, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, USC, Utah

So, basically, we lost UCLA, Washington, and WSU. And we gained BSU, BYU, Nevada, and Utah. LAME. We lost two key rivals and WSU (with the Pirate Coach!).

UCLA and Washington end up in the MWC. WSU is in the WAC. Now, this is ridiculously idiotic for the following reason:

History and rivalries are the main lifes blood of college football. We've been playing Washington for the longest of any of our rivals. There was a period of time when the Big Game was Cal v. Washington. And now they are playing against Air Force and Hawaii in the MWC. While we get to play the Mormons and Boise State. What?

And we lose UCLA? Our brother school? This just cements how idiotic this whole thing is. I'm somewhat averse to all the reorgs going on right now, because we are actively losing traditions. Texas v. Texas A+M is not going to be played at least until 2017 or so. That is a travesty. Period.

Relegation would only make it worse. I do not know why anybody believes that college football NEEDS relegation (as Spencer Hall put it). But anything that threatens the rivalries and the traditions, I am automatically against.

Avinash: The membership that Bill lists doesn't seem quite right. Washington got relegated for their 2008 season when they went 0-12; I figure with Sark they work their way around the MWC schedule by 2010 and are back in the Pac-10/12 by this time. Washington State is probably still down there. Bill probably overrates Boise and TCU a little bit (I think they do poorly in a regular Pac-10 schedule, but hey, he did the work, kudos to him!), and I definitely think Nevada taps out before Washington or UCLA.

I'd say at most the Pac-12 would lose one or two of the original members before they eventually worked their way back.

I do agree that relegation would stink in a traditional sense, but from a chaos and big picture perspective it's quite exciting. Best team in a mid-major gets promoted to a new conference--how would they perform? Worst team from the conference goes down a level--would they own it a level down? It gives everyone in the conference incentive to try hard not to lose too many games to avoid relegation. Also, new rivalries might get created over time with enough familiarity with one another.

TwistNHook: Do schools currently not have enough incentive to try hard not to lose too many games? I don't think there are many schools out there in today's hyper-monetized market yawning politely and hoping nobody looks in their direction too much. I do not find this argument convincing.

Additionally, it would take a significant amount of time to create a new rivalry with a BSU or Nevada to make up for losing 100+ year rivalries with a Washington or UCLA. I also do not find this argument convincing.

The only argument I see so far that seems to be in any favor towards relegation is that it'd be "chaotic" and/or "exciting." Firstly, college football is already fairly chaotic given its lack of formal structure for winning a championship. It seems pretty exciting to me. Could improvements be made? Yes. However, relegation doesn't seem like it makes any sense to improve college football. The positives seem VASTLY outweighed by the negatives. That is never a great situation.

Additionally, this is apparently just in football? What about basketball, baseball, or any other number of sports? What happens to their sports?

Another additionally, let's take a closer look at Spencer Hall's piece entitled "Why College Football Needs To Embrace Cannibalism." The thesis here appears to be that college football is insufficiently like English soccer. Disclaimer: I do not watch English soccer and am a fairly weak soccer fan as is. I'll watch a game every 2-4 years when we are in the Olympics or World Cup. Maybe. But, despite that clear character flaw, I think I can still consider this article.

First, he waxes philosophically at the joy of having a national championship determined by team not playing each other:

"Take the final day of the EPL season on Sunday, an emotional turn through the colon of Satan himself for anyone invested in the outcomes of the games, and a delightful "Ten Little Indians" scenario for anyone else who happened to watch. Man City would win the title, but only after nearly coughing up the title on goal differential to crosstown rivals Manchester United when City went down 2 to 1 to Queen's Park Rangers, a not-very-good team with very good motivation to play kamikaze to Man City's championship hopes.

To translate this to college football terms, imagine Tennessee competing for a national title, and then stubbing their toe in a humiliating loss to Vanderbilt at the end of the season. (Like we said:imagine this happening.) Or USC losing to UCLA to spoil a national title shot, something that has happened. (There's evidence and everything.) Or Washington losing to Washington State to ruin a glorious championship season. (Okay, now we're asking you to hallucinate. Do it anyway.)"

This appears to be fairly close to how college football used to do it. Teams in NatChamp contention wouldn't face each other, but instead go into the traditional bowls. Then, if they won their bowls, the scribes would determine who won. The EPL situation is slightly different, because it appears that they do not have scribes here. However, it is how it used to be done and the BCS changed that. For all of the people who throw temper tantrums about how the BCS over represents the SEC or whatever, the big plus to the BCS is that it forces two teams to play each other for a trophy. An actual game in an actual field with actual fans who actually pay attention to their phones. Not having some sort of real sporting event to determine a champion does not seem like a plus to me.

"There is the joy of victory, but also the giddy edge of completely screwing someone else simultaneously. Winning alone in an otherwise meaningless match is just victory, but at someone else's expense? Oh, now you've got a veritable caper, and the world is one great museum your team just plundered through a maze of lasers and snoozing security goons."

Given that one loss can knock you out of NatChamp consideration, this already happens. A lot. Also, I do not see how this relates to relegation. This is on the other end of the spectrum from bad teams falling down a level.

This is getting long, so I'll stop quoting specifically, but the next section discusses how EPL has a system set up that seems to favor 4 teams (i.e. their bluebloods) at the expense of weaker teams. This is compared to college football, which, it is claimed, favors about 20 or so teams at the expense of weaker teams. Although it is true that the bluebloods in college football have advantages and it is true that the SEC seems to have dominated in recent times, I do not see how this is a convincing argument. 20ish teams>4 teams. Additionally, this argument does not necessarily relate to relelgation. Teams that have financial advantages are wildly unlikely to suck for a period long enough to deserve relegation.

Let's look at SBN's prediction on how the SEC would look today if relegation existed for the last 8 years or so:

Membership: Alabama, Appalachian State, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt

So, the big bad SEC, whose dominance could be potentially shaken up by relegation has barely changed at all. It lost Ole Miss (Spoiler Alert: Not Vanderbilt or Kentucky!), a middling team and one that isn't part of the dominant section of the SEC.

Then, Hall talks about how this relegation process could help the non-bluebloods in worse leagues get up to the big boy leagues better than the current situation involving a bunch of suits looking at Profit and Loss statements. That is true, but I do not see how it would overweigh the other obvious negatives involved here. Additionally, I do not even see people complaining that "Boise State moving to the Big East didn't happen excitingly enough! I'm depressed with how TCU is moving up the ladder here!"

It basically ends with the concept that this would be spectacular, because despite the fact that huge chunks of what makes college football so amazing (i.e. rivalries) could be lost, every now and then a relegation game could occur between surprisingly name teams. Ok, sure. It could. The example he uses is Clem(p)son and South Carolina. My question is why would Clem(p)son and South Carolina ever want to do this? Their rivalry stretches back to the 1880s!

Firstly, (and I'm just learning this now), the political story behind the Clem(p)son and USC appears to be insane. It involves a lot of politics, the Civil War, and race relations. The whole story is in the Wiki article there, but you should read it. It is TOTALLY different from Cal-Stanford being more "Leland, you don't get to be a part of Cal" and "SOMEBODY GRAB THAT AXE BEFORE THEY CHOP MORE BLUE RIBBON!" So, the rivalry is more than just football, it is American history! Additionally:

"The annual Carolina-Clemson football game (sometimes dubbed "The Battle of the Palmetto State" or the "Palmetto Bowl" from the state's nickname) is the longest uninterrupted series in the South and the second longest uninterrupted series overall, having been played every year since 1909"

Why would we even want to lose this rivalry??????? Spencer Hall says that relegation will make college football more spectacular. And maybe in the sense that a few games at the end of the year might force some teams (probably of minimal interest) down a row. But what is spectacular to me is the honoring of the rivalries in college football. No other sport has the same combination of political backstory and length of rivalry. Only baseball comes close in some situations and their rivalries tend not to be related to which school supported slavery or whatever. Playing the USC-Clem(p)son rivalry is infinitely more spectacular than having one game where it could potentially end (at the risk that it does, yknow, actually end for a period of time).

Cugel: TwistNHook,

I agree with your points, and your previous comments. It's a fun concept to explore as an exercise, but it is completely unworkable, and makes no mention of all the other sports that are played at college. Conferences couldn't deal with this chaos. It's also represents one of the worst trends, which is to look on college football as a professional league, which I think is a the heart of a lot of distressing and odious ideas.

Also, he misses the sweep of history in that there has been a lot of voluntary relegation carried out over time. St. Mary's used to play us a lot in the past, then they dropped down to division III, then finally, they dropped football entirely. That's just one example; University of Chicago was a football powerhouse a la Norte Dame and Michigan, until they dropped the sport. Recently a bunch of teams have moved up to division I football in attempt to raise the profile of the college, but it remains to be seen whether all of them will stick.

LeonPowe: Twist -

Obviously this is a thought exercise and not a serious proposal in favor of relegation, but I'd like to address your point about rivalries. Let's take examples from both English football and college football.

First, on the end of rivalries: The team I follow in the EPL (Fulham) has a West London rivalry with two teams - Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers. Now, for reasons of relegation, many years have gone with out playing one (or both of these teams) - however, the rivalry between the clubs is just as fierce as ever - especially now that one side can taunt the others about getting relegated and what-not. (Let me make the rebuttal for your - football teams have lifelong fans, whereas a large number of college fans do not get into it until they arrive in school and even then aren't indocrinated into the hate-cycle. How many current students and alums, for example, even realize that UW is traditionally our third biggest rival?) But the disappearance of games has not led to a downturn in the ferocity of rivalries - in fact, when the opportunity returns for the teams to play derbys (rivalry games) fans are even more pent up because its been X number of years since we've been able to beat those wankers from QPR, and whatnot.

Secondly, traditions may be the lifeblood of college football - but traditions change. As cugel mentioned, University of Chicago was once the mid-west powerhouse. How many traditions does University of Central Florida have? Florida State University only started playing football in the early 70s, and yet they have very strong traditions. Traditions can be developed. Traditions may fade away. Traditions can continue to exist at the lower levels of college football.

While I'm not overly a fan of the regulation model, I don't think the above problems are what I have with it. (My real issues are about practicality - out-of-conference games are scheduled years in advance. What would happen if we played THE Ohio State University and they were NAIA all of a sudden - think about what happened to Juventus after the point shaving scandal)

HydroTech: This relegation idea is new to me since I am not a soccer fan. But wow, it sounds exciting and dramatic! I do agree with TwistNHook that every team in college football already has enough incentive to win every game, but relegation would really make every bad season even more devastating to a team. Imagine the negative effect on recruiting a team might suffer if they went 0-12 one season and got sent down a tier! Now try selling your recruits to come to your school!

One concern I do have -- and maybe this doesn't happen very often -- but with a relegation system it would seem like the top teams would always been on top, and the crap teams would always be on the bottom (in the lower tiers) with no hope of being able to get out of those lower tiers. I guess the benefit is parity; teams of relatively equal strength are playing each other, rather than a Goliaths pounding Davids to death. Of course, we all know why Goliaths play these types of games. Goliaths do it to get guaranteed wins which put them into the BCS Title Game, and Davids accepting these payout beatdowns just because they need the money. But if UC Davis wants to play Cal (due to the proximity and financial reasons), why not let them? So I guess that would be my concern about a relegation system.

My wonder is how a relegation system would integrate in to the upcoming college football playoff system. Do only the teams from the best Tier get to compete for the coveted playoffs spots? Do we have multiple playoffs for every Tier? Wow, this would get complicated.

TwistNHook: LeonPowe (and others),

Thank you for your thoughts. This is a great discussion and I look forward to it continuing. This discussion is one of those great off-season discussions where somebody takes a new, exciting, and extreme position for the purpose of killing time until August rolls around. Then, hits occur! And, then, we get to take our own new and exciting positions for the purpose of killing time and getting hits. It's a internet family tradition and I look forward to it continuing. Go Bears!

Avinash: People like to take extreme and exciting positions when the status quo that's set in college football (bowl games, computer rankings, cupcake scheduling) is already pretty crazy to begin with!

TwistNHook: Let the hits keep on coming!