Could the NFL adopt a soccer-style relegation approach?
There is nothing quite like the NFL season, that’s why most of us spending the offseason in floods of tears patiently waiting for America’s Macho game to return.
It’s safe to say that American Football has monopolised the typical weekend’s TV time. More so on Sundays when the NFL offers a complete day of sacks, Touchdowns & monster plays.
Even with the fiasco surrounding the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, Roger Goodell and company are still expected to amass over $14 MILLION according to Pro Football Talk.
I’m personally not in this camp but some fans will even argue that the NFL has become stale, predictable and boring. The New England Patriots have built something never before seen in professional gridiron whilst the Cleveland Browns 1-32 record are just 2 examples of predictable teams in the NFL. It’s almost certain the Browns won’t have a winning season in 2018 and the New England Patriots will be in the AFC championship game.
At the start of every season, the NFC discusses who could be in the championship game. The AFC on the other hand debate who will play the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
This isn’t a discussion about battering the Browns or P*SSING on the Patriots. All pro sports have a dominant and weak franchise/team. It’s just sports.
The English Premier League has had Manchester City and Derby County both set points records for very different reasons in the premier league.
The problem is league structure and the solution lie in Manchester City and Derby County, the premier league in general.
The simple solution is relegation.
For those not familiar with the concept of relegation it’s a meritocratic system with a very simple and logical principle. Each season, the worst teams will move down a division and gets relegated, meanwhile the best team in the 2nd division then gets promoted to the top division. (Those at the bottom of Division 2 will move to Division 3 and those in Division 3 at the top will move into the 2nd division.
The premise is designed for 2 reasons:
- To keep the leagues competitive and have the right teams match up with their league ability level
- Added excitement – Nobody is ever safe in the top divisions, and those in the bottom divisions can eventually become the best team in the top league.
Relegation in the NFL
In the current NFL system, the worst team is rewarded with the highest pick in the draft. The draft position allows them the best chance to remain competitive.
But, what if, instead of higher draft picks those that finished bottom of the league would be demoted down to a secondary league (and from there will be able to compete to return). Last year we could have seen a team from both the AFC and NFC relegated as the Cleveland Browns finished with the worst record and the New York Giants finished worst in the NFC (2nd worst overall).
So, would the league be better off? I think so but let me elaborate further.
The relegation concept introduces the idea of ‘anti-tanking’ meaning those playing for their top-tier status would be forced to fight It out in some really entertaining games in the back end of the season. Week 17 would once again mean something.
Realistically simply kicking the Browns, Giants or anyone else from the NFL isn’t exactly plausible without a complex league structure to follow. Luckily for the Lazy Fan’s out there, that’s exactly what I’ve done.
How would relegation work?
In my opinion, the best way to introduce such a radical system would be to introduce 96 more teams into the professional fold. For practical purposes, we’ll work off the 2017 records.
National Football League Structure – Relegation:
Each team will be in danger of relegation whilst also having the opportunity to get promoted/win the super bowl thus making the structure far more exciting for your average NFL fan. You’re also likely to see a lot of emotion as teams go up and down over the years.
The AFC and NFC will almost act as separate league set-ups with both 1 promoted team and 1 relegated team from each sub-division switching divisions every year. All 68 teams would abide by the same Roster and Salary cap rules already in place.
Although the draft format may have to be changed to an academy system, for now, though we will say the original draft rules apply to the NFL divisions only (meaning that the MFL and AAF will not participate in the draft) and will benefit from UDFA priority. – The reason for this being that the NFL will still be the most popular leagues so the biggest names in college should be playing football in the biggest division.
The bottom team in each division will not be allocated a draft pick, instead of the team that replaces those bottom teams will be allocated the draft pick. In this case, neither Cleveland nor the Giants received a pick in this years NFL draft, however, both the San Antonio Oilers & the Boise Bulldogs will be allocated the 1 & 2 pick based on .500 record.
Much like the current set up TV rights will be negotiated and split equally on a per-division basis.
The regular 16-game season will still take place in the top division whilst the AFA would play a 10-game season and the MFL will play an 8-game season.
The perfectly balanced schedule would yield a 32/20/16-team end-of-season table in each division. The NFL table would determine playoff seeding. The traditional NFL playoffs still exist as is.
The bottom team in each division would be relegated from the league, although it’s feasible to create a form of playoffs where the two promoted sides and the 2 relegated sides play each other to determine whether a team stays up or gets relegated – I, however, don’t like this method of doing things as it puts the fate of a season in the hands of 1 game. Which can be misleading.
So, we have at least two teams relegated and two teams promoted every season across all 3 divisions. The teams’ default conference will be allocated based on whether they came from the ‘American’ conferences or the ‘National’ conferences.
As the playoffs are beginning it could even be feasible for the bottom 2 teams from each conference to play the 2 best sides from each conference (I.e. Browns and Giants would play the Bulldogs and the Oilers). Winners would live to see another year in the NFL. Losers would “advance” to a Toilet Bowl of sorts. The winner of that Toilet Bowl would also be safe. But the loser? They’d give us an answer to the age-old question of whether the most pathetic NFL team would beat the most dominant college team head-to-head.
The loser of the NFL’s Toilet Bowl would be sent to a four-team Interleague Playoff. The other three participants: College football’s national champion, the winner of the Grey Cup (Canadian Football League) and the winner of the Arena Bowl (Arena Football League). – Simply for fun or as a side post-season competition.
So, what would happen if your team got relegated?
If soccer is anything to go by then teams often have to reduce the wage bill as TV revenue would decrease their annual revenue quite substantially. The team that get’s relegated will then be able to compete the following season in the division below for a chance at being promoted back into the NFL.
You still play every season, sometimes against NFL calibre teams and sometimes against Minor league teams. The idea is if you’re not good enough for the division you’re in maybe you’ll be better suited to the division below. It’s a results-based business and that’s exactly how the league structure will, over the years will develop.
How would this system improve the NFL?
The immediate benefits would be provided through competition.
Almost every single regular season game will be either based on winning the SB or getting promoted. Teams like the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants would be fighting it out for survival. every game will have a purpose.
Stalemate contests between teams that can’t make the Playoffs and teams that are mathematically safe from relegation, which will most likely come down to the final 1 or 2 weeks of the season.
The playoffs will be the same structure we all know and love. It’s the relegation system which offers real intrigue, especially if a toilet bowl of sorts follows. Imagine the Dallas Cowboys or Jacksonville Jaguars fighting for their top-flight survival into week 16 and 17. The desperation to win and perform would be huge.
Imagine seeing a new franchise in the NFL every year because they earned it. Imagine the Oilers returning and taking on the Texans in the NFL. Or even the Bills and Jets battling to stay in the NFL altogether.
One of the biggest downsides to this model is that rivalries can sometimes be lost as the years’ progress.
On the other hand, however, we’ll see new rivalries born every year as new teams enter and leave the league. A Texas 4-way rivalry between the Cowboys, Texans, Oilers & Austin Creakers would create an incredible atmosphere.
Or perhaps a Colorado franchise aptly named the Blazers taking on the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium.
What we’ll also see is the best teams compete with each other every year. Those who really deserve to be at the top (based on results) quite simply will be.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that Mr Bone head himself Roger Goodell would ever agree to such drastic changes. Owners for starters will never approve a system where they could lose revenue from lack of TV airtime.
But what if they did? The system itself is plausible, it works in the biggest sport on the face of the planet. In my mind a league shuffle up would make the league the most competitive and compelling it has ever been.