Watching exorbitantly overpaid people dwell in mediocrity is an American sports fan's lot in life. But it doesn't have to be. Enter relegation: a multi-tiered system in which the bottom teams get demoted to a lesser league, and their spots are filled by the lesser league's top teams. Already thriving in many of Europe's professional soccer associations, relegation makes every game count; just as the best teams must win to reach the top, the worst must win to escape the bottom.
Some have already attempted to apply the concept to American sports, such as professors Stefan Szymanski and Stephen Ross, who made the case to Wired last year. But while the two noted that relegation is prevented by the monopoly status of major leagues, the recent Supreme Court ruling--which denied antitrust exemption to the NFL--could help it happen. Of course, we can't assume that well-moneyed entrepreneurs will step up to the plate and create alternative teams. Instead, we should turn the minor leagues into major ones.
True, the existing minors are training grounds for the majors, but instead of having one minor team per major team, each franchise owner could invest an equal amount--no more than a collective 49 percent--in a second league. The rest of the financing would come from outside investors and the city in which the team is located, so that no major team, nor the major league, has the majority of ownership. With a monetary interest in a second league, owners have an incentive to see those teams do well. Plus, they'll try harder to keep their primary team from being relegated.
Relegation also ensures that the fan gets the best deal. For many teams, the end of the season comes well before the last game is played, and a worse record only increases the chances for a better draft pick for the following year. This may be good in theory, but ask any Washington, D.C. season ticket holder if watching the Nationals lose nearly every game is worth the price of the seats, just for the chance to bet next season on a 17-year-old.
Relegation may not be the perfect system for American sports, but it would sure make watching them a heck of lot more fun. Now, if we could only do something about video review....