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Relegation Sucks

Relegation is all the rage this week on SB Nation, as writers try to enthusiastically sell you on the concept of screwing over the worst team in your conference. All of this enthusiasm for the idea tells me that either they are not soccer fans or, if they are, they are the sort of soulless bastard who pulls for Manchester United.

I lived in England for three years, so I supported the local side, Leeds United. If you're not familiar with the history of Leeds, well, it used to be good and now it sort of sucks.

Leeds made the UEFA Champions League semifinals in 2001 and ten years later found themselves bankrupt and in the third division. Yeah, it sounds cool unless it's your team. Leeds wasn't some obscure team, they won titles throughout the 1970s and were a power as late as the 1990s. This would be like Penn St. going through a downward spiral.

A cursory look at the Premiership, or any major European soccer league, shows the effect of relegation - a handful of teams win the title every year while a small middle class barely hangs on but rarely competes for anything. And about half of the league is essentially a permanent underclass trying to avoid relegation. Sounds like fun, huh?

Success is defined by simply not getting kicked out of the league. And the big boys, like Alabama or Ohio St, would win the title every single year as it becomes increasingly difficult to slowly build a team.

Boise St. built their program by consistently dominating a lower conference. Then they got an opportunity to play a big boy well into their run of dominance, which attracted even more recruits to the place and allowed them to sustain success. Under a promotion model, Boise gets kicked up to the Pac-10 three or four years earlier, and they get absolutely dominated by the established teams. They have to be ready right away instead of slowly building their team and playing the big boys when they are finally ready. Under promotion and relegation, Boise likely never becomes this middle class power. It never gets off the ground, and they follow up their first conference title by going 2-7 in the Pac-10 and getting relegated again.

We all know that the SEC is a cash cow, particularly compared to life in the Sun Belt. We also know that football drives the bus. Can you imagine the devastation on a program if you turned the money pipe off?

Let's take Mississippi State, fresh off a disappointing football season, as our test case. Football has a bad year, so then every program in every sport gets relegated, which seems pretty unfair to the basketball team. But football pays the bills, and now instead of taking home $20 million or so every year, they are taking home $2 or 3 million. What's an AD to do? Well, either double down in football to get back to the pay day of the SEC or accept the new reality in the Sun Belt. Regardless, he's got to trim over $15 million from his budget.

Say goodbye to every other sport MSU plays. If nothing else, there would be some severe belt tightening for the women's softball team. If MSU constantly yo-yo's up and down, the cuts become permanent as they can't count on football to pay for all of the other programs. The non-revenue sports go to austere measures or get cut entirely. Even if MSU gets promoted the next season, the cuts are likely permanent.

Relegation would be Armageddon for non-revenue sports. For those of us who like track and baseball, this would be a catastrophe. But it would be foolish for an AD to invest in these programs when they could not count on football revenues. The AD that kept investing in these programs would see the program in bankruptcy, not unlike Leeds United, which didn't have a dozen other sports to support.

The end result of relegation is Alabama more powerful than ever, less competition from the bottom teams in the conference (sure they'd play hard, but they'd also have inconsistent recruiting and much smaller budgets), and maybe the end of the non-revenue sports. And we likely still wouldn't have a playoff.

Why don't we just let Alabama claim the next 10 national championships, like they will anyway, cancel the Mississippi State series, and save ourselves the money?