For nearly 25 years, promotion/relegation has been a blood-soaked battleground in U.S. soccer.
The worst place to be is in the middle of that battleground. Those of us who engaged in pro/rel chat — see Jason Davis, now a host on SiriusXM FC who devotes a considerable amount of air time to pro/rel and lower-division soccer in general — get more flak than people who choose not to engage.
And that’s a pity, especially because we may be gaining some actual traction on pro/rel at this point, but it’s going to take a lot of time to get the people who’ve chosen to keep their heads out of the muck to turn around and take this issue as something other than the ranting of a few Twitter trolls.
Those who are asked about it directly in the political realm give political answers. Here’s U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Steve Gans on the topic:
Certainly there’s a passionate fan base for promotion and relegation out there. It’s a great thing in principle — it’s how the sport works all over the world. It’s dramatic and exciting; we all watch the last week of the Premier League. But you can’t divorce yourself from the fact that the way sports are set up in this country are different. It’s a very complex issue. The passion for it makes sense, but the devil is in the details. You look at over 100 years of tribal loyalty to clubs in these other countries, and it’s just a different sort of structure, history and lineage than how sports work here.
Quite rational, and perhaps it will suffice for the people who actually do constructive work in soccer and will vote on the presidency. For the Twitterati, well …
In the early years, it wasn’t so bad, thanks in part to both the medium and the message. We were all talking on the North American Soccer mailing list, then BigSoccer, where moderators and the community at large would simply remove people who ran out of facts and embarked on a slander campaign. (Hey, it works in modern politics, right?) And with Major League Soccer launching into a massive void with a handful of investors lured by a business model that minimized risk, pro/rel wasn’t Topic A in the 1990s.
And still, we had an early effort at getting things going in the USISL, as Kenn Tomasch describes. But the reality is that more clubs were choosing their own destinies. Some moved up, all the way to MLS. Many others chose to move down. Funny little incentive there — if you don’t pay players, it’s a little easier to break even in soccer.
So has something changed?
I think so. We have several people interested in prodding pro/rel along. Some are new to soccer, like innovative Kingston Stockade owner Dennis Crowley. Some have decades of soccer experience (even in MLS), like NISA founder Peter Wilt, who was kind enough to chat on my podcast about it:
Do we have a critical mass to make this happen? Will it work? Is it even a good idea?
Yeah, this should be a fun series. Stay tuned.
(And no, I’m not talking about this on Twitter. Tired of doing this in 140 characters.)