Some of the best ideas in life are born in Europe, with several extra weeks of vacation time being near the top of that list. (Skinny jeans are near the bottom.)
We’ve adopted several European ideas over the years and improved on them, with democracy probably being the best example. But one we’ve refused to touch is the concept of relegation in our sports leagues.
The one area where Euro sports have an edge over our own is the relegation system, in which last-place teams are banished to a lower level while others are promoted. Because of this, there is no such thing as a meaningless game.
A few months ago former McNeese basketball standout Diego Kapelan and I had this discussion, which bloomed out of the fact he played for a team trying to move up from Germany’s No. 2 league this season.
With seemingly every college conference in America realigning, wouldn’t it make more sense to relegate instead? The whole realignment process already establishes that the traditional rivalries that make college sports great don’t matter. So why not go all out?
It would appear that great minds think alike. Or perhaps mediocre minds think alike. At any rate, a couple weeks ago the folks at the site SB Nation came up with a comprehensive plan for giving NCAA football a European flair, and it doesn’t come in the form of guys pretending they are injured to draw a penalty.
The SB Nation plan breaks the country into five regions with seven tiers that include everyone from the Bowl Subdivision to Division III. That seems overly ambitious, particularly with D-III having no scholarships to offer, though certainly it could be doable down to D-II since many FCS teams have those teams on their schedule already.
Each region features a “Tier I” league, the winner of which will qualify for the playoffs. Those teams would be ranked 1-5, with the No. 4 and 5 seeds meeting in a wild-card game before facing the top seed in the semifinals.
The Tier I leagues in this design are the Pac-12, Big 12, SEC, Big Ten and ACC. Independents would play within their natural geographic region, so you would see Notre Dame in the Big Ten’s region, Army and Navy in the ACC’s, BYU in the Pac-12’s.
SB Nation has the Southland as a Tier III league in the same region as the Big 12 and Conference USA. The Pioneer League is the Tier IV conference to which the last-place Southland team would fall in this system.
The feeder leagues for the SEC are the Sun Belt (Tier II), Southern (Tier III), Big South and SWAC (Tier IV).
Had the imaginary system been in effect beginning last season, McNeese would have some very different company around it this fall. Sam Houston State would be out, promoted to C-USA. So would Nicholls State, knocked down to the Pioneer. The Cowboys’ new conference foes would be Tulane and Drake.
The model makes it conceivable that one day you’d be able to see Oklahoma or Texas playing in Cowboy Stadium if McNeese was able to play its way up to the Big 12 level for a season. I didn’t say likely. Just conceivable. Which is more than you can ask for now.
Things would be even more fun at the higher levels.
This fall, you’d have Kansas moving down to C-USA in favor of Southern Miss. In the SEC, Ole Miss would give way to Arkansas State. The Big Ten would mercifully throw out Indiana and bring in Northern Illinois. Mountain West champ TCU would have replaced Washington State in the Pac-12. And West Virginia would move to the ACC at the expense of Duke.
Ironically, half of those teams are changing scenery anyway — Kansas is losing archrival Missouri to the SEC and West Virginia and TCU are going to the Big 12. Had those moves been made in a relegation system rather than the current free-for-all, no one would feel cheated — other than big-conference schools that make big-conference money despite never performing up to that level.
That’s one of the primary reasons this relegation plan will never be anything more than a pipe dream.
There are other impracticalities that would be too hard to overcome.
FBS teams get 22 more football scholarships than FCS teams, which is something that would be difficult, if not impossible, to fiddle with. For that reason alone, basketball is probably the only sport where relegation would work within the collegiate model.
But the biggest reason it will never happen is that no one with a seat already at the table would ever be willing to give that spot up, even if someone else has proven themselves more worthy in a given year. That’s as much a story in football as it is in life, though.
Much like world peace, cholesterol-lowering bacon, dates with supermodels and a Cubs World Series, relegation in American sports is ultimately something we can only dream of.
At least it’s a fun dream.
Alex Hickey covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at email@example.com