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In an age of multi-million dollar franchises, no self-interested American sports owner will ever allow this to happen, but it happens to be one of the most exciting things in world football.
Heading into the last day of the English Premier League last season, 10 of the 20 teams involved still had something to play for.
The top two teams were fighting for the championship, the next three teams were fighting to finish in the top four and guarantee advancement into soccer’s most prestigious club competition, the Champions League, and five teams at the bottom of the league were playing to avoid being relegated and forced to compete next season in England’s version of Triple-A baseball.
In American sports, teams can be awful, season after season, with no punishment. And fans are forced to suffer through this.
As bad as teams are, they are guaranteed to be playing among the best again next season. Teams like the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, who both lost 100 games this season, are virtually eliminated from playoff competition by mid-summer and have nothing left to play for.
Some franchises are allowed to be bad for decades and become an absolute laughing stock.
Relegation provides teams with a motivation to play, no matter how bad their season is going. And it provides fans for something to cheer for, rather than slide into the slow abyss of worrying about the proverbial “next year.”
Yes, it sucks when your team gets relegated, but that is the point. It motivates teams, players, coaches and management to stay on top. When the unthinkable happens, teams must earn their way back up the following season earning promotion by finishing at the top of the “minor” league.
Even storied teams in England have faced this prospect, like Newcastle United, who were relegated in 2009. However, Newcastle quickly bounced back the following year and in the 2011-2012 season were among the best teams in the top-tier yet again.
Relegation can even be a positive thing for some clubs as owners and team management must explore what went wrong, shed players who are not earning their salaries and re-organize for a push back into the top flight.
For Americans who pride themselves on being a country of merit and fairness, there is nothing more fair than earning, or failing to earn, success.