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Sports

Relegation is Super Duper Cool

This weekend, let's celebrate not-quite-shitty-enough soccer.

by Ryan O'Hanlon
May 11 2012, 4:00am

On Sunday, there will be a soccer game on a television channel called Speed. There will also be a game on something known as Fuel TV. This will confuse the handful of early-Sunday-morning motorheads and Mountain Dew guzzlers who watch people drag race and use words like “rip” and “shred” for things not involving paper. Basically, these sports outlets have decided to celebrate not-quite-shitty-enough soccer.

Sunday is the last day of the English Premier League season, so Fox will be showing nine of the ten simultaneously played EPL games (ESPN has the other one) across its various networks, including Speed and Fuel TV. Theoretically, the last day of the season is important since the title race is not yet entirely decided. But what really matters on the last day of the season happens at the bottom of the standings, where a bunch of teams who’ve been consistently terrible enough to be in a position that's possibly relegated into the second division either barely survive or don’t. (Blackburn and Wolverhampton have already been relegated, leaving Bolton and Queens Park Rangers battling for the No. 0 spot. QPR plays Manchester City, who is playing for the EPL title.)

In the EPL, the three teams with the least amount of points come season’s end are demoted to the Championship, which is England’s confusingly named second division. Three teams from the Championship (first-place, second-place, and the winner of a playoff between third- through sixth-place) replace the relegated squads. This happens, in some form, in every league throughout Europe. Beyond the massive financial differences between playing first- and second-division soccer, presumably, it’s fun for fans of small clubs to see Chelsea and Arsenal come and play in their little 20,000-seat cottages—yes, cottages—once a year. Plus, there’s that irrational-but-expected early season illusion of This Is the Year We… “qualify for Europe” or “don’t have to worry about relegation.” Then there’s always the chance your tiny northwestern mill-town team actually beats Manchester United, too.

It’s for these reasons that pasty, chubby, frighteningly teethed Geordies and all the other sub-sects of English people who sound like off-market fried pork snacks lose their fucking minds every week, especially so on the last day of the season. It’s bizarre and kind of backward, getting especially excited about a team on the last day of the year because they’ve basically sucked for every other day of the season, but the reality is that these teams are competing for something different than the top six or so teams in the English Premier League. They won’t win the title because they don’t have the money and, therefore, don’t have the talent. It’s just a reality of uncapped professional sports leagues but also of capped ones, too. 

Just look at the NBA: The Charlotte Bobcats are historically terrible at winning basketball games, and they’re also owned by the most psychopathically devoted win-monger in professional sports history. This is funny for a second, but once thoughts of Michael Jordan’s pants fade from view, it’s just kind of sad. There is no reason for any non-sadist/non-parent of Kemba Walker or his teammates to watch the Bobcats. And because of the NBA’s draft structure, there’s no real reason for the Bobcats to immediately do anything because the shittier they are, the better chance they have of landing the number-one draft pick. It’s not a guarantee—worst record only lands you a 25-percent chance of the top pick—but it’s crappy basketball aimed at the more-than-likely possibility of continued crap.

Relegation won’t find itself in any stateside leagues any time soon, since, well, this is America, son. NBA and NFL owners willfully threatened their seasons because very rich people weren’t happy with the 100-gallon bags of money they were making each week. Baseball writers float the relegation idea out there; the Pirates guarantee themselves a losing season, but that’s about as far as it gets. Owners of sports teams, by definition, are ridiculously wealthy folk. Relegation, which is also super unlikely because of handfuls of structural issues, would make terrible basketball more fun, but it would also eliminate the practice of making money by simply owning a perpetually horrible franchise—and that just won’t fly ‘round these parts.

Whether or not there are rules in place to make it happen, capitalist-driven sports leagues (read: every sports league) have some good teams, and a mix of not good to inextricably shitty ones. Competition is cheapened when teams tank in the short-term to improve in the long, but such is the depressing reality of American sports. It might seem fucking nuts when thousands of fans run onto a field and hoist their players on their shoulders because they just secured a 17th-place finish, and well, it kind of is.

With only three points separating the 16th- and 18th-place clubs in the current EPL table, there’s a good chance it happens again Sunday. Even if Man City wins in a rout—they should—it’ll be a more meaningful game than any of the ones Charlotte played this season.

@rwohan