- Jason Davis

The world is abuzz this morning with the shocking revelation that "foreign" English Premier League owners would like to see an end to relegation. Among the league's foreign ownership are several Americans, most notably the Glazers at United, Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, and Fenway Sports Group at Liverpool.

I used the word "shocking" - as in its meaning of "surprising" - facetiously, of course, because rich businessmen acting as rich businessmen do proposing to do away with risk is perhaps the least shocking thing you'll hear about this day/week/month/year/decade/century/millennium/whatever is after millennium.

Once we accept that a push for the end of promotion/relegation will always be bandied about by people risking millions of dollars on a soccer club, the better we'll sleep at night. That's not a defense of the owners, or an indication that my personal opinion is that pro/rel should go away in England; quite the opposite, actually. The movement between divisions in English (European) soccer is one of the things that makes English soccer attractive. An end to pro/rel would be tantamount to throwing more than a century of history into the garbage, without regard for how the upward and downward mobility of clubs shaped not only the English game and the biggest clubs of the present day, but the way the sport is played and administrated the world over. Promotion and relegation are as much a part of English soccer as chronically rain-soaked fields, the Boxing Day schedule, or the FA Cup. Taking it away would be a crime.

Ownership in any sport is a risky proposition that is rarely a money-making endeavor. Buyers have an obligation to understand what it is they are buying, and the rules and limitations that will dictate their level of risk. When it comes to soccer in England, acknowledged acceptance that promotion and relegation are a part of the sport - and not just a rule to be changed because it is inconvenient - should be at the top of the fit and proper persons test. Pro/rel is and always will be more important than anyone who controls a club. Ownership is temporary.

The issue of the Premier League and the potential abolition of pro/rel affects me as an American soccer-first American in a couple of ways.

First, reconciling my strong disgust with this "news" (again, it's not shocking as in "surprising", but it is shocking as in "troubling") with the fact that Major League Soccer doesn't have pro/rel, probably won't have pro/rel, and - in my opinion - doesn't need pro/rel, at least not for the foreseeable future. What's good for the goose is not good for the gander, not because pro/rel isn't inherently fascinating and enthralling, but because the environments in which the two leagues operate is so different. That aforementioned history doesn't save English teams from dissolution, but it does allow the country to support more professional clubs in a nation of 50 million than the United States could ever hope to prop up, even ephemerally. Culturally speaking, soccer's footing in England is so solid that while the market may be saturated (to the detriment of small and non-League clubs), possible relegation is a fact of life, a storm to be navigated, and in some cases, an integral part of the character of certain clubs. Man City of 2011 has a different feel if they weren't in the Championship ten years ago. MLS has none of the safety nets, does not have character tied to a system built before communication changed the complexion of the sport globally, and exists in a country that has none of the ingrained sensibilities necessary to supporting pro/rel as a reality. If you're American and you love pro/rel, and you're convinced it wouldn't affect your interest in your club or the level of your support, you're the exception, not the rule.

England should have pro/rel, and America should not. That's a pragmatic determination, and does not mean that I would not want pro/rel in the US and Canada if conditions were different.

Second, the inevitable saddling of Americans with the leadership of the movement towards eliminating relegation from the Premier League, and the reflective shame that engenders in me. Yes, I'm the type that will see screeds against American ownership and their evil plans and feel the burn of flushed cheeks, simply because I happen to share a nationality with the men being castigated for their greed. It doesn't matter that I have more in common with the average English football fan than I do with the Henrys and Lerners of the world. Somehow, I'll still feel some minuscule inkling of responsibility, with the requisite knot in my gut reminding me that they villains in all of this are my countrymen. "Americanization" is a dirty word, and as I'm American, it refers to me.

Of course, it's not just Americans who would benefit from an end to the specter of relegation. Several clubs are owned by Asian concerns who could very easily be at the forefront of the push to change the rules. That won't sway most of the English-soccer loving public, English and American alike, from pinning blame on Yank owners. Fingers are being pointed this way. We've got franchises, Americans owners would no doubt love the business-first aspects of the franchise system to take hold in England, so the whole thing is an American plot to undermine proper football. Americans suck, don't know shit about soccer, and should just go back to their pointyball game.

Look at my straw man. Isn't it beautiful?

The grain of truth in all of that insanity is that Americans will be blamed, in large measure, if the Premier League locks down. I'm not positive how likely such a thing is in the near future, and I wonder about the fairness of which bottom-half teams gets a spot and who gets left out (will it be based simply on who is in the Prem at the time, or will there be some metric applied to deciding who gets a spot?), but it seems inevitable that the issue will remain in play as long as businessman are businessman, regardless of where they originate. The problem with the free market is that people without the proper respect for institutions like pro/rel are free to buy clubs.

From the AP story on today's shocking revelation is this from League Managers' Association chief executive Richard Bevan:

“If you look at sports all around the world and you lot at sports owners trying to work out how to invest to make money, you will find that most of them like the idea of franchises,” Bevan said. “If you take particularly American owners, without doubt, there have been a number of them looking at having more of a franchise situation and that would mean no promotion or relegation."

Talk of the end of promotion and relegation is enough to panic millions, and it comes in an American accent. I'm not too proud to admit this causes me distress, even as I believe the Premier League might have been headed in the same direction without any American influence.

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