Setting up the NFL for promotion and relegation

One of the more exciting aspects of is the prospect of relegation. Teams that aren’t playing up to snuff are fighting for the right to stay in the same league next season while the top teams in the leagues below are trying to find a way to be one of the teams promoted up a league, with the hope of making it to the country’s top league.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, there is no such thing (although the NASL and NPSL are trying to get promotion/relegation going) and instead there is always talk in the four major pro sports leagues about tanking and trying to stop that. And well, there hasn’t been a good answer to solve that question yet.

But with the European soccer season beginning this month, I’ve decided to explore what promotion and relegation could do to a top American sports league, particularly the NFL and how it could make it more exciting.

Note: before we get too far along, this is purely a hypothetical situation, and while I hope that it might happen one day, there are things I will glance over in order to get an overall look at what such a situation would look like.

So the most obvious thing to start with is the addition of teams. This scenario would feature a two-tiered NFL, with the current AFC being the top division, whose top teams would play for the Super Bowl, and the NFC being the second division. Both divisions would ideally need 20 teams, so we need to add eight more teams to the mix. Los Angeles gets two teams, both of which are expansion teams. San Antonio, Orlando, Salt Lake, Portland, Milwaukee and Columbus also get a team each. The top twenty teams from last year based on regular season records stay in the top division while the bottom 12 plus the expansion teams drop to the second division like so.

Division One Division Two
New England Cleveland
Denver Minnesota
Dallas New York Giants
Seattle Atlanta
Green Bay St. Louis
Indianapolis Chicago
Pittsburgh Washington
Detroit New York Jets
Arizona Jacksonville
Cincinnati Oakland
Philadelphia Tennessee
Baltimore Tampa Bay
Buffalo Los Angeles #1
Houston Los Angeles #2
Kansas City San Antonio
San Diego Orlando
San Francisco Salt Lake
Miami Portland
Carolina Milwaukee
New Orleans Columbus

There are a couple of things to note with this list. First the NFC South Division winners, Carolina, just squeak into the top division with a 7-9-1 record. And second, New Orleans, Cleveland and Minnesota each tied for 20th. I simply broke the tie by who finished highest in their division, though they could be split either way. Any of those three teams could be in any order. I would imagine tiebreakers would come down to point differential the same way goal differential is the tiebreaker in soccer.

So at this point the two divisions could each be split into two conferences each to make for easier travel, but I’m doing to keep each of the 20-team divisions together for this scenario.

Going against the grain, every team plays each other once within their divisions. This would make for a 19-game season, but there’s no other doable way to make it work. Again, this is hypothetical.

Then the top six teams in the Division One would advance to the Super Bowl playoffs. The bottom three teams in the division are relegated while the top two Division Two teams are promoted automatically while the next four teams play in a play-off to determine the third team to advance to Division One. And don’t underestimate this race either. This battle for promotion would be just as big as the Super Bowl as there would be increased revenue and a shot at winning the Super Bowl.

So in essence, you now have three very important races to focus on over the course of the season — the race to win the Super Bowl (or at least get into the Super Bowl playoff), the race to stay out of the bottom three of Division One and the race to get promoted to Division One. Oh, you think there are too many storylines in the NFL now, this would expand it exponentially.

Now granted, there are some things that would have to be worked out. The draft as we know it would certainly have to change (or even the entire football order would have to change — introducing youth academies for the NFL teams). Owners have to be willing to lose some money as well.

But the fans would certainly win in this scenario. It would be excitement from Day One and hardly any team could think about tanking to get a better draft pick (bottom teams in Division Two likely would not get top draft picks) and there would be three races to fill all of the needed story lines for a football season.

Will this happen? Probably not.

Would it be fun? Definitely.