The English Premiere League may not play the best soccer in the world, but they do play the most Michael Bay soccer in the world. This movie, year in and year out, is rigged to explode, and usually with multiple diabolical charges planted directly beneath important protagonists' tender parts. (And just like a Michael Bay movie, no one important ever really dies in all the fire, but more on that in a bit.)
Take the final day of the EPL season on Sunday, an emotional turn through the colon of Satan himself for anyone invested in the outcomes of the games, and a delightful "Ten Little Indians" scenario for anyone else who happened to watch. Man City would win the title, but only after nearly coughing up the title on goal differential to crosstown rivals Manchester United when City went down 2 to 1 to Queen's Park Rangers, a not-very-good team with very good motivation to play kamikaze to Man City's championship hopes.
To translate this to college football terms, imagine Tennessee competing for a national title, and then stubbing their toe in a humiliating loss to Vanderbilt at the end of the season. (Like we said: imagine this happening.) Or USC losing to UCLA to spoil a national title shot, something that has happened. (There's evidence and everything.) Or Washington losing to Washington State to ruin a glorious championship season. (Okay, now we're asking you to hallucinate. Do it anyway.)
This is what almost happened. What actually happened was even more improbable: Man City, down 2-1 into injury time, reeled off two goals in three minutes, won its first title in over four decades and nullified a budding celebration by Man U, who was just a few minutes prior celebrating its certain League title.
That's got it all, narcotically speaking. There is the joy of victory, but also the giddy edge of completely screwing someone else simultaneously. Winning alone in an otherwise meaningless match is just victory, but at someone else's expense? Oh, now you've got a veritable caper, and the world is one great museum your team just plundered through a maze of lasers and snoozing security goons.
Queen's Park Rangers celebrated, as well. Despite losing the match, they avoided being relegated, and instead sent Bolton screaming down into the abyss of the lower tiers. Even in a loss, there was a victory, and subsequent loss somewhere else. This happens all the time in college football, but we don't make a delicious formal game of lifeboat out of it. It is long past time that we did.
In short: relegation is the stick to the carrot of promotion between hierarchical leagues. In the English Premier League, you've got 20 spots in the lifeboat. Three of those seats are ejector seats and will be reserved for the three teams caught at the bottom each year. Those three teams will be replaced by three others fit enough to climb into the boat and try their luck in one of the world's most profitable game of musical chairs, and thus reap the carrot end of the bargain: EPL revenues.
This is determined mostly -- but not solely -- by the team's performance on the field. EPL fans will now bore the living daylights out of you by explaining the arcana of soccer politics to you, but the general thrust is this: the system does a lot to protect the big four and little to ensure the upward mobility of teams like the lowly Blackpools and Wolverhamptons of the world. Then you, as an American, can giggle at an Englishman being shocked at a system favoring a hereditary aristocracy and rev off in a donked-up pickup truck while blasting "Proud To Be An American."
If you happen to be a college football fan, you cannot do this too hard, though. This phenomenon already reigns in our fair sport, a tilted playing field of 20 or so aristocrats passing national titles and conference titles around. The last true surprise in the national championship picture came in 1990 when Georgia Tech and Colorado split a title. Since then, the national title and subsequent BCS titles have been shared between 14 teams, and none of them a surprise in the least in terms of money spent on football, talent available or national name recognition.
The advent of the BCS only worsened this trend. Instead of giving the voters some freelancing room -- i.e., the same kind of randomness that could give BYU its 1984 title -- the BCS's matchups made voting a Boise State into the title even less likely due to the narrative weight imposed by a one versus two matchup. Never mind that getting to that one and two was guesswork at best made by voters: make fake math, and you'll sell real results, something the BCS did well.
The primary beneficiary has been the SEC, winners of the past six national titles, confirmation that as in any sport, you can buy titles with money. If you don't like the lack of parity in college football, your options are to eliminate competitive advantages, or to embrace the hierarchy and take advantage of the bloody heights.
We're not here to change the world. We are here to make it more awesome, though.
Relegation already happens in college football, it's just done in a stupid, messy and disorganized fashion. The process of relegation in college football is what you now know as "conference realignment," a shadowy process managed by boring men in blazers eyeballing spreadsheets of television homes in closed board rooms.
In order to bump up to a better league, you have to win and present a nice business opportunity for the league in question, and then after that you're in for life no matter how badly it goes. (You're welcome, Duke and Vanderbilt.)
LIke the NFL's quiet socialism, that kind of permanent membership is simply un-American. If we're going to have the kind of oligarchy we already have in college football, let's at least build in our own Hunger Games scenario at the bottom to give the illusion of hope for the homeless New Mexico States of the world. (Or more appropriately Idaho, who literally may have been left to relegation to FCS in the collapse and cannibalization of the WAC.)
Relegation solves a few problems, and it creates a thousand more, but as we said earlier: we're not here to make things easier. We're here to make them more spectacular, and perhaps build a little flair into the drab workings of an already extant system of operations. Teams are going to be left behind anyway in the upcoming television shuffle, and revenues at the top will explode with the next round of media deals.
Since that welfare gap is on the way, let's go ahead and embrace it. Conferences need not go anywhere, but instead would have have affiliated subconferences. The Big Ten contracts out to the MAC for their second division, while the PAC-12 turns the Mountain West into theirs. The Big 12 grabs Conference-USA, while the SEC turns the Sun Belt into their kickass redneck rec room. The ACC turns the Big East into theirs, and if that sounds like an insult to the Big East, you really should take a long hard look at the Big East's current membership.
Geek out on a thousand different variations of this if you like. NAIA schools at the very bottom, making their own deals with D-3 all the way up the chain ... there's no limit to the permutations in this game of CIv 8: College Football Edition. It's boundlessly complex, but embraces the existing power structures of the game except for Jim Delany and of the Big Ten, who is as much a consideration for the future of the sport as North Korea is to the global economy.
And what a magnificent, carnivorous world that will be. Please, if you would, imagine the splendor of Clemson attempting to relegate South Carolina on the final weekend of a season, a matchup fraught with spite potent enough that you can scrape off your television, allow it to dry to a fine white powder and then snort for an unparalleled high.
Please consider the live possibility of App State fighting its way into the system on the field, and of teams like New Mexico being put out of their misery. Does Jeremy Foley, Florida's AD, really enjoy playing three Coastal Carolina games a year? Fine, he can do that if Florida gets relegated down to the Big South.
The rich still get richer under relegation. No one here wants to stand in the way of that. What relegation would allow, however, is the possibility that underperforming teams not living up to the aristocratic standard would be booted off into the mob to prove their worth anew, and perhaps lose their seat permanently to a hungrier, scrappier underling determined to bend the system and its rules to their advantage. If that and possibly screwing someone else out of a spot in the penthouse at the same time isn't the American dream, we don't know what is.