To the surprise of exactly zero sane people, Major League Soccer President Mark Abbott told reporters on Tuesday that his league would never move to a promotion and relegation system. Although league officials have sometimes been less adamant about their feelings surrounding the chosen system of virtually every other league in the world, Abbott was extremely clear on this occasion.
There are wonderful and surely compelling arguments to be made that MLS might be better off in the long term if they embraced the kind of full-throated competition that pro/rel breeds, but right now there are perfectly understandable financial considerations that keep it from being plausible.
The league is very much growing, having already added nine teams since 2005 and slated to add at least three more by 2017. All of those teams paid an expansion fee, as much as $100 million in the case of New York City FC. If MLS is to continue demanding tens of millions of dollars from prospective owners, they can't even open the door to the possibility that teams could someday simply win their way into the top flight.
There's also the reality that for pro/rel to work, it requires teams to be allowed to spend however they see fit. With MLS's single-entity structure -- which is built upon teams acting as both competitors and partners -- that kind of free-spending just isn't possible.
All of that said, this hardly closes the book on the possibility of pro/rel coming to the United States. While it remains highly unlikely that U.S. Soccer would ever threaten to pull First Division status from MLS, the federation has the power to implement whatever system it deems fit. It's entirely possible that the North American Soccer League, for instance, could declare itself an open pyramid and welcome teams to compete their way to the top. In fact, they expressed openness to such a move in a statement to Sports Illustrated. Would that allow them to overtake MLS in prestige if not status? That seems far-fetched, but it's surely enough to give the pro/rel proponents something to cling to.
Either way, Abbott's statements are really nothing new. The entire concept behind MLS runs almost completely counter to a system of promotion and relegation, as there's never really been reason to think that would change. Owners buy into MLS in large part because of the stability it offers and pro/rel would significantly undermine that.
But will any of this quiet the calls for a change? Don't count on it.