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FMF considering eliminating promotion and relegation in Liga MX

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Here’s why it would - and would not - be a good idea.

Rafael Hernandez

If there’s one thing soccer twitter loves, it’s a good argument over promotion and relegation in the United States. One tweet from Herculez Gomez may have shifted that argument south of the border.

Here’s the original article from Rubén Rodríguez of Récord. It’s a short blurb that says this topic will be discussed at the next owners’ meeting. It goes on to say that Morelia and other teams are interested - which makes sense as Morelia has been under threat of relegation for the past few years.

As someone who covers both Liga MX and MLS, I see the benefits and drawbacks for both an open and closed system. A closed system allows for real fundamental development of a system and ethos without the fear of having to start all over in a new league next season. The Philadelphia Union are a good example of this. I’ve followed that team since their inaugural season in 2010 and have covered them for Brotherly Game since 2013. When I started covering the team, it was a dysfunctional mess. The team trained at a public park, didn’t have its own training facilities, and it’s overall infrastructure consisted of little more than a stadium and an office.

Fast forward to today - the Union made the playoffs for the first time since 2011 last season. Their training facilities are world class. The infrastructure is all there, and none of this would have been possible if they had been forced to choose between improving this infrastructure or trying to avoid a relegation drop. The sixth-largest market in the United States still has a team in its top division because it was allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

This isn't to say that the closed system is all sunshine and roses. The argument is made that there's no real incentive for a team to improve, and the fact that the Chicago Fire have finished last the past two seasons illustrates that point. Then again, even with an open system you have teams that are perpetually bad and escape the drop. Jaguares has been fighting off relegation for years and show no real signs of improving. The straw man argument says that by fighting to stave off relegation they will improve, but there's no empirical evidence of that. Chiapas is still a doormat who struggle in perpetuity. Would not having to worry about being dropped help them develop a holistic strategy for their organization to improve incrementally and thrive or would it simply empower them to reap the benefits of playing some of the biggest teams in the hemisphere twice a year?

If the owners are looking to implement a closed system, there are several things they’ll have to consider - mainly who stays permanently in Liga MX, and who stays in Ascenso MX. The big clubs - América, Chivas, Pumas, Tigres, and the other big clubs would obviously stay.

The real decision would be if clubs like Jaguares, Veracruz, the aforementioned Monarcas, and other clubs in the relegation zone would be allowed to stay - and who from Ascenso would replace them? Would it be a yo-yo team like Atlante or perhaps Leones Negros de UaG? Or would they avoid a third team in Guadalajara for a team in FC Juárez that’s close to the U.S. boder in hopes of replicating the success that Tijuana has had being effectively a bilateral club? Do you reward stable teams or teams with a geographic, population, or economic advantage?

Another issue is what happens to a club that faces the drop permanently? Remember what happened to Indios - a predecessor of FC Juárez? The drop to the (then) Segunda División in addition to the descent of Ciudad Juárez into anarchy in from 2008 to 2011 saw the club disbanded. Permanently relegating any of these clubs could in effect be a death sentence.

Also, it would behoove the FMF and the clubs that stay in Liga MX to work with the clubs in the Ascenso MX to ensure they're able to stay afloat financially. It's important to the stability of the top division to have stable lower divisions. It helps grow the game in areas that may not have the infrastructure to support a top flight team but has passionate fans nonetheless, and these clubs are critical to the development of young players. They serve not only as places for players from top clubs to go on loan and prove themselves as professionals, but also as places where guys who may have been overlooked by the top flight go to prove themselves as well - much like Miguel Ibarra did. Ibarra was selected by the Portland Timbers in 2012, but didn't catch on with the club. He went to Minnesota United - then in the second division NASL - and wound up getting a shot with the United States National Team and being sold to León before returning this season to Minnesota United, who are now a member of Major League Soccer.

Ibarra is but one story where a guy was able to hang on and prove himself due to a strong lower division. With the FMF's 10/8 rule and emphasis on developing and playing Mexican players in Mexican leagues, keeping the Ascenso healthy and vital is especially critical.

There’s a lot for the FMF to consider before making a decision. Either way, the decision is bound to be controversial and have its supporters and detractors. Only time will tell if whatever decision is made was beneficial to Mexican soccer.