“Never”: The last MLS, promotion-relegation update you’ll ever need

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PORTLAND, Ore. — It was a throw-away question at the end of hour session, with a long-time MLS writer hitting a lighter note to conclude MLS President Mark Abbott’s time with the media. With international calendars, conference realignment, and the rest of the chestnuts already roasted, the final lark had to be addressed: Promotion and relegation.

“I would say that never happens,” Abbott said after joking, “I was wondering what that topic was going to come up.” According to the executive, the first employee in the league’s history, it’s not the only time he’s had to go on record about the issue.

“The last time I got to stand in for [commissioner Don Garber] was at an [Associated Press] event,” Abbott explained, “and I said the same thing. And it got reported out in the middle of the meeting.”

This time, the reports were almost as quick, but is this really news? Perhaps, even though Major League Soccer has never seriously considered promotion-relegation, and in the face of the league’s recent success, it’s difficult to see the system as needed.

Promotion-relegation may be no closer to MLS soccer than a field with three goals. I imagine the answer to that one would be “never,” too. “Pro-rel” is no more likely now that it was 18 years ago.

Still, given the prevalence of the feature worldwide, it’s not surprising the issue keeps coming up. There will always be fans that want Major League Soccer to fall in line with the rest of the soccer world. Until that happens, critics will have their point of comparison, and complaint.

The better question, though: Why do we (myself included) keep posting about it? It’s a question that gets to the core of what defines news. The persistence of a status quo is newsworthy, in some cases, but usually that coverage is about new information. In the face of something people may want to change, new reasons it persists becomes valuable information. That’s information worth talking about.

With MLS and promotion-relegation, there’s no new information. The league hasn’t  moved closer to the system. If anything, the growth the league’s experienced since its inception provides a disincentive. There’s no reason to change course.

Even as I type, this feels like something that should go unsaid. While there will always been people who want “pro-rel,” their mere existence doesn’t make the feature a viable issue. If we just stop talking about it, in theory, the lark might go away.

Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen. As long as so many other leagues promote teams, fans will be curious. Unless Major League Soccer can usurp the Premier League, produce a World Cup winner for the U.S., and play a title game on the moon, critics will claim there’s something “pro-rel” can do.

No, Abbott’s answer probably wasn’t news, which means this post was completely unnecessary, too, but as long as the system is part of the discussion, promotion and relegation is going to come up. “Never” may not only be MLS’s pro-rel future, it may also be when we can move on from this issue.