A really radical North American pro soccer idea …

I get it.

Everyone loves to talk about promotion/relegation.

No one likes to talk about actual ideas (like this one) that would make it palatable to all parties in this country, including the people who’ve been building stadiums and youth academies, among other long-term investments.

Fine. Let’s go really radical …

Presenting the Total Madness Cup, which will determine the professional champion of the United States and Canada. 

Basically, it’s an NCAA tournament (think basketball if you like, but you could also think soccer or most other team sports) involving all the Division I* leagues in the USA and Canada.

* Yes, we’re going to redefine “Division I” here. Think of it as the college basketball Division I, which has more than 350 teams. We won’t go that crazy, and we will have some standards, but they won’t be nearly as onerous as the current Division I criteria in the Pro League Standards. Within 10 years, maybe we could have 100 clubs?

If you don’t like borrowing ideas from U.S. college sports, fine. Consider it a Champions League of sorts.

Here’s how it works:

  1. MLS divides into three regional conferences of 10 clubs each. They can keep all their marketing deals (though selling Soccer United Marketing to a third party might be a good idea at this point — go ahead and cash in on the investment, but then cut the intertwined links with the federation). They’ll be the equivalent of the “Power Five” conferences in football — the SEC, the ACC, the numerically incorrect “Big” conferences and the geographically incorrect Pac-12.
  2. The NPSL absorbs the remnants of the NASL and forms a couple of regional fully professional conferences of its own. If they want to have pro/rel to determine their top teams, go for it.
  3. The USL forms a couple of regional conferences as well. They can also have pro/rel — in fact, they need to have multiple tiers so the MLS reserve teams are not D1.
  4. Canadian Premier League? Yep, you’re in the mix, too.
  5. Maybe we’ll even have 1-2 more. NISA, if it gets enough teams? Sure, why not?

The requirements for these conferences (revised Pro League Standards):

  1. Performance bond.
  2. Ownership group wealth. Not one primary decamillionaire. Rational decamillionaires are in short supply.
  3. Stadium requirements of some sort. Not going to get into details here because if I do, that’s all you’ll talk about.
  4. A youth academy. Because isn’t one of the major points of all this to make sure we have opportunities for youth?
  5. A women’s team. Yeah, we’re going to end up with a pretty substantial women’s league system out of this, too.
  6. Single-table, double round-robin to determine the champion.
  7. No more than 12 teams (22 games).
  8. At least 10 inter-conference games, with at least five of those outside your league. In other words, an MLS East team can play a few games against MLS West and MLS Central teams, but it also must play at least five games against teams from the NPSL, USL, CPL and any other league that pops up. These aren’t really “friendlies” — they’re the equivalent of nonconference games in football and basketball, like Notre Dame playing Southern Cal. Lose too many of them, and you’re not making the tournament.

Here’s how it could look:

And then … the tournament.

All conference champions are automatically in. Fill the rest of the bracket (yes, bracket) with at-large teams, just like an NCAA tournament. If you like, you can have some mathematical coefficient like they use to determine how many teams from each country reach the Champions League.

I’m not going to specify whether this tournament is 16 teams or 24 or 32, or whether it should be two-leg aggregate or single-elimination or whatever.

Nor am I going to specify whether this tournament takes place in December (would have unique place in calendar and could be a neutral warm or domed sites, but we’d still have our transfer window issue until the Gulf Stream forces England to go March-November) or May-June (good weather and transfer window, but there’s just a bit of competition in the sports landsCAPe).

I’m simply going to toss out this idea and let people have at it.

Initially, I was thinking this would be kind of a joke. But the more I think about it, the more I like it. It provides the following advantages that people are seeking from pro/rel:

  1. Opportunity for clubs and investors. Want to buy your local club, invest in it and chase national glory? Fine. Nothing’s stopping you from being the Gonzaga or Butler of this system. Over time, just as some college conferences have risen and fallen, some pro conferences might get stronger. Maybe in 10-15 years, the NPSL is stronger than MLS. Again, nothing’s stopping you. (And, again, that’s another reason why we’d have to break up the SUM/MLS/USSF relationship in some fashion to make this fair. MLS owners’ divesting/cashing in seems like the simplest solution to me.)
  2. Jump-starting investment in academies. We want to develop domestic players, right? Something about not missing the World Cup again?
  3. You want “sporting merit” to meet a muddled FIFA statute? This is sporting merit.

Now if you have a better idea, fine. I’ll tell you up front that having four full national divisions in an English-style ladder is not a better idea. No one wants to see the Wilmington Hammerheads fly to face the Spokane Shadow for a fourth-division league game. Your idea needs to have two things:

  1. pyramid rather than a ladder.
  2. Some way of mitigating all the things the Deloitte report told us we need to mitigate. (Yeah, sorry, pro/rel zealots — some of us read past the “I Can Haz Pro/Rel?” headline.)

But I honestly think if we start talking about ideas rather than suing and slandering each other, we might make progress.

Or not. As Ron Swanson said, “Add ketchup if you want. I couldn’t care less.”

If you want a revolution, fine. We’d all love to see the plan.

Until then, I’ll cringe over Liverpool’s collapse, watch a few MLS games, watch a few NWSL games and slowly die on youth soccer fields.

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