The Mexican First Division dropped a bomb on Wednesday, announcing its decision to suspend the promotion and relegation system with Mexico’s second division, the Ascenso MX. The suspension is set to last for two seasons at the minimum, though full details have not yet been released. As you can imagine, this news has far-reaching implications in both Mexico and the soccer world at large.
For starters, Liga MX relegation favorites Veracruz and Lobos BUAP are safe. The bottom two sides in the Tabla de Cociente will be relieved to hear the news, as it gives them several seasons to retool for the future. In the heat of a relegation race, both sides were reluctant to take risks with younger players, but now they have some time to get a feel for how every player on the books can do at the top level.
This applies to teams beyond the bottom of the relegation table, too. For the first time in a long time, there is no consequence to bad results in Mexican football, and I would expect many clubs to take advantage of this safe period by taking either one of two routes: Sell your players, and try to have as much money available as possible upon the return of pro/rel, or go all in now while the teams from option #1 are willing to sell.
Perhaps the biggest question surrounding this news: Will relegation ever return? As noted above, the current plan is seemingly temporary, but it would be incredibly difficult to ever convince owners to bring back relegation now that it’s gone. Look at the difficulties holding back pro/rel in the US: No owner in their right mind would ever want to take their perfectly safe team and open up a route for them to be sent to the minor leagues.
Another big question is what will happen to the Ascenso? It’s no secret that many Ascenso (and lower) clubs are not in great financial shape, but several of the larger sides like Dorados, Leones Negros, and Atlante will be left in the dust. It’s true that in the current state of Liga MX, none of those three teams would be likely to compete for a title anytime soon, but they are deserving of a chance, however slim it may be.
There is a lot of speculation to be made about the future of the Ascenso. If promotion is gone for good, do Ascenso clubs affiliate with the top flight and become developmental teams? This model would parallel the MLS/USL relationship and would provide some security to Ascenso clubs who may suffer from lack of interest due to the new rules.
Finally, we need to talk about the potential effects that this could have around the world. MLS has never had a lot of influence in the soccer world, and it was a league created without pro/rel from the start. Liga MX, a league with a long history of pro/rel, closing itself off may just have other leagues around the world contemplating doing the same.
While Mexico weren’t the originators of the Apertura/Clausura system, they definitely helped popularize it, and I fear the same may happen with this lack of pro/rel.
If club owners in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, or even in Europe see this as a route to securing their team permanent top-flight status, they might just act on it. Of course, countries with stronger and more powerful 2nd divisions than Mexico will be able to fight back better than the Ascenso, but the possibility is still scary.