Liga MX facing pro/rel revamp, other tricky issues in coming months

Right now, Liga MX is cruising through the 2018 Clausura but the league feels like it is in flux. The addition of Liga MX Femenil in 2017 was a major development, as was the decision to pull out out of the Copa Libertadores in 2016 and the change in the foreigner rules (see below), also in 2016.

But it seems like such announcements from Liga MX, via chief Enrique Bonilla, and the club owners won't be ending there. Reading between the lines, it appears there is a continued appetite for reform inside the Liga MX headquarters in Toluca and around the first division clubs. Just what the league's plan is moving forward hasn't been laid out, but there are some issues that will surely be on the agenda in the near future as Liga MX club owners seek to improve their product.

Here are five of the biggest.

1. Addressing the pro/rel system

Liga MX should be roundly applauded for trying to tackle the issue of relegation head on, especially as their current system of a points-per-game ratio, worked out over the previous three years, is overly complicated and difficult for the average fan to follow.

It also sucks the emotion out of the promotion battle when some second division clubs -- Murcielagos and Atlante are two recent reported examples -- have struggled to pay players on time and only six of the 16 clubs are actually eligible for promotion either because they don't meet the Liga MX's infrastructure rules -- most don't have the required minimum 20,000-capacity stadium -- or aren't financially solvent.

The prospect of abandoning relegation altogether is on the table, perhaps for an initial four-year period. The reasoning would be to create a controlled top division that attracts investors while also increasing the value of the league and its clubs. The Liga MX club owners have no doubt looked at MLS franchises soaring value -- from $10 million to $150m in 10 years, according to one report -- and want something similar, with the hypothesis that ending relegation would create that kind of environment. The prospect of more investment could possibly even end multi-ownership of clubs - Atlas and Morelia are both owned by Grupo Azteca, while Pachuca and Leon are owned by Grupo Pachuca. Multi-ownership is supposed to disappear in May.

"What we are adamant about in the [Liga MX] Committee is that the league has to improve," said Atlas president Gustavo Guzman recently in an interview with Medio Tiempo. "Why? Because our franchises aren't valued at what we want them to be. The closest example is that of the United States and we're not close."

But the idea of getting rid of promotion has sparked protests among second-division clubs, some of which have pumped notable resources into institutions with the intention of getting promoted. One prominent example is Atletico San Luis, which is owned by Atletico Madrid and has embarked on an ambitious project in Mexico. Atletico San Luis' president Alberto Marrero has suggested that the issue could be taken to FIFA if pro/rel is abolished.

In the next owners' meeting, this will almost certainly be the hottest topic.

2. Foreigners and opportunities for young Mexicans

This is an ongoing debate that encapsulates the essence about what Liga MX is looking to be. Is this a league that wants to be truly international and the best in the Americas? Or does it want to foster the creation of Mexican talent? And is it even possible to be both at once?

The response to finding a balance between those questions has so far been awkward. The 9/9 rule (formerly the 10/8 rule) allows nine non-homegrown -- read: non-Mexican -- players in each squad. It sounds like a solid idea apart from the way certain clubs, Monterrey and Club America among them, stack the starting XI with foreigners and give limited time to Mexicans. That said, whether Liga MX teams should have any responsibility to look out for the interests of the Mexican federation and national teams is another topic of debate.

There's also the reported possibility of a rule coming in for the 2018 Apertura to force clubs to give young Mexican players a certain amount of minutes per season. The implementation of a similar rule between 2005 and 2011 is regularly cited as a reason players like Javier Hernandez and Andres Guardado got their chance in Mexico's first division.

Tigres coach "Tuca" Ferretti, who won the 2017 Apertura final with a team in which the youngest starting player was 26, has been vocal in his opposition.

"I think it is totally inadequate if we are creating such an important league," said Ferretti earlier this year. "I don't believe it's the best way to develop Mexican players because when this rule was used, players even used to ask not to play because of the great pressure that was on them."

3. A lack of international tournaments

With the reduced CONCACAF Champions League and Liga MX clubs no longer being involved in the Copa Libertadores, there is a need and space for more international involvement for MLS clubs. The proposal of a MLS/Liga MX cup competition has dragged on without ever coming into fruition, while more recent reports suggest that an annual champions match between MLS and Liga MX may be a likelier bet. That, however, would only be one game per year.

It's difficult to know where else Liga MX could turn, but some kind of international competition outside the CONCACAF Champions League for its clubs would be beneficial.

4. The power of the players' association

The Mexican footballers' association came into existence last November with the lofty goals of taking on the Gentlemen's Pact ("Pacto de Caballeros"), the transfer draft and demanding fairer treatment for players.

It's already had an impact, with the president of the association, Alvaro Ortiz, telling ESPN on Thursday that the recent Oswaldo Alanis case could be as important a landmark in Mexico as the Bosman ruling was in Europe. Alanis was banished from the Chivas first team ahead of the 2018 Clausura because he refused to sign an extension to his contract, which runs out in the summer, but after much pressure from the association Chivas gave in and reinstated the Mexico international.

Both Liga MX and the association have stated they want to work for the good of Mexican football but just how far the players are willing to push for substantial change, and how much the owners are willing to bend, is yet to be fully seen.

5. Division among the owners

Liga MX isn't a single entity like MLS and for the league to work, it is very helpful if the club owners can be brought together and agree on decisions. Such unity wasn't on display last October when the Liga MX club owners disagreed on a new TV deal for the national team. Pachuca's Jesus Martinez was the most vocal critic.

With league TV rights in Liga MX increasingly diversified since 2012, it is in everyone's interest for the product to improve and for everyone to benefit from better TV deals. If the Liga MX owners can really come together, there may even be scope for a collective deal with staggered earnings, like in La Liga, although that seems a bit distant right now.