Next year, Mito will play in its largest league in history as J2 expands to 18 teams. The J. League recently confirmed all tentative promotions on the table, and only one automatic J1 relegation and the Promotion/Relegation series teams are left to be known.
2009's J2 will consist of:
(1 or 2 from: Albirex Niigata, JEF United Chiba, Omiya Ardija, Tokyo Verdy, Jubilo Iwata)
(2 or 3 from: Vegalta Sendai, Shonan Bellmare, Cerezo Osaka)
Should Vegalta Sendai join Montedio Yamagata in 2009's J1 and Albirex Niigata not be relegated, as seems fairly possible, Sapporo would be the very lonely, with Mito being the nearest away team. To put that into perspective, Mito would have twelve closer rivals than the closest match for Sapporo away fans. A team in the geographic region of, say, Gifu or Toyama, would be closer to EVERY rival club other than Sapporo than Sapporo is to any team. Again, in that situation, the rabid fans of Niigata and Sendai would not be in play and Sapporo will easily see the lowest away fan attendance in the league.
Should Chiba or Iwata be relegated it would be their first time out of J1 since the founding of the league. As interesting as this would be, Mito fans would prefer Tokyo Verdy or Omiya relegation, as historically the team has been able to play well against them.
With 18 teams, the J. League will eliminate the Promotion/Relegation Series and the top 3 J2 teams will be promoted from then on. 2009's J2 could theoretically be the last with no relegation to a lower division. J. League officials have stated that they will look at creation of a third professional division when J2 reaches 22 teams. With seven teams aiming to turn pro in 2009's JFL, it doesn't seem too unlikely that a mixture of JFL teams could join teams pruned from the bottom of a newly formed 18 team J2 to form the long rumored J3 division. (All J. League divisions have been created initially with ten teams.) Look for discussions on these lines to heat up should 2009's JFL be dominated by teams looking to turn pro. Should things look to go down this road, expect Mito to revamp resources to prevent relegation. Mito is safely out of the bottom four this year, but there is no way to count any team out of this situation in the future if this takes place. If history repeats itself as it has the past two years, a team like Yokohama FC could be relegated from J1 and the next year come dangerously close to being relegated to play in J3 against the likes of "worst team in the world" Arte Takasaki.
Although Tokushima has finished last place in the league for an incredible third consecutive year, crashing especially hard in the standings this year, I don't think that will continue in 2009. Seeing the complete meltdown at Tochigi SC due to debts and scrambling for funds to play in the pro league, you may see the worst showing ever by a team in J2. Perhaps along the lines of Kofu and Tosu five or so years ago who faced similar financial problems. The loss of coach Hashiratani and half of their backbone in the roster tells me you probably won't see Tochigi represent Japan in the ACL Champions League in 2011. Not that Mito is exactly a sure thing, of course.