theknightswhosay

Updated NFL Relocation Proposals

In History, NFL, Realignment on January 30, 2016 at 7:33 PM

I don’t want to get right into it, because when you talk about this subject, it provokes a lot of gut reaction, so I’ll start with a little background.

Post-merger to 2002 Realignment

Beginning with the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, there was a division known as the NFC West that included the Los Angeles Rams, the San Francisco 49ers, the New Orleans Saints, and the Atlanta Falcons.

Apart from the Saints, these teams had been in the Coastal Division with the Baltimore Colts, who I suppose were theoretically potential rivals to the Falcons, while the Saints were supposed to be potential rivals to the Cowboys.

Anyway, that all got scrambled with the merger, but it was decided Saints-Falcons was a better rivalry, partly because they joined the league only a year apart. The Cowboys were also a fairly new team but had already accelerated into a top team with one of the best hires ever, Tom Landry.

Of course, logically, one team was in the central United States and another was in the East. I guess it would have been more correct to call it the NFC West and South, but that would have been too wordy.

These four teams remained in this division until 2001, although tin 1995 it got even more ridiculous as the Rams moved to St. Louis and the expansion Panthers were added.

The 2001 NFL divisional alignment with 6 divisions.

The 2001 NFL divisional alignment with 6 divisions.

In the 2002 realignment, the Rams and 49ers only retained one divisional opponent apiece, and the Cardinals and the Bucs retained none.

A couple notes on the last two. After playing in the AFC for its inaugural year, Tampa Bay had joined the NFC Central in 1977. Arizona had started in the NFC East when that franchise was in St. Louis, moving in 1988.

In 2002, the Seahawks changed conferences and of course didn’t retain any divisional opponents either.

In the AFC, the Titans and Jaguars retained only one divisional opponent apiece, and the Colts retained none.

Changes in 2002.  Same key as 2001 with the two new divisions noted.  The North in both conferences was exclusively comprised of former Central teams.

Changes in 2002. Same key as 2001 with the two new divisions noted. The North in both conferences was exclusively comprised of former Central teams.

The point of all of this is to disabuse people of the notion that new rivalries can’t be formed fairly quickly and that we should not place teams into logical divisions.

The Effect of the Rams and Relocation

My primary proposal last time had the Rams in kind of a mid-South division with the Titans, Panthers, and Chiefs, so of course that idea is now obsolete.

I had thought since there were exactly four West coast teams, it made sense to put them all together, but there is a problem with that in the TV markets since the 49ers and Raiders are in the same market.

So when you have more than four teams, I think it makes sense to respect the idea that there should only be one CBS team and one Fox team in a given market. I didn’t see any reporting about this, but I suspect TV might have been one of the factors many owners switched from the Raiders-Chargers proposal to the Rams one.

Had the Raiders-Chargers proposal gone through, there would have been about six weeks where one of the two would have had to play a night game because every other week, CBS is restricted to one game on Sunday during the day. (You can get it down to six given that each team has a bye week, the two teams would play each other twice, and both networks have a doubleheader in Week 17.)

Accordingly, I have one proposal for the Chargers staying in San Diego and another in the event they move to Los Angeles.

The West

I know it was ancient history to some younger fans; but before realignment (as indicated above), the Seahawks played in the AFC against the Raiders, Broncos, and Chiefs. I would preferably bring that back.

Why? The two closest locations to San Diego are going to be Inglewood, CA, and Glendale, AZ. I don’t agree with the idea that the Chargers shouldn’t be in a conference with either of those just because before 1970, they were in the AFL instead of the NFL.

Arizona also is in a situation that doesn’t make any sense, as can be seen on the current map.

I’ll admit that in recent years, the best intra-state rivalry in California has been the Raiders and the Chargers. However, a big reason for that is the large group of Raiders fans extending from the Bay Area to Southern California. I think the Rams moving and the Raiders staying (or perhaps moving to another state) will completely change that dynamic anyway.

If the Chargers move, I would just keep the current alignment as is. Besides, I think I have enough ideas that will challenge the status quo.

There could be an all-California division and everyone else if the Chargers move, but two reasons I don’t think that’s a good idea: (1) it would require two pairs of teams switching conferences, and (2) even if one shared market can be accommodated, two is probably pushing it.

So this is my proposal for the Western teams if either the teams stay put or it’s decided that to allow two Los Angeles teams in the same conference.

West 1

Messing with Texas

The Cowboys’ and Texans’ divisions don’t make a bit of sense, and I have no qualms about removing them from those divisions.

When the Houston Oilers still existed, they played the Steelers, Browns, and Bengals. The Texans playing the Jags, Colts, and Titans is better, but not that much better. It was really a collection of mismatches. The cities that were least appropriate for the central were removed, and the city that was least appropriate for the East was removed, and they were all put together.

The Colts are close to enough other teams that there is no reason to share a division with anyone south of Nashville for sure.

The Jaguars’ closest divisional opponent is 600 miles away even though 5 non-divisional teams are closer.

I get that Tennessee and Indianapolis worked because they were both kind of leftover mismatches and aren’t that far from one another, but the triangular divisional configuration is ridiculous.
As for the Cowboys, I have yet to see a real argument as to why that’s not a misfit that needs to be corrected. Why is it better than the Oilers in the AFC Central, the Falcons in the NFC West, the Cardinals in the NFC East, or the Bucs in the NFC Central? They were all used to it as well.

The NFL was correct in the late 1960s when it saw two teams in bordering states, the Cowboys and the Saints, and put them in the same division. Adding in a Houston team in somewhat comfortable driving distance or sub-60-minute flying distance from both only makes more sense. The Falcons would be a bit more removed, but Falcons-Saints was one thing the NFL got right in 1970. It would make no sense to undo it. Texas isn’t as close to Atlanta as Carolina of course, but it’s better than San Francisco, Los Angeles, or even St. Louis.

Given the Rams’ move back to Los Angeles, I can’t think of one alignment where I wouldn’t want this division.

Two Obvious Divisions

The first keeps together four teams that have been in the same division (which they shared with Tampa Bay years ago) since the merger: the NFC North (previously the NFC Central, or as Chris Berman calls it, the Norris Division), made up of Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit.

The second one is the current NFC East minus the Cowboys. Their replacement is perfectly obvious on the map, the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore is about 40 miles from Washington and about 100 miles from Philadelphia. Philadelphia is less than 100 miles from New York. I don’t think you can get a more ideal division than that.

It would mean Baltimore changing from the AFC to the NFC, but Baltimore was never an AFL city. Apart from some overlap with Steelers fans in rural Maryland, I think Baltimore fans encounter would-be rival NFC East fans a bit more often as well. This would also make it so that the rural Maryland/Northern West Virginia/Southern Pennsylvania/inland Northern Virginia area could have the Ravens on one network and the Steelers on another.

The More Traditional Approach

I used a different color scheme for these.

I used a different color scheme for these.

Obviously, the most traditional thing to do would be to leave everything the way it is, but one of the things I’m not in favor of is radical realignment. This would be blowing up all the existing divisions and conferences as if they never existed. When I talked about the western teams, I even talked about trying to limit the number of teams who change conferences.

I call it radical realignment because that was the name for the proposals in baseball after the strike when it was suggested that teams like the Mets and Yankees should be in the same league and no attention be paid to which franchises were traditionally in which league.

But anyway, I’ve said how I feel about the 8 western teams, the 4 teams of the current NFC North, the 4 teams of my proposed NFC South, and the 4 teams of my proposed NFC East.

I have mixed feelings about the other. The more traditional approach would start by leaving the current AFC East (Buffalo, New England, Jets, Miami) in tact.

That leaves Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Carolina, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay. I would just make the teams north of the Ohio River the AFC North and those to the south the AFC South.

The More Geographic Approach

East 2

You can figure out which one of the AFC East is not like the others. Miami isn’t so close to New York, and it’s even farther from Buffalo and New England.

So why not start by putting all the Florida teams into one division instead? None of them currently have rivalries that make sense anyway.

But they need another team. While the Falcons would be ideal, I’ve put them in the NFC South already to keep their rivalry with the Saints.

The Panthers are the logical choice here. They would maintain their series with the Bucs, but it would add a team in between in Jacksonville. I know the Jags haven’t had a good season in a while, but it could evolve into something like the Saints-Falcons rivalry with two franchises of a similar age in the same general part of the football landscape. This arrangement would have the added bonus of making it so the Florida television map doesn’t look like a Jackson Pollock painting (see below).

florida pollock

This would require the AFC East to add a fourth team, and the remaining team closest to the coast is the Steelers, who seemingly could develop a natural rivalry with Buffalo and already have had a competitive rivalry with the Patriots, although not in the same division of course.

This would leave sort of a Ohio River division centered around Cincinnati, with the Titans to the South, the Browns to the Northeast, and the Colts to the Northwest.

Appendix

I’m done. I just wanted to post some television maps of Florida from last season if you didn’t get my Pollock remark and picture. They’re not even consistent. Sometimes West Palm Beach goes with Miami, sometimes it goes with the panhandle or the rest of the country. Sometimes Ft. Myers goes with Tampa, sometimes it goes with Miami.

florida tv 2

florida tv 3

florida tv 4

florida tv 5

florida tv 6

florida tv

Rams, Raiders, and Relocation

In NFL on January 22, 2016 at 7:57 PM

I started this off with a couple of observations after watching the Jeff Fisher interview after a welcoming party for the Rams. I eventually got around to adding some other topics based on my knowledge of the NFL in the 1990s and since, including some of the major figures around both Fisher, the Rams organization, and relocation.

Jeff Fisher is from the Los Angeles area and actually coached the Rams as a defensive coordinator in 1991. After the Rams fell from 11-5 with a conference championship appearance in 1989 to 5-11 in 1990, Fisher’s hiring was directly overseen by the late owner Georgia Frontiere, and he was actually supposed to be the heir to John Robinson. However, rather than turning things around, the Rams got even worse, going just 3-13.

Robinson resigned, and Fisher was not retained by the new head coach Chuck Knox, the last to coach the Rams in Southern California (Knox also coached the Rams from 1973 to 1977 when they were actually in Los Angeles).

This page chronicles Fisher’s experience with the Rams during the 1991 season and in the immediate aftermath:

I couldn't find a picture of Fisher as an assistant coach, but this was just a few years before.

I couldn’t find a picture of Fisher as an assistant coach, but this was just a few years before.

After Knox also failed to turn things around (his best season was 6-10 in 1992), Frontiere would orchestrate the move to St. Louis, the city of her birth.

I had forgotten that Fisher was also the coach of the Oilers when they went through the relocation process (They initially moved to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis as a temporary location, but there was little local fan interest since they knew the Oilers would not be their team). He had taken Jack Pardee’s place as head coach during the 1994 season (he was retained despite a 1-5 record after Pardee had started 1-9) and moved with the team after the 1996 season.

To give some additional perspective to how long ago this was, when Fisher took the defensive coordinator job in Houston, he replaced Buddy Ryan, famous for coaching the great Bears defense 30 years ago (he also happens to be the father of Rex and Rob if you were wondering). Coincidentally, Fisher had played for Ryan in Chicago and worked as his assistant in Philadelphia.

I have another blog planned where I modify my position on realignment given the NFL’s relocation approval for the Rams (effective immediately) and the Chargers (which is undetermined and may not take place at all).

In looking at the map, I thought it was interesting that both the Rams and the Oilers (now Titans) moved to the same basic part of the country. More on that in a moment.

Fisher coached in that area 19 of the past 20 seasons (he did not coach in 2011), so he expressed some mixed feelings about the move. I thought it was decent of him to mention in local press conferences the fans that the team is leaving behind and how they got to enjoy two NFC Championships and a Super Bowl win.

The Rams’ 1999 Super Bowl (January 2000) win was over Jeff Fisher’s Titans.

The Rams made two other Super Bowls in franchise history: Super Bowl XIV in January 1980 when they lost to the Steelers (after what would be their last year in Los Angeles proper) and Super Bowl XXXVI in January 2002 when they lost to the Patriots (in the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win). The Rams last made the playoffs in 2004.

Between the Ohio River and the southern edge of the Florida panhandle and between the eastern border of Texas and the Atlantic Ocean, there was previously only one team, the Atlanta Falcons. So all of a sudden there were two teams between Kansas City and Atlanta in roughly neighboring fan areas.

The area that had no teams before  the 1990s relocation is covered by the black lines on the left.  The gray box that is added on the right adds the area that had only one team.

The area that had no teams before the 1990s relocation is covered by the black lines on the left. The gray box that is added on the right adds the area that had only one team.

I’m curious about how this played into fan support, financing, etc. It also could have had something to do with the NFL allowing the Rams to move back. Maybe the St. Louis market being unexploited doesn’t seem like such a problem with all the relatively close teams.

The two new teams to populate the greater area I mentioned before (but slightly to the east of Atlanta) were 1995 expansion teams Carolina and Jacksonville. Jacksonville was a surprise winner over St. Louis, Baltimore, and Memphis. In recent years, there have been rumors about the Jaguars possibly relocating, and St. Louis has been suggested as a possibility. Jacksonville is the fourth-smallest TV market in the NFL, ahead of only Green Bay (which was the only smaller market in 1995), Buffalo, and New Orleans.

St. Louis had given the Rams a very friendly lease before there was so much popular sentiment against public financing and of course before the global financial crisis that took place in 2008, the year of Frontiere’s death. Part of that agreement was for the city to maintain a top-tier stadium, meaning it had to be among the top 8 in the NFL even though St. Louis would have only been the 19th NFL TV market had the other Los Angeles stadium project been approved instead.

So the unwillingness/inability of St. Louis to do that does not, in my opinion, rule out potential relocation there by another franchise. Places like Houston, Baltimore, and Cleveland changed course after their original teams left (the current Browns team was really an expansion team even though we’re supposed to pretend it wasn’t), so the same could happen. Not that it would have to be in the top 8 (which shouldn’t be expected of a city that size anyway). It is concerning, however, that despite being in the middle of the pack in performance and despite the fans knowing relocation might be imminent, St. Louis was dead last in attendance in the NFL last year. More people per game went to see the Vikings, who play at a college stadium outdoors (which, to be fair, seems nice considering), even though there was room for 14,000 fewer people.

The view from the home plate side of Oakland Coliseum.  It is nostalgic to see a baseball diamond when you watch on TV, although it would annoy me as a fan.

The view from the home plate side of Oakland Coliseum. It is nostalgic to see a baseball diamond when you watch on TV, although it would annoy me as a fan.

On a related note, no one seems to care about the Raiders’ ongoing stadium problems. I guess the NFL still regards that franchise as the enemy even though Al Davis (the other owner who abandoned the L.A.) has also passed away. (Among many perceived slights to the league, Davis had moved the team to L.A. despite losing 22-0 when the proposal was submitted to the other owners.) USA Today technically ranked the Oakland Coliseum second to last, but the author wrote last place Soldier Field wasn’t really the worst but was being ranked last because it used to be nice. I’m sure that’s a comfort to the Raiders.

Ryan, Robinson, and Knox are all still alive and over 80 years old. Those guys were emblematic of football to me when I was young, so I’m happy to know they’re still around; and it was fun to refresh my memory of them.

Slightly less memorable was Pardee, who as an aside played for Bear Bryant at Texas A&M before being a Ram as a player. Unfortunately, he passed away a few days shy of his 77th birthday in 2013.

Other blogs related to Los Angeles relocation:
Before Announcement
After Announcement

2015 Final Conference Report

In College Football, Conference Reports on January 18, 2016 at 4:06 PM

This is my last regularly scheduled blog of the college football season. Five months go by so fast. Hopefully, I will get a chance to index things on here so they’re easier to find.

For the final blogger poll, click here.

I’ll get to the point now.

The SEC was #1 going into the bowls, so going 9-2 (counting the championship game) was obviously good enough to stay #1.

I do want to stress a little bit how impressive that is. Only one of the SEC bowl teams (Auburn, the worst of the SEC bowl teams) played an opponent that was not in a Power 5 (P5) conference.
Contrast that with the Pac-12, who played three non-P5 (Group of Five or G5) opponents in 10 bowl games.

(BYU isn’t in any conference, but it was most recently in the Mountain West and never has been a P5 program, so it’s classified in the G5 group.)

One of the Pac-12’s P5 opponents was Nebraska, who was granted a waiver as a 5-7 team because there were not enough normal bowl-eligible teams.

sec-pinwheel-logo

These were the match-ups for the SEC:
#1 vs. Big Ten #1 (then vs. ACC #1 in championship)
#2 vs. Big XII #2 (Ole Miss is counted as #2 because it got a better bowl selection than Florida; Oklahoma St. is likewise counted over TCU for the same reason)
#3 vs. Big Ten #4
#4 vs. Big Ten #5 (four teams went 5-3 in the SEC, so some of these will be debatable)
#5 vs. Big XII #7 (Kansas St. was actually #8 in the standings, but Texas did not qualify for a bowl game)
#6 vs. Big XII #6
#7 vs. Big Ten #7
#8 vs. ACC #5
#9 vs. ACC #9
#10 vs. AAC #5

These were the Pac-12 match-ups:
#1 vs. Big Ten #2
#2 vs. Big XII #3
#3 vs. Big Ten #6
#4 vs. ACC #6
#5 vs. Independent
#6 vs. Big Ten #8
#7 vs. MWC #2
#8 vs. Big XII #5
#9 vs. CUSA #2
#10 vs. MWC #3

I don’t look at margin of victory for the purposes of these rankings, but I think they do help show that most of these SEC bowl wins weren’t just luck.

The Big Ten ended up with a worse record than the Pac-12 even though Nebraska and Minnesota got to play in bowl games with losing records. The win by Nebraska was good, but you expect any but the worst Big Ten teams to beat Central Michigan. I would also give the Big Ten credit for not playing any other G5 opponents.

There was a clear enough gap between the Big Ten and the Pac-12 to begin with, so even if the bowls were harder, there isn’t any reason for the Big Ten to pass up the Pac-12. Also if you look at the apples-to-apples games, USC-Wisconsin was a 50/50 game and Stanford beat Iowa soundly.

The Big XII went 3-4 in bowl games, so likewise, I see no reason they should pass up the Big Ten.

The AAC only had two wins. Although both were against the ACC, the ACC still won four bowls. The two conferences were so close, I think that was enough to flip the two.

The other conferences were all within a game of .500, so there was no reason to make any other changes. The lower-ranked conferences don’t play as many bowl games, so those are a smaller percentage of overall games anyway.

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