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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

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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.

Reaction to the Los Angeles NFL Announcement

In NFL on January 16, 2016 at 2:19 PM

Since I weighed in before the decision was made, I felt it was right to respond now.

Again, I’m going to talk about my personal reaction and the reasons why (in the first two sections below) as well as the implications for football fans more generally.

Saints vs. Rams

I don’t like the Rams. I never have liked the Rams. I don’t feel as negatively toward them as I did between 1988 and 2001 though. 1988 was the first full football season I remember watching, and 2001 was the Saints’ last year in the NFC West, which used to comprise the Saints, Falcons, 49ers, and Rams.

2000 was an especially big year in the rivalry. The Rams and Saints played three times from November 26 to December 30. They split the regular-season matchups, with the road team winning each game. Then the Saints narrowly won in the wild card round of the playoffs, New Orleans’ first playoff win as a franchise.

Brian Milne of the New Orleans Saints recovers a muffed punt to secure the Saints win over the Rams in the Wild Card Round in 2000.

Brian Milne of the New Orleans Saints recovers a muffed punt to secure the Saints win over the St. Louis Rams in the Wild Card Round in 2000.

Even though realignment took place after the following season, there were a lot of feelings that carried over. Cultural and geographic factors also helped intensify the rivalry with the Rams being in St. Louis instead of Los Angeles. New Orleans is the one large primarily Catholic city in the Deep South; but of course Missouri was a border state in Civil War times, and St. Louis has a long Catholic tradition as well. It’s not uncommon for people to travel from one to the other for college, work, and family reasons.

Many Saints fans also have a feeling of rivalry with the Cowboys even though (except for a couple of seasons in the 1960s) the Saints and Cowboys have not been in the same division, so it’s not like realignment necessarily changes everyone’s feelings.

I will say that I disliked the Rams the least among the four NFC West teams before they moved to St. Louis and also in their first couple of years there. The Saints’ #1 enemy has been and still is the Falcons, but the team that kept winning the division in the late 80s and early 90s was the 49ers.

That’s not to say there was no animosity though. The Rams and Saints often vied for a wild card spot in the same seasons. In 1988, for instance, the Saints, Rams, and 49ers all finished 10-6. Due to tie-breakers, the 49ers won the division, the Rams got a wild card spot (of only two that were available), and the Saints stayed home. (San Francisco went on to win the Super Bowl over Cincinnati.)

In 1989, a loss to the 49ers dropped the Saints to 1-4. They would rally to finish 9-7, but again, this was not good enough to get one of the two wild card spots. An overtime loss to the Rams in late November ultimately cost the Saints a playoff spot. The 49ers would return to the Super Bowl as NFC champions after beating the Rams in the championship game.

The Saints again had a rough start in 1990, with Bobby Hebert off of the team. They were only 5-7 going into the last four games, two of which were against the Rams and the other against the 49ers. They won all three of those divisional games, including beating the Rams with a Morten Andersen field goal in the final game. Even though this was the worst New Orleans season since 1986, it was the first year of the six-team playoff, and the Saints made it in as the third wild card.

So when you’re competitive with teams that are playing for and winning conference championships and Super Bowls while you don’t even make the playoffs (partly because you had to play those teams multiple times), that can build up a dislike of those other teams.

Even though the Rams would not make the playoffs again until 1999 (when they won the Super Bowl over Tennessee), it wasn’t like there was no history before that. I remember trying to boycott the Saints when Jim Everett played for them. I could not stand him when he played for the Rams, and I refused to change my mind about him.

More Personal Feelings on the Move

I do feel a little bit bad for the St. Louis area, which has now lost two teams in my memory. I guess the NFL thinks the fans can just distribute themselves to other teams. Of course Los Angeles went as a largely untapped market for over 20 years, so I guess the NFL doesn’t see it as a huge problem.

Maybe one day there can be a gigantic new stadium somewhere between St. Louis and Memphis and everyone in that middle region can have a team to share. Maybe there will be some advance in transportation that allows people to get there at 100 miles per hour. Here is a map of where St. Louis is (the clear star in the middle) relative to the interstate highway system and other NFL teams.

St. Louis

If it had to be one team (although the Chargers may still come later), I was hoping it was going to be an AFC team.

Even though (as I explained in the last blog on this issue) it’s better to be in a secondary market than a primary market, I would have gotten to see the Chiefs, my favorite AFC team, more. I would have seen them play the Chargers or Raiders twice. I may see some of those games still, but if they’re on in the afternoon and the Rams are on in the afternoon, NFL rules prevent another game from being on television at that time.

Also, if the Saints are playing at the same time as the Rams, I won’t see them. If the Saints are playing a day game and Fox doesn’t have a doubleheader, I also will be almost guaranteed not to see the Saints. The only possible exceptions to the latter item are the two times per year that the Saints will host an AFC team (which makes it a CBS game).

As I said last time, the Chargers are the only one of the three applicants I have ever cheered for even a little bit. So not only are the Chargers not the home team now (at least not for the time being), Los Angeles is also no longer a secondary market for them.

Television tends to favor games involving a team’s divisional rivals. I have no interest in seeing the Seahawks or 49ers more often. I’ve never minded the Cardinals (another team that was previously in St. Louis) and actually am hoping they win the NFC in these playoffs, but that’s not much of a comfort. But if they stay good and Patrick Peterson and Tyran Mathieu keep playing for them, maybe they’ll solidify their spot as my #4 team (I also like the Dolphins, not that I’d see them much regardless).

The main positive is I am more likely to see the Saints when they actually play the Rams. You play teams in your conference more than you play the teams from outside of your conference (an average of once every two years vs. an average of once every four years). I might even try to save up and go to a game if the Saints come to town.

Fan Bases and History

The Rams do have a lot more history in Los Angeles than the other two options. The Raiders were only in Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994, although they did get a lot of followers from that time. The Chargers were only in Los Angeles in 1960, but still being in Southern California resulted in them still having a lot of fans that aren’t too far away.

I mentioned last time that a lot of the support for the Rams has dried up, but I also mentioned fans around here can be kind of fickle. I’m sure many of the people who only recently became Chargers fans can now easily become Rams fans. Even longstanding Raiders fans may cheer for the Rams at least when it doesn’t hurt or distract from the Raiders.

I’m not sure about all the people who claim to be fans of the Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, etc.; but it probably depends on whether those teams are any good in a given season. It also helps fans to move away from those teams the more removed they get from their last Super Bowl. (I know the Cowboys were a long time ago, but not as long ago as the last time Los Angeles had an NFL team.)

The NFL left the door open to a second team with the Chargers. With the elimination of the Raiders from consideration though, that avoids the huge headache of sorting out two teams of the same conference in one market, which has never been done before.

I think the Raiders are settled in Northern California, and the Chargers are settled in Southern California. So if the Chargers move, I think their San Diego fans are less likely to give up on them. If they don’t move, they’ll likely still have some fans in the outlying areas of Los Angeles who will support them.

I will be interested to see if support for the Raiders dissipates in Southern California. I think some of the Northern and Eastern parts of the Bay Area would have felt really abandoned by the NFL since the 49ers moved to the suburbs south of San Francisco.

2015 Final Top 25 and Comments

In Bowls, College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on January 14, 2016 at 6:19 PM

I wanted to get this out of the way first. College football always comes first here. I will post my reaction to the Los Angeles NFL drams that I first covered here.

People are sometimes confused with my rankings after the bowl games. The way I do it is to count the bowls as just another game. So the fact that Iowa, for instance, looked mediocre and Florida looked like a JV team didn’t knock Iowa out of the top 10 or Florida out of the top 25.

I want to congratulate Appalachian St. for making my top 25, although I do think they would lose to more than 25 teams on a neutral field. Why are they so high anyway? I want such a team to be able to move up with a collection of wins. Imagine we had a 16-team tournament and they were included with the teams as the Sun Belt champions (they weren’t, but Arkansas St. lost two more games, so bear with me).

A win over a team like Alabama or Clemson counts as about 2/10 of a point. So one such win would only get 11-2 Appalachian St. to #14, two would get them to #8, three would get them to #6. and four would get them to #3. I think that’s reasonable. Any team they beat would lose points, so some of those would be one or two spots higher, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with a team that only had two losses potentially being #1 (or at least close to #1) if you imagine them beating four of the top teams.

Chad Kelly helped Ole Miss get the most valuable win of the year (0.23 in my system).

Chad Kelly helped Ole Miss get the most valuable win of the year (0.23 in my system).

IF I use a basketball example, someone who makes the NCAA basketball Final Four has won at least four games in the tournament, usually at least three of them against top 25 teams or comparable. In the poll after the 2012-13 season, Wichita St. jumped 22 spots after making the Final Four and narrowly losing to eventual champions Louisville. Appalachian St. was 27th in my rankings before the bowls this season (not that far from where Wichita St. was before that tournament), so if there were a post-season tournament comparable to basketball, I think my projected final rankings would make sense.

I also don’t think it goes too far the other direction and ignores schedule differences. Alabama only lost one fewer game and is 1.3 points and 20 spots ahead. If you subtract 1.3 points from Appalachian St., that would give them a number of points comparable to Maryland, which finished 3-9 against a good schedule. So I think right in between Alabama and Maryland if the Mountaineers had played in a major conference is a fair assessment.

It just so happens there are a lot fewer teams on the Alabama side of Appalachian St. than on the Maryland side. All the 8-5 and 7-6 teams in major conferences are between Maryland and Appalachian St. There are a lot more of them than there are 12-1 and 11-2 teams.

Moving on to other teams… Alabama was a clearer #1 this year than Ohio St. last year, but the Tide’s loss wasn’t as bad and it had a better schedule. I expect teams in the championship game to be comfortably #1 and #2 with the way the playoff system works. Any win is more points even if you played more games than other teams. That used to anger Pac-12 and Big Ten fans when they didn’t have conference championship games, by the way. I think teams deserve credit every time they risk a loss, so I’m not changing that policy.

I like that Michigan St. stayed #3 when their post-season loss was to Alabama, they beat Ohio St., and (unlike Ohio St.) also beat Iowa, the Big Ten runners-up. Had they not played Iowa, I would have been fine with Ohio St. passing them up.

Speaking of Iowa, Stanford, the team who beat them in the Rose Bowl, moved up to fifth. Both Ohio St. and Stanford moved ahead of Oklahoma, who lost to Clemson in the semifinal. Since the final regularly-scheduled game (a win over Oklahoma St.), Oklahoma is 0-1, Stanford is 2-0, and Ohio St. is 1-0; so I don’t think that’s unfair. I felt the Sooners rightly stayed ahead of Houston, Iowa, Ole Miss, and TCU.

LSU would be in the top 10 if I averaged by week and likely would be had they played McNeese St., but if you consider that two of the three losses were to top 10 teams (Alabama and Ole Miss), 9-1 against the rest is pretty good.

One of the wins was over Western Kentucky, who finished 12-2 and #12. The Hilltoppers’ only other loss was to Indiana, a bowl team from the Big Ten. It wasn’t a good bowl, but Texas wasn’t in any bowl and they beat Oklahoma (for instance), so I don’t think that should be fatal.

Michigan started out six spots below Florida and ended up five spots ahead, so I think that’s a reasonable shift for one game. I don’t see anything controversial about Notre Dame, Northwester, Navy, or Utah.

I admitted that Arkansas’ loss to Toledo was one of the negatives of the conference’s non-conference campaign, but the Rockets finished 10-2 (they had a canceled game like LSU did), so nothing to be too embarrassed about. They beat one of the best G5 teams in Temple in the bowl game.

The other bad SEC loss (by a good SEC team anyway) was Ole Miss’ loss to Memphis, but Memphis might be ranked had they not lost to another SEC team Auburn in the bowl game. I’ll discuss conference results more in the next college football blog probably early next week.

Oklahoma St. stayed in the top 20 despite three losses in a row to end the season, so it’s not some special SEC privilege, although rightly the Gators stayed ahead of the Cowboys. Florida played the best three SEC West teams by overall record.

Mississippi St. and Georgia also benefited by the improvement to their opponents combined with bowl wins of their own.

The Big XII didn’t have the best time of the bowls, but Baylor’s bowl win over North Carolina was strong enough on its own to put them back in the top 25.

The same could be said of the Big Ten West and Wisconsin.

Top 25

1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 2
3 Mich. St. 3
4 Ohio St. 5
5 Stanford 7
6 Oklahoma 4
7 Houston 8
8 Iowa 6
9 Ole Miss 13
10 TCU 14
11 LSU 16
12 WKU 15
13 Michigan 17
14 Notre Dame 9
15 N’western 10
16 Navy 18
17 Utah 21
18 Florida 11
19 Toledo 23
20 Okie St. 12
21 Appy St. —
appalachian st
22 Miss. St. —
23 Baylor —
24 Georgia —
25 Wisconsin —

Here are the previous rankings blogs:

Preseason

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

Week 11

Week 12

Pre-Bowl

Which NFL Team(s) Make Sense for the L.A. Fan Base?

In NFL on January 5, 2016 at 8:29 PM

My (not especially numerous) regular readers know that I’m not a huge NFL fan, but I do at least follow major news items of all the major sports: football, baseball, basketball, hockey to some extent.
Although obviously most of my posts are about college football, I’ve also written previously about conference and divisional realignment in the NFL.

If you didn’t know, three teams have submitted applications to the NFL to relocate to the Los Angeles area.

All three teams were previously in the Los Angeles area. The Rams and Raiders moved to St. Louis and Oakland, respectively, after the 1994 season. (The Rams were originally in Cleveland, and the Raiders were originally in Oakland before moving to Los Angeles.) The Chargers had moved to San Diego after playing their inaugural season in 1960 in Los Angeles.

I’m from Louisiana (that’s why I came up with the name Bayou Blogger), but I’ve lived in Southern California since 2004, so I feel qualified to comment about the potential relocation of a team or multiple teams to the Los Angeles area. I’m going to split this into two parts. In the first, I’ll talk about NFL TV rules and why I (and probably other fans of outside teams) would prefer the status quo.

Why I’m Against Any Relocation (and non-fans of the three teams should be as well)

Since I’m not a big fan of any of them (more on that below) I would rather none of the teams moved here because of the NFL television policy that punishes you for having a local team.

For instance, I recently traveled back to the New Orleans area and was not able to watch the Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals game because it came on at the same time as the Jacksonville Jaguars played the Saints. If it were Week 1, I might have been happy with the Saints game, but I’d rather watch a game with major playoff implications than a game between two teams who are certain to miss the playoffs. The former turned out not to be a good game anyway, but that’s beside the point.

If I were in a secondary market like Baton Rouge or Los Angeles (Los Angeles is a secondary market for the Chargers), I would generally get the closest NFL team (it would be guaranteed if they’re on the road), but it wouldn’t rule out games on other networks at the same time.

It’s even worse when the same market has two teams, as the Bay Area does (at least for the time being). I’ll give an example from a few weeks ago. In Week 12 of the NFL season, the Raiders played in the morning (10 a.m. PST), and the 49ers played in the afternoon. It didn’t matter who was on any other channel or how bad the Raiders and 49ers were, the Bay Area got the Raiders in the morning on one network and the 49ers in the afternoon on the other network. Neither network was allowed to have a doubleheader that day.

What does that mean? When you’re not in a primary market, one of the two networks (CBS and FOX) gets a doubleheader, meaning a morning and afternoon game (or on the East Coast an early afternoon and late afternoon game), every week. The other network can only show one game but is allowed to choose between morning and afternoon. The two networks alternate in Weeks 1 to 16, and are both allowed doubleheaders in Week 17.

So had I been in the Bay Area on that day, I simply wouldn’t have watched an NFL game in either time slot. Therefore, I ESPECIALLY don’t want Los Angeles to have two teams.

One more note about doubleheaders: In the Saints-Jaguars example I gave, that was contractually a CBS game since the AFC team was on the road (I have no idea why the contract follows the road team). Had CBS had a doubleheader that week, both FOX and CBS could have shown an early game (although I still wouldn’t have gotten to see the Cardinals-Packers game). Since CBS did not have a doubleheader, fans could only see a total of two games during the day.

In sum, having one team limits the ability for me to see games involving other teams, and having two teams would limit that even more.

My Feelings and General Local Feelings about the Teams

So other than the fact that I don’t want us to have any teams, I’ll also mention that the only one of the three I’ve never actively disliked is the Chargers. I liked Marty Schottenheimer, I liked LaDanian Tomlinson, and I liked Drew Brees. I haven’t liked them as much since all of those people moved on, but unless I wanted them to lose to help out the Chiefs or the Dolphins (my two favorite AFC teams), I was never really against them. So I would go to a game if it were affordable (not likely), and I probably would want them to win most of the time.

I never liked the Raiders much at all. The whole bad-boy image never appealed to me. I didn’t mind them when Gruden was the coach, but they became the same dysfunctional franchise shortly after he left. The Rams were rivals of the Saints in the NFC West before realignment, so I never liked them either, although I did prefer them to the 49ers. Both teams have been pretty much irrelevant for several years, so lately I’ve been more indifferent. I still don’t imagine becoming a supporter of either.

Since moving here, I’ve lived in the area to the East of Los Angeles. I was surprised by how much loyalty people still had to the Raiders in particular. Whether people are from Los Angeles or not, that’s the team a clear plurality cheer for. It may have even been a majority of local NFL fans.

Favorite teams based on Facebook profiles by county in 2014.

Favorite teams based on Facebook profiles by county in 2014.

Since the Rams had played in Anaheim for many years, the only people I encountered who were Rams fans had lived in or very near to Orange County (which sits along the coast between San Diego and Los Angeles Counties) when the Rams still played there. The only exception is I have a neighbor now who flies a Rams flag. I do live closer to Anaheim than to Los Angeles, but it’s unusual to see anything Rams-related unless I’m going toward Orange County. I was still a bit surprised with the level of support I saw.

The Raiders seemingly had much more support in 2013.  I'm not sure if there is a difference in methodology.

The Raiders seemingly had much more support in 2013. I’m not sure if there is a difference in methodology.

I heard or saw very little about the Chargers until the last few years. I think Los Angeles was given secondary market status almost immediately when the other teams moved, but I guess it took a while for people to warm up to them. A few years ago, they got a contract with one of the local FM stations to broadcast their games. Right about that time, I noticed increased coverage of them in the news, but they’ve still been second fiddle to the Raiders. I don’t hear or see any reference to the Rams in the local media.

Occasionally the 49ers are mentioned, I guess because they’re in California and a fair number of people have moved between the Bay Area and the Los Angeles area. According to Twitter, every county in California contains more 49ers fans than Raiders fans, although the other maps disagree.

Twitter provided the only map I could find that gives more details than the respective top team in each county, and the Rams were not even in the top 3. That being said, there are still a decent number of Rams in the area.

Twitter just looked at how many people followed the teams on Twitter, but there aren't huge differences.

Twitter just looked at how many people followed the teams on Twitter, but there aren’t huge differences.

Counties with most Rams fans based on population and Twitter percentages (rounded to nearest 1000):
1. St. Louis County, MO 350,000
2. Los Angeles County, CA 200,000
3. St. Charles County, MO 142,000
4. St. Louis City, MO 128,000 (based on the percentage of St. Louis County)
5. Madison County, IL 95,000
6. Jefferson County, MO 95,000
7. St. Clair County, IL 89,000
8. Orange County, CA 62,000
9. Riverside County, CA 38,000
10. San Bernardino County, CA 37,000

The New York Times did a baseball map by ZIP code, which I think would be more informative, but I could not find anyone who did that for the NFL.

Anyway, the above indicates to me that once their Missouri fan base vanishes, the Rams would be a team without a clear geographic fan base, similar to the Mets, Jets, and Clippers.

Some people say that the Chargers will have to start their local fan base from scratch. That’s not really true, especially not if you compare the Rams’ numbers above. I don’t think they would have much more trouble attracting local interest than the Rams would, although I do think the remaining Rams fans are more loyal fans than the local Chargers fans are. Still, it would be hard to see the Rams being the more popular team even if the Raiders stayed in Oakland.

Counties with most Chargers supporters, using the same calculation as above:
1. San Diego 1,512,000
2. Los Angeles 684,000
3. Orange 227,000
4. Riverside 224,000
5. San Bernardino 146,000

The Raiders fan base is too widespread for me to figure out where the largest support is statewide without a lot of work, but I’ll just compare the Raiders’ numbers to the Chargers’ top 5 (these are also the most Raiders-supporting counties of Southern California):
1. Los Angeles 910,000
2. Orange 193,000
3. Riverside 157,000
4. San Bernardino 154,000
5. San Diego 122,000

Unless the other team turns out to be great, I see the shared stadium with the Raiders working out about how the Clippers and Lakers originally worked in the Staples Center. Even with much cheaper tickets in the same venue, people just didn’t care about the Clippers.

If it’s the Rams and Chargers sharing the stadium, I don’t think things would be as lopsided. Also, I think it’s better for the two teams to be in different conferences. I don’t think that interferes as much with crossover fans.

This is a map of second-favorite teams by county according to Twitter, which makes 49ers fans seem more common than Facebook does.

This is a map of second-favorite teams by county according to Twitter, which makes 49ers fans seem more common than Facebook does.

We have a lot of fairweather fans in this area. I don’t really like it, but I think it does speak to the ability of fans to potentially support two teams. There has been a recent migration of fans from the Angels to the Dodgers, for instance. There isn’t that much local support for the NHL to know for sure, but I suspect the same thing about Ducks fans becoming Kings fans when the latter started winning Stanley Cups. I think the Clippers draw more from unaffiliated or relocated fans than from Lakers fans (someone who moved from Boston or New York would much more likely support the Clippers), but some Lakers fans probably do support the Clippers for the time being. Since they have almost never been good at the same time, there isn’t such a rivalry as to prohibit that.

For whatever reason, there is quite a rivalry between Chargers fans and Raiders fans, so that’s one situation where I don’t think fans would be as likely to cross over regardless of how good the teams are. However, it appears those two have much less work to do than the Rams would in getting their support to high enough levels in the area.