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Archive for the ‘Realignment’ Category

How the NHL Should Handle Divisions and Scheduling

In History, NHL, Realignment on December 8, 2018 at 7:07 PM

I do have various thoughts about the college football bowl games and also about a certain coach I’ve loved to hate for about the last 15 years.  However, since there is a full week before even the uninteresting bowl games start, my mind has wandered to other topics, like hockey.  (By the way, I updated my college football ratings site after the Army/Navy game.)

If you’re not familiar with my work here, college football is what I normally write about.  I watch a variety of sports at least on occasional, but sports like hockey don’t leave enough time between games to ruminate like I like to do, so I usually only write about the big-picture items for those sports.

I’m hoping people who actually somewhat follow hockey will read this, but I’ll try to make sure I cover all the bases (or the five hole or whatever the hockey analogy would be) for those who don’t.

If you haven’t heard, the NHL has recently decided to join the NFL at 32 teams (by expanding to Seattle). I hope the league takes this opportunity to enact some realignment like the NFL did when it went to 32 teams (except without adding divisions).

The logo and color pattern of the Seattle Metropolitans, who won the Stanley Cup in 1917. The logo of the new team has not been determined.

Historical Context

I did previously write about this topic in 2014; but as that was before the expansions to Las Vegas and Seattle, I no longer think that the Red Wings should be put back in the Western Conference.  I have a section below about what I would do if the geographic balance were to change in the future.

I also wrote about the topic in 2011, but (in addition to being before the expansion teams were awarded) that was before the most-recent realignment and the reduction to two divisions (which took place after the 2012 season).  At that time, it would have been necessary to have American teams from outside of the Pacific time zone play in the most-western division if they did go down to four divisions.  Part of that blog also had in mind expansion teams in the Midwest and Eastern Canada, which the NHL obviously chose not to do. 

I still think there may be some merit in splitting North America into four geographic quarters in the future (obviously with the Western ones being much wider); but with exactly half of the teams (once Seattle joins) being in the Eastern time zone, the border between the Eastern and Central time zones makes the most sense as a boundary between the Eastern and Western Conferences.  It also makes sense for continuity because that’s the current boundary.

I also think it’s a good thing that under my current suggestion three of the four divisions will have an “original six” (I’ll talk about what that means later) member.  The exception would be the West Coast/Pacific Division, but there were four teams from the West Coast who won or tied for the Stanley Cup (the 1919 Finals were cut short by the flu epidemic) between 1915 and 1925 (two represented Seattle, one represented Victoria, and one represented Vancouver). 

During that time, the NHL champion played the WCHL or WHL (for West Coast or Western Hockey League), which went out of business in 1926.  Thereafter, the NHL has had exclusive possession of the Stanley Cup.  For obvious logistical reasons, it did not make sense to add West Coast teams to the NHL at that time.  The NHL would not expand to the West Coast (with the Los Angeles Kings and Oakland Seals) until over 40 years later, and Vancouver did not have a team again until 1970.  The new team will be the first NHL team in Seattle, and there has not been one in Victoria.

Current Playoff Format and Western Conference

I’ll start with what makes sense right now.

The first thing I wouldn’t change is the playoff format.  I like that the top three teams in the each division make it onto each side of the playoff bracket, and I think it’s reasonable to have the two wild cards to address any imbalances between the divisions.  The early-round games are more fun when there are natural rivalries involved.

The current alignment in the west is fine except adding Seattle would give the pacific division too many teams, so Arizona makes the most sense to move over. This seems to be the NHL’s intention, but I’ll explain why.

Arizona is admittedly only partially in the Mountain Time Zone (for about 4 months a year since most of the year is now daylight savings, which Arizona does not have; so during daylight savings, Arizona is the same time as Pacific Daylight Time).  

Calgary and Edmonton (both in the province of Alberta) do have daylight savings, but it just makes too much sense to have the three western Canada teams together (with Seattle going forward), in my opinion. The Alberta teams are closer to Vancouver (in British Columbia) and Seattle than they are to Minnesota and Winnipeg (in Manitoba).

Arizona isn’t really driving distance to other teams either way.  Dallas and Colorado are short flights away, so it’s not a huge change in travel, although they will have more.  Playing more eastern teams may be better for Phoenix residents who moved from the Midwest, Texas, or Colorado.  I don’t know how long they’ll stay there since they’ve consistently been one of the worst-performing teams for attendance anyway.  For now, the NHL seems to want to keep them there so these are still things worth considering.

This is the current format. Except for Phoenix (black dot on purple), the NHL teams are represented by purple dots on the map. If you need labels, those are on the map of my suggested alignment below. Arizona is purple because it’s expected that Phoenix will be moving from the westernmost division to the more eastern division of the Western Conference.

Conference Alignment and Possible Changes

I already covered why I would want to keep the teams in their current conferences barring a new round of expansions or a team moving.

I did want to address the possibility of the Coyotes moving east.  If it were not to the East Coast or eastern Canada, they’d be fine where they are. If they (or another Western Conference team) were to move to the East Coast or to eastern Canada, I’d suggest moving Columbus to the Western Conference given relative proximity to Chicago, St. Louis, and Nashville.  Another possibility would be moving Detroit to the Western Conference, where they played until 2012; but I now think separating them from the New York (including Buffalo) and eastern Canada teams makes less sense.

It seems unlikely, but if a team were to move from east to west, the best team to change conferences would be Nashville given relative proximity to Columbus, Carolina,and the Florida teams (Florida [Miami area] and Tampa Bay).

Problems with Current Eastern Conference Alignment

Anyway, the only criticism I have of the current alignment is in the East. The extreme northeastern teams (the three Canadian teams [Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto], Buffalo, and Boston) were added to Detroit and the two Florida teams.  I would prefer that these changes be made before the expansion since expansion won’t affect the Eastern Conference.

Columbus and Detroit

Detroit had previously been in a Western Conference division with Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, and Nashville.

No one should worry about whether people will attend games in Detroit; it’s more about the interests of the players as far as travel and time.  As mentioned, it’s probably best for them not to be the only Eastern Time Zone team in the Western Conference.

I also think it’s a good idea for the Red Wings to be a representative of the “original six”in the more Southern division in the East. So one shouldn’t be worried about attendance for their home games like I said, but their presence on the schedules may help with attendance of their road games.

I would also note that none of the other major leagues have Detroit in the Eastern seaboard/Northeast division. They’re with Midwestern teams.  In the NFL, Detroit plays Chicago, Green Bay, and Minnesota in the same division.  In the NBA, they play Milwaukee, Indiana, Cleveland, and Chicago.  In the AL, they play Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Minnesota.

Columbus is kind of a stand-in for Cleveland, and obviously there are rivalries along the Michigan-Ohio border, so I like the idea of Detroit and Columbus being in the same division again.  I don’t think anyone currently in the same division places much priority on Columbus as a rival.  The Pennsylvania teams make some sense geographically, but I would keep them in the same division as Columbus anyway.

I’ll admit it made some sense to put Detroit with Buffalo and Toronto, but I still think on balance this is better.  Detroit also moved from the East (where they played Toronto and New York) to the Central at one point in baseball.

Proposed NHL divisional format. The two-letter combinations in black without punctuation are postal codes. The NHL teams are given three-letter abbreviations or initials mostly in white. Since it was hard to see white on yellow, those franchises are given black letters. There wasn’t room to mark New Jersey or the District of Columbia within the geographical boundaries, so I just put black boxes around those postal codes..

Florida and Tampa Bay

The Florida teams had previously been in a division with Carolina, Washington, and Winnipeg (who moved from Atlanta; about 20 years ago the previous Winnipeg team moved to Phoenix to become the Coyotes)

I think people should worry about Florida and Tampa Bay.  If you’re going to have teams in such places, an effort needs to be made to attract fans (like me) who have not grown up playing or following hockey.  Florida was a bad team for a long time; but the five years before divisional realignment they were no worse than 25th in attendance, and the last three years before realignment they were no worse than 22nd in attendance.  They did have a relatively high number of points (wins x2 + OT/shootout losses) in 2011 (94), but they had two of their worst teams (of the last 10 seasons anyway) in 2010 and 2012.

The year after realignment wasn’t really fair to judge on its own because it was the worst full season of the last 10 years (2012 was only 48 games, but they would have been projected to do worse over a full season), but the troubling thing is attendance has never gone back to 21st and 22nd.  The Panthers were last in the league in attendance in 2014 despite 91 points.  They recovered to 24th in 2015 when they would earn 103 points; but when they did almost as well in 2017 (96 points), they were only 28th in attendance. 

103 is the average number of points Tampa Bay has had since 2012, and their attendance has been in the top 10 consistently.  This is a significant improvement from the average of 80 points (by projecting the shortened season) in the five seasons before, but I think the increase is due to the better performance of the team.  It also helps that there isn’t an NBA team in the immediate area. 

I thought it would be interesting to divide attendance by number of points for the two Florida teams.  This isn’t a perfect measure because attendance will look good during really low number of appoints even if it’s one of the worst attendances in the league and bad during right high number of points even if it’s one of the best attendances in the league.  It’s a good measure for the more medium seasons, and I think five years on each side is a good sample.

Florida is represented by a thick yellow line with lighter blue dots over a field of red.  Tampa Bay is represented by a darker blue line.  In the two years in which Florida had a noticeably better ratio, I added black dots and a thin blue line to connect with the rest of Tampa Bay’s numbers. 

See the text above for the explanation.

You can see that they both peaked the year before realignment.  

Since it wasn’t a good year in points for either team, I’m not focusing on that one year though.  Two of the four other years on the left side of the graph for Tampa Bay are better than all five full seasons since realignment. 

Despite being a lot better the last four years, Florida’s worst three results on this graph are all in the last four years.

2016 was a little bit better for the Panthers’ ratio, but that’s probably because of the previous season.  They likely sold more season tickets (and early single-game tickets) in the wake of the 103-point season, so despite dropping 22 points there was not a corresponding decrease in attendance that large.

Tampa Bay is selling out its games, and I’m sure that would continue regardless of alignment if they keep winning at this rate (absent some drastic economic decline).  I still think it’s doubtful that if they return to the 80-point-per-year average that things would look like the left side of the graph again with the current alignment.

The Lightening’s 113 points last year is the only reason the Panthers’ dismal showing last season doesn’t look worse on here.  There wasn’t room for Tampa to add more fans to compensate for the increase in points.

So you can compare oranges to oranges (because Florida), I would note that 2008 and 2011 were about the same number of points for the Panthers as 2014 and 2017.  You can see the difference.

2010 was the only good year for the Lightening on the left side of the graph (and there are no bad years on the right side), so it’s harder to make a good comparison.  2014 and 2010 were similar in points, but I would say the reason 2014 was a slightly higher ratio was because it followed a four-year average of 89 points with 101 points the prior year while 2010 followed a four-year average of 78 points with 80 points the prior year.  I certainly don’t think it’s because fans were more excited to see Buffalo and Ottawa than they had been to see Carolina and Washington.  The 2010 season was kind of a turning point for Lightening fandom.  Even though the team wasn’t good the next couple of seasons, the successful 2013 season was just in time to keep fans from losing interest.

Anyway, I think it’s fairly clear that if you want to keep both Florida fan groups interested even in the relatively lean years, it would be better to have more games against teams that are closer geographically.

Other Teams

I already mentioned the Pennsylvania teams.  I think it’s important that they continue to play each other in the same division even though I don’t think the Flyers would be necessarily thrilled about the move since for obvious reasons Philadelphia teams generally play with teams like New York in other leagues.  In other leagues they don’t try to have a Pittsburgh team play a Philadelphia team (since Pittsburgh is more of a Midwestern city) divisionally, but I think it’s good that the NHL does.  Philadelphia is in the same division as the Washington teams in other leagues though, so that makes sense here.

Philadelphia/New Jersey was a particularly good series, but I think getting northern New Jersey interested is more important than southern New Jersey.  So the Devils would be in a division with the three teams from the state of New York instead.

Having a New York team play Boston is a no-brainer in other leagues, so why not hockey? 

The other two North Carolina teams (the Carolina Panthers and the Charlotte Hornets) play opponents in Florida in their division, so again, why not in hockey?  New Orleans and Atlanta don’t have NHL teams,so the North Carolina-Tampa Bay connection is the only thing that can transfer over from the NFL.

Scheduling Format

Whether it realigns or not, the additional team will mean a tweak to the scheduling format.

Even though I’m only more than a casual hockey fan, I’m a longstanding fan of enough sports to have some strong opinions about matters such as rivalry and scheduling. 

I also like to look at maps and numbers.  I’m more of a nerdy sports fan than one who drinks a lot during games and pounds on tables if you didn’t know or couldn’t guess…not that I’m above showing emotion.

One thing I agree with about the way the NFL schedules is every team has the same number of divisional games (6).  Even before expansion, every team played its divisional rivals exactly twice each.

I also agree with the NFL’s uniform rules about how many inter-conference games are played (4), and every team within a division plays the same opponents.  

With 82 games,the NHL has the luxury of having at least one home and home with every other team. It’s just a matter of how many (if any) more than that you have with teams in your conference and/or division.

Some prefer to have a divisional super rival, one you might play 5 or 6 times instead of 4, but I think there is more concern with playing other teams too few times than with not playing a divisional rival enough. It also should be a reasonably level playing field within the division since most playoff seedings are based on where you finish in your division.

For that reason, I think the easiest and best solution is to add two games. 82 games started in the 1995 season, when there were only 26 teams. I don’t think with six extra teams added in the 24 years since (by the start of next season) that adding two games is unreasonable.

If it stays at 82, that’s 32 games against the other division (each with the minimum of 2 games).

If they follow my suggestion and also have the uniform 4 games against each divisional rival,that would mean two of the eight teams in the other intra-conference division could only be played twice instead of 3 times.

They could just have a rotation regardless of proximity, success, or any other measure.  That’s basically what they do now, but that’s boring.

Another option is (also following the NFL principles) to punish success, but it would be relatively very minor: eliminating 2 games out of what would be 84 versus 6 games of 16 that change completely based on the prior year in the NFL (at least that’s how many games change if you finish in the top two versus the bottom two in your division).

If you don’t follow, the NFL has 6 intra-conference cross-divisional games. Those 6 are dependent on where you place the season before.  If you’re in the top 2 of your division, you’d play the top 2 of the other three divisions in your conference.  If you’re in the bottom 2, you’d play the bottom 2 of the other three divisions in your conference.

So applying this to the NHL would mean 1 and 2 wouldn’t play 7 and 8 an extra time, and 3 and 4 wouldn’t play 5 and 6 an extra time.

I think an even better solution would be proximity.  So even though Arizona still goes to another division, they can still play everyone in the pacific division 3 times except for Edmonton and Calgary.  Put Nashville in that boat too.  Dallas and Colorado can skip playing Vancouver and Seattle the extra time.  Anaheim and L.A. can skip Minnesota and Winnipeg.  San José and Las Vegas can skip Chicago and St. Louis.

In the East, Florida and Tampa can skip Ottawa and Montreal.  Carolina and Washington can skip Boston and the Islanders.  The Pennsylvanias (meaning Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) can skip Buffalo and Toronto.  The Rangers and Devils can skip Detroit and Columbus. It’s bad enough that Rutgers plays Michigan and Ohio St.every year now. (Had to get in my college football reference.)

Original Six

Evolution of logos of the “original six” NHL teams. Except for Toronto, I prefer the old ones.

I tried to pair up non-original-six with original-six so as not to take too many original-six opponents away from any one team.  

If you’re not an NHL fan, “original six” is a misnomer, but it’s the six oldest teams in continuous operation and who were the only NHL franchises between 1942 and 1967: Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, and the New York Rangers.  I won’t go over the various permutations before that, but it’s interesting reading if early-20th-century professional athletics is your cup of tea.

Anyway, fans like to see these teams.  A lot of people have been multi-generational fans of one of them.  Others move around and may have become a fan by living in one of those cities even briefly.

It’s like how if you’re an MLB or NBA fan, it’s just different if you go to a game against the Yankees, Red Sox, Lakers, or Celtics, for instance.  Even teams around since the 1960s (there are a couple exceptions in the NFL at least) have trouble replicating that kind of impact and support when they go on the road.

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

Correcting the NHL Divisional Alignment

In NHL, Realignment on December 26, 2014 at 4:56 PM

I’ll start out with a disclaimer that I’m not exactly an avid hockey fan, although I do enjoy the playoffs and I start following more intently around April. It’s just not a sport I grew up around or have attended much.

I was inspired to write this just because I happened to grab a sports page yesterday and look at the standings. I just never saw the point of getting excited about a sport 6 months before it crowned a champion. I mostly write the most about college football, and you might have noticed I don’t have all that much to say about even that in July.

I talked about some different possibilities before the realignment in 2011.

In the first two of these possibilities, I was considering the current format of two divisions per conference. What I’m about to suggest is very similar to the second of those. The only difference is I was anticipating the Eastern and Western Conferences would have equal numbers of teams, and that is not what happened. I’m just going to assume the conferences will keep the same respective numbers of teams they have now. It’s not really fair to those seeking wild cards, but on the other hand, it’s good that teams are on a somewhat level playing field (playing surface?) as the other division in a given conference.

When I discussed realignment possibilities for the NFL, a lot of people didn’t like the idea of the Dallas Cowboys being anywhere but the NFC East, even though Washington, Philadelphia, and New York are of course nowhere near Dallas. I find it really strange that so many people are perfectly fine with moving the Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference even though they were always in the West and have a much longer tradition than the Cowboys, who are about 50 years old as a franchise. Also, Detroit is in the middle of two logical groups of teams geographically, so the more traditional alignment does not completely fly in the face of any geographic logic.

So one thing I would do is move them back. This would be my Central Division (or Midwest could be another name):
Chicago
Colorado
Dallas
Detroit
Minnesota
St. Louis
Winnipeg

I’ll talk more about this below, but I think it’s good for Chicago to have another top franchise in their division. This isn’t the 1990s anymore, when Dallas and Colorado were among the top franchises. I understand Detroit would probably rather play more games in the Eastern Time Zone, but I’m not sure it’s necessary to play that many more games against other divisions within the conference as other divisions outside of the conference.

I think fans on the West Coast, for instance, are more excited to see teams like New York and Boston than Colorado and Dallas even though obviously Colorado and Dallas are a lot closer, so there really isn’t a good reason (other than reducing travel of course) to play non-divisional in-conference opponents more than non-conference opponents. I don’t think playing teams in the Central Time Zone is a big deal for Detroit (like it’s not a big deal for the Cowboys of the NFL to play against the Eastern Time Zone), but I am definitely sympathetic to the idea of avoiding a high number of games against the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones. So if the scheduling followed this logic, it shouldn’t bother Detroit as much not to be in the Eastern Conference.

So moving Detroit back to the West creates an opening in the Atlantic Division. What strikes me is that along with the likes of Buffalo and Montreal, we have two teams from Florida. Let’s move those out as well. So now we have three spots. What collection of three teams makes the most sense together? How about the Rangers, the Islanders, and the Devils? The New York area also shares a state with Buffalo, and I get the impression from other sports you can establish some good rivalries between New York and Boston-area teams.

What’s left is essentially a revival of the Southeast Division except it’s going to go a little farther North and West. Philadelphia is fairly close to DC, and Pittsburgh makes a lot of sense as an in-state rival. Columbus is not too far from Pennsylvania either. It’s also not all that far from Nashville, which would have a natural rivalry with Carolina (another team that had been in the Southeast Division).

I wouldn’t do anything to alter the Pacific Division as currently constituted, so here are the two divisions of the Eastern Conference under my proposal:

Northeast
Boston
Buffalo
Montreal
New York Is.
New York Ran.
New Jersey
Ottawa
Toronto
(I would also note that if a team were to move to Eastern Canada, you could then move New Jersey, so keep that in mind with the teams below as well. Also see the map below.)

Southeast
Carolina
Columbus
Florida
Nashville
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
Tampa Bay
Washington

I’m putting this all on the map below. The Southeast Division is in Yellow, mostly corresponding to the current Metropolitan Division. The Northeast, which mostly corresponds to the current Atlantic Division, is in blue. The Central/Midwest is in green, and the Pacific is in red.

Each proposed division is a different color.  Uninhabited states/provinces are gray.  No state or province has teams of multiple divisions.

Each proposed division is a different color. Uninhabited states/provinces are gray. No state or province has teams of multiple divisions.

This is the map of the current divisions. New York State is sort of a teal color since it has teams in both the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions.

Map of the current divisions

Map of the current divisions

I looked up the Stanley Cup Finalists since the lockout season, and I think I’ve done a reasonable job with competitive balance even though that wasn’t my primary objective. The four divisions have all either had 4 or 5 finalists in that time. The only division clearly more successful than the rest by this measure is the Pacific, which has won three Stanley Cups in that time and also had two runners-up.

My proposed Northeast Division also has had 5 finalists, but it has the fewest Stanley Cup Champions. Boston won in 2011, but the last team in that group to win before that was New Jersey in 2003.

The Southeast had 2 champions (Carolina and Pittsburgh) and 2 runners-up (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) in that time and also won the last Stanley Cup (Tampa Bay) before the lockout season.

The Central/Midwest had three champions in that time (Chicago twice and Detroit) and one runner-up (Detroit).

I’m open to additional information I might be overlooking, but this seems a lot more sensible than having Florida teams in the same division as Canadian teams and having another division that goes from Nashville to Denver.

How a New SEC Scheduling Format Might Look Part II

In College Football, History, Realignment, Rivalry on August 23, 2014 at 6:25 PM

So in Part I, I talked about the arguments and some reasons why the SEC could be moving to a nine-game schedule. My reason for coming up with scenarios is because I would hope that the additional games would be the most compelling and logical ones possible. This is why in this scenario I would want the SEC to move to two permanent opponents rather than one permanent opponent with two in rotation.

My first group of proposals is based upon the divisions as they are. I talked about potential realignment last May, so I don’t want to rehash all those arguments again, but I’ll add a few possibilities for match=ups in a realigned SEC at the end.

The first is what I believe to be the most traditional approach. Under each team is listed my two proposed permanent opponents. I relied on this site for most-common opponents: http://football.stassen.com/records/all-opponent.html. It doesn’t count all the turn of the (20th) century games, but that’s not really important to this analysis.

Anyway, bolded opponents are the most commonly-played interdivisional games; italicized opponents are the second-most commonly played. What is true for one team is not always true of the other. For instance, South Carolina rarely played any SEC West teams before joining the SEC. They played Alabama and LSU the most, but they’re nowhere near the top of most commonly-played SEC opponents of either LSU or Alabama.

There were a few spots, such as with the four newer teams (Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, and South Carolina), where the match-up is based more on geography than history, but where I didn’t think the connection was obvious, I put a mark next to the team with a note below. Some people might have an easier time looking at the map.

SEC East SEC West
Missouri Auburn
Texas A&M Georgia
-Arkansas -South Carolina#
Arkansas Georgia
Auburn -Missouri
Tennessee% -Ole Miss&
Florida Texas A&M
LSU Missouri
-Miss. St.* -South Carolina^
South Carolina LSU
-Auburn# Florida
-Texas A&M^ Kentucky
Kentucky Alabama
LSU Tennessee
-Miss. St.~ Vanderbilt
Tennessee Miss. St.
Alabama Florida*
-Arkansas& -Kentucky~
Vanderbilt Ole Miss
Ole Miss Vanderbilt
Alabama -Georgia%

Notes
*Florida does have a longer series with Auburn, but Miss. St. is still a traditional series. The Gators have played Miss. St. more than they’ve played Vanderbilt, Tennessee, or South Carolina. Between 1955 and 1992 (when the SEC was first divided into two divisions), Florida actually played Mississippi St. more than it played LSU.
On the other side, Miss. St. has played no team of the SEC East more than it has played Florida.

#These two teams admittedly have not faced each other often. Before South Carolina joined the SEC, there were only 4 games played between the two.
Still, it makes a lot of sense geographically. This is better for South Carolina than either Mississippi St. or Arkansas, neither of whom have a reason to play the Gamecocks (other than recent custom).
LSU, Ole Miss, and Alabama were the only teams the Gamecocks had historical series against before South Carolina joined the SEC, but the Gamecocks are #6 in the SEC East for all three teams, ahead of only Missouri.

&Other than South Carolina, which Arkansas was forced to play when both joined the SEC, Tennessee is Arkansas’s most-played opponent in the SEC East.
Tennessee is more accustomed to playing every other team in the SEC West, apart from Texas A&M, but again, this is a decent geographical pairing.

^There is no good reason for South Carolina to play Texas A&M other than the fact that they’re both in the Southern part of their respective divisions and both are among the four newest SEC teams.

~Mississippi St. has only played Kentucky two fewer times than Ole Miss has. Mississippi St. has also only played Tennessee four more times than it has played Kentucky, but it has played Kentucky more in the last 60 years.

%Ole Miss and Georgia are each third on the other’s list. Ole Miss’s second is Tennessee, and Georgia’s second is Alabama. Since 1955, Ole Miss has actually played Georgia 16 more times than Alabama has. In the same period, Ole Miss has played Georgia two more times than it has played Tennessee.

sec-conference-map traditional

I don’t have the energy to make another chart like the one above, and it’s after 10 on the east coast, so I’m just going to post two pictures for each arrangement below. One will be a screen-capped list similar to the above, and the other will be a map showing how the teams are matched.

The traditional proposal above does not try to take into account competitive balance. I have one more than also does not take into account competitive balance, but it works better for some teams and not as well for others:

Unbalanced
sec-conference-map unbalanced

The below was my first attempt to change some of the opponents so that it would try to have each two-team combination balance out competitively. For instance, in the last one I posted, I can see someone from Auburn being upset with having to play both Georgia and Florida every year while Alabama would be playing Tennessee and Vanderbilt instead (even though Vandy has had a couple good seasons lately).

balanced 1
sec-conference-map balanced 1

The fourth one I did was more of a hybrid. Teams would be a little less happy with it due to where these programs are right now; but on the other hand, it makes a little more sense historically than the one I just posted.

balanced 2sec-conference-map balanced 2

The below was the only series of match-ups that made sense if the simplest realignment takes place, which would be switching Missouri and Auburn. As I mentioned before, Auburn is clearly to the East of Vanderbilt of the SEC East as well as all the other SEC West teams. Auburn is nearly as far East as Knoxville (Tennessee) and Lexington (Kentucky). Obviously, we would want to have a permanent series with Alabama, but two other major series for Auburn are Georgia and Florida, which would both become intra-divisional series. Missouri of course is among the three westernmost teams in the entire SEC. Not coincidentally, three of the most logical opponents, Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss, are all in the SEC West.

AU-MU realignedsec-conference-map AU-MU

The final maps are two variations of permanent opponents in a North/South alignment. The one that makes the most geographic sense is presented first, but I think there might be some griping especially by Florida and Auburn.

North South 1sec-conference-map north-south

The second proposal would make things difficult for both South Carolina and Georgia, but being that they could both be expected to be in the title race every year and we would take Florida out of the mix (by moving them to the new SEC South, made up mostly of the current SEC West), I don’t think they’d have too much right to complain. All four teams that have recently won BCS titles would be in the South.

North South 2sec-conference-map north-south 2

How a New SEC Scheduling Format Might Look Part I

In College Football, Realignment, Rivalry on August 20, 2014 at 6:56 PM

Watch-SEC-Football-Online-e1374758489890

IA) Why Nine Games and Why Talk about It Now

The main reason for writing this is discussion of who should play whom in the event the SEC does adopt a nine-game schedule, but I feel like I would be remiss if I did not have a full discussion of the issues involved in this. But in a fit of preseason enthusiasm, I wrote about some more global issues.

As a preview, I expect to release the second part sometime this weekend (as early as Friday), and sometime early next week (as early as Sunday), I will release my preseason rankings. I believe there is some kind of MAC game a week from today, and then there are some games of real interest next Thursday, so I definitely plan to post by then. I think I know what my top 25 will be, but I want to try to have a somewhat presentable introduction to the season.

I’ve read in some places that it’s inevitable that the SEC schedule will eventually move to 9 games. I’m not sure if that’s true though. That would mean an SEC champion who makes the national championship would play 10 games against SEC teams as well as two (additional) games against the top four teams in the country. With three additional games, that’s almost an NFL season. Others expect yet another game to be added since many anticipate it’s inevitable for the four-team playoff to expand to eight.

So that’s one argument against. Another is the SEC teams place a high premium (literally) on home games. That’s a lot of revenue lost if you take just one away. Teams like Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida have longstanding home and home series with in-state rivals. I suppose those could be made so that they’re home games in the years where there are 5 road SEC games, but some programs want to try to get eight home games.

Another part of the argument against five road games is those teams are at a distinct disadvantage. Vanderbilt and Mississippi St. have been less than intimidating at times in recent years, but I wouldn’t expect an easy win in either place anymore. Kentucky may be the closest thing to an easy win in the SEC now, but they seem to get good crowds that show up and influence the games in the seasons when the Wildcats are competitive.

There were good arguments against the SEC expanding to 14 teams though, and of course that happened anyway. So I wanted to consider some options the conference would have in that case.

The SEC has stated that a change if made will not take place until 2016, but the conversation should begin now about what to do in either scenario. Since adding Texas A&M and Missouri, this will be the first season where the intended rivalries will start taking place. For instance, it will be the first year Arkansas will play nearby Missouri rather than South Carolina, which never made any sense except to make Lou Holtz face his former team when Holtz coached the Gamecocks. The last two seasons maintained the existing rivalries and scheduled other game on an ad hoc basis.

I don’t feel this is appropriate for a number of reasons. One is teams should be able to schedule out-of-conference opponents in advance. Part of the problem with the number of games played against FCS and bottom-rung FBS opponents is the result of such contracts being cancelled at the last moment. So one school pays the other a cancellation fee, which is then payed to a third school to come in for usually just one game that season.

Competitive FBS teams are rarely willing to do this, and other teams expect to be paid for the expected humiliation (which doesn’t always pan out, of course, but they still get to keep the money). Sometimes the team that cancelled simply wanted to play another home game, so that might not result in a good match-up for them either. I think this is one of the reasons LSU started accepting these neutral-site games. Some recent last-minute attempts to land an opponent did not go well.

Another reason is recruiting. Let’s say an SEC East team is recruiting a player from Texas. He might want to know how many games his family can travel to, so he would want to know how many times in the next four or five years that team might play at Texas A&M, at LSU, and at Arkansas. In some cases, the parents might care even more than the player. They might want to go to a certain number of games regardless; but in deciding between schools, how much travel to expect is a valid question.

To simplify matters, I’m going to explain three numbers for a scheduling format. The SEC currently operates a 6-1-1 format. This means there are six divisional games, one permanent interdivisional opponent, and one rotating interdivisional opponent. Under the current system, this means that for those opponents who are not permanent, they will only play a given team in the other division once every six years.

The Pac-12 has a nine-game schedule with fewer teams, so there are only two teams in the conference each year that a given team will not play. The format in the Pac-12, at least for the California teams, is 5-2-2. The format for the rest is 5-4, although due to the California teams all playing each other every year, this means that the four inland teams (Arizona, Arizona St., Colorado, and Utah) will play one Northern California team and three Pacific Northwest teams each year. The four Pacific Northwest teams will play three inland teams and one Southern California team each year.

To give you a hint as to Part II of this blog, I’m going to suggest a 6-2-1 format for the SEC (in the event it goes to nine games), so if you want, you can let me know what your favorite inter-divisional match-ups are.

IB) “The Same Rules” and Alternative Approaches

The head coach of Stanford, David Shaw, criticized the SEC for playing cupcakes in November, presumably referring to the non-rivalry games played in SEC off-weeks. I don’t understand why that’s a problem and having a late bye week isn’t, but we don’t have to go into that now.

To be fair, his team has every right to play a tough schedule, but that’s the only reason Stanford would have belonged in the conversation for the top four last year. Their loss to Utah would have taken a lot more to overcome than Alabama’s loss to Auburn after time expired. So if the SEC played the same number of conference games as the Pac-12, particularly if they are compared to a team with a competitive non-conference schedule (Alabama didn’t really have one, apart from the opening game against Virginia Tech, but the Hokies were not very good last season), there goes Stanford’s argument. I doubt Shaw would see it as “the same rules” if he actually got what he wanted and as a result two SEC teams made it ahead of a Stanford team who won the conference despite a loss.

It also annoys me that not playing nine conference games is considered backing down now. It used to be that you played 10 games in the whole regular season. So if we still stuck to that, it would mean that a team that went to a conference championship would play 0 games outside of conference before a bowl. Historically (until about 1970), a normal amount of games against your conference was six.

Before the SEC became the first team to expand to two divisions in 1992, it still only had seven conference games per team. The Pac-12 (then the Pac-10 of course) had some teams with only seven conference games as recently as 1985. Some teams in the ACC played only six conference games as recently as 1987.

So a more traditional balance between in-conference (8 with a possible 9th is still a lot more than 6 or 7) and out-of-conference is “backing down” now.

I think it’s actually problematic to have fewer and fewer games that we can use to judge one conference against another, which can only fairly be done by looking at such games. Doing that, the SEC has typically done better than the Pac-12, including out-of-conference winning percentage overall, winning percentage against FCS teams, and winning percentage against BCS teams. This is including in years that were supposedly bad for the SEC but when the SEC had a lot of depth. I remember one year when Ed Oregon was the head coach of Ole Miss, the Rebels went undefeated out of conference and lost every game in conference.

Frankly, I would be happy if only the divisional games counted toward the race for the divisional title and six other games were at the discretion of the school. Maybe they should be encouraged to play at least two games against the other division, but if Florida were to play Florida St. and Miami in the same year, maybe even two additional SEC games wouldn’t be necessary. On the other hand, if the Gators wanted to play LSU and Auburn every single year, their two most traditional SEC West rivals, they could. They would not necessarily have to rotate in Arkansas and Texas A&M, and the Aggies and Hogs might be just fine with that.

Then a team like LSU would have less of a problem with playing Florida every year. As strong as both teams have been in the last decade or so, they have never made the SEC title in the same year. The same is true with Auburn and Georgia. More often than not, only the winner of the game has a decent chance to win their respective division.

It’s probably best LSU didn’t have to play Florida again in 2006, just because they probably would not have made the title game even if they had won the SEC, but it’s still a good example of what can happen. Arkansas lost one game in the division. LSU lost one game in the division. LSU beat Arkansas. Who made the title game? Arkansas. What? Well, that year, LSU had to play a Florida team that would go on to win the national championship, on the road I might add. Arkansas didn’t play any particularly good team from the SEC East, but it didn’t matter. One fewer conference loss meant the Hogs went.

For an example from the SEC East, I’ll go back to 1997, when LSU got its only victory against Spurrier when he was at Florida (the game was in Baton Rouge). LSU did not win the SEC West, but they lost to Auburn due to the head-to-head tiebreaker. Even though Florida beat Tennessee (which of course didn’t have to play LSU or Auburn) and Auburn for good measure, the Volunteers went to the SEC title game instead and narrowly defeated Auburn before losing to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Despite what should have been an SEC East (if not SEC) title and despite handing Florida St. its only loss of the season for the second year in a row, Florida was relegated to the dreaded Citrus Bowl.

How I Would Re-Align the NFL

In NFL, Realignment on November 19, 2013 at 8:11 PM

As most of you know, I usually talk about college football, so if that’s what you’re here for, feel free to check out the LSU/Texas A&M Rivalry blog.

I know most people don’t talk about NFL Realignment since the teams haven’t changed in a while, but I just think it would make sense. I think there are a lot of fans who end up watching weird games because many of the divisions don’t fit well on the map. I don’t think anyone will listen to me, but I thought it was nice to think about. Let me just start out with a map of how I think it should look, and I’ll have some discussion below.

Each division has its own color, except both of the East divisions are included in the (darker) blue area.

Each division has its own color, except both of the East divisions are included in the (darker) blue area.

Edit: I made a picture of the current divisions to show how silly it is by contrast: http://imgur.com/P0o616N

NFC South
New Orleans
Atlanta
Jacksonville
Tampa Bay

The Saints and Falcons, rivals since the Saints’ first season in 1967 (which was the Falcons’ second season), stay together. It makes a lot of sense to break up the current AFC South. A division stretching from Jacksonville to Houston to Indianapolis for the sake of keeping everyone in the same conference was silly. If it’s not immediately obvious, I’ll explain why the Dolphins were left out below, but I thought at least two of the Florida teams should stay together. Tampa Bay has already been playing in the same division with Atlanta and New Orleans.

NFC East
Philadelphia
Washington
New York
Baltimore

I know the first three teams are used to playing the Cowboys, but I think they’ll get over it. It just makes too much sense in my opinion to have Baltimore playing Washington and Philadelphia in particular.

I can only really talk about my own experiences as a Saints fan in how I look at such changes. I did have a bit of nostalgia for the regular 49ers games over the weekend, but it just didn’t have much to it beyond football. Atlanta, on the other hand, goes a lot deeper. If you’re in New Orleans, you probably know people in Atlanta or from Atlanta. There is a lot of overlap of the two fan bases, not only in moving from one city to the other but also in places like Alabama. When the Rams moved to St. Louis, that instantly added a lot of fuel to the rivalry because even though it’s not as close as East Coast cities, St. Louis is still considered a nearby big city and there was a lot of interplay between Rams fans and Saints fans.

Anyway, you get over playing an opponent just because you’re used to it. I think with the logical passions that would develop in the actual geographic area, the Cowboys would be forgotten fairly easily.

As for the Ravens, I think the fact that Cleveland and Cincinnati were not natural rivals added to the intensity of the rivalry with the Steelers. But if you remember, that developed fairly quickly. It hasn’t even been 20 years since football returned to Baltimore.

The NFC North (Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit) should remain the same.

NFC West
Dallas
Denver
Arizona
Houston

A lot of people in Texas don’t seem to have noticed they have another team yet. Maybe by having the Texans play the Cowboys, people will realize this. I thought it was a really good fit to combine the two Texas teams with the two Mountain time zone teams. The Cardinals are technically in the Mountain time zone all year, but I do realize they’re two hours off for the first couple of months of the season since most of Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time. Other than habit, I don’t see how it makes sense to have two teams in Texas and insist they play in two different conferences and also to have two teams in Missouri and insist they play in two different conferences. Since Texas makes a lot more sense with Arizona, I decided to put that pair in this division.

AFC North
Pittsburgh
Cleveland
Cincinnati
Indianapolis

Basically, you have the two Ohio teams, and then you add a team from either side of the state. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Cincinnati have been playing one another as long as I remember. I clearly remember the Houston Oilers being in that division. Other than trying to break up the AFC East or NFC North, there is no other place that makes sense for the Colts.

AFC Central
St. Louis
Tennessee
Kansas City
Carolina

I just mentioned the old AFC Central (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Houston), but I couldn’t think of a better name for this one. St. Louis and Kansas City are naturals, and Tennessee and Carolina are more leftovers, but that could be a good rivalry too. Tennessee does border North Carolina. I also toyed with trying to put everyone but Kansas City in some kind of Southern division, but ultimately either the AFC North or one of the Eastern divisions was going to need a Southeastern team, so I went with the Dolphins since they’re already in the AFC East. They’re all in the in-between zone between the North/Midwest and the Deep South.

AFC East
New England
New York
Buffalo
Miami

Like the NFC North, this one remains the same. I already explained why I decided to leave Miami here. It’s the only spot on the map that doesn’t make any sense, but I couldn’t see any logical way to change this.

AFC Pacific
Seattle
San Francisco
San Diego
Oakland

The 49ers preceded the AFL by only about 10 years, and the rest were all AFL teams. I know the 49ers have been in the NFC the whole time, but Seattle would be back where they belong, in my opinion. The 49ers and Seahawks are already familiar with each other from recent years, and I think it would be fun seeing the rivalry between the Seahawks and Raiders renewed. Chargers/Seahawks won’t get anyone excited, but San Diego will still be playing Oakland, and San Francisco would be an added bonus. I think that would make up for the loss of Denver (a good ways away from San Diego anyway), and Kansas City was never the best fit with the West Coast teams.

Based on the discussion in the comments, I have a compromise map. I don’t think it works as well, but I would also favor it over the current divisional alignment.

NFLTeamsMap

Thoughts on Pac-12 expansion

In College Football, Realignment on November 12, 2013 at 8:26 PM

Logos in white boxes represent potential additions.  The red areas are the current South Division, and the blue areas are the current North Division.

Logos in white boxes represent potential additions. The red areas are the current South Division, and the blue areas are the current North Division.

With BYU’s success as an independent team (despite losses to Virginia and Utah, the latter a recent Pac-12 addition), I still think the Cougars would be a good fit for the Pac-12. That’s the real rival for Utah–not Colorado, who doesn’t have a real rival in the Pac-12.

I know the conference is expressing reluctance to expand, but it wasn’t too long ago that it was talking about 16 teams. Also, it doesn’t seem like that long ago that the Pac-10 and Big Ten didn’t want to expand, didn’t want a championship game, and didn’t even want to be involved in the BCS. Both wanted their champion to play in the Rose Bowl and for that to be the end of it. A few conferences seemed happy at 12 but have expanded/are expanding anyway.

I still don’t understand why public “research universities” is such a priority for Pac-12 admission, but people always bring it up. I had never heard much about Utah or Arizona St. (or a couple of the more long-standing Pac-8/10/12 schools) being academic powerhouses. Anyway, I do know BYU is a good school (without so much research maybe), and since they’re unaffiliated and there are two schools in the Rockies unconnected with the rest of the conference, it seems it would fit.

Although I don’t know anything about its standing among other schools academically (promotional materials seem to make their research sound impressive: http://www.depts.ttu.edu/vpr/), Texas Tech would be a good way to expand into the pool of Texas talent since it is in Western Texas, actually not very far to the East (although significantly to the South) of Boulder, Colorado. It was one of those potential additions to the Pac-12 when the Big XII nearly fell into pieces.

How to align the divisions would be a challenge, although I do have an idea of how that could be done. Basically, take the 7 rivalry pairs and put all the more sophisticated schools in one division and the other schools in another. Washington St. and Oregon St. seem a little grittier than Washington and Oregon, the latter two being rivals of one other anyway. Stanford/Cal, USC/UCLA, and BYU/Utah are fairly obvious since the first one of each pair is private and the second public. I don’t think I have to elaborate on why Texas Tech is more rough-around-the-edges than Colorado. Just imagine Boulder, then imagine Lubbock. By reputation, Arizona seems a little more buttoned-down than Arizona St., but I’m not sure that matters either way.

Colorado could have an even better rival in Air Force, although that doesn’t really expand the recruiting base. It may add to fan interest though. The service academies have fans scattered all over. Of course, Air Force also regularly played BYU and Utah when all three were in the Mountain West and WAC. The team right now is pretty bad though. You don’t always want to focus on the short term, but I think that would be a meaningful concern. The Pac-12 doesn’t want another doormat.

Boise St. doesn’t have much of an academic profile, but that would seem to make for an easy transition. The Broncos already have the talent and interest to compete, and it would be natural to add them to the Pac-12 North and BYU to the Pac-12 South. I still think teams in Colorado and Utah being in the South seems a little off, but my understanding is everyone not in California wants to play in California at least once a year.

Fresno St., UNLV, San Diego St., and San Jose St. could be other possibilities if academics aren’t a priority. UNLV and San Diego are big unexploited media markets for major college football (and in the case of UNLV, there are no major professional sports in the area either). I’m not sure how much San Jose St. and Fresno St. would add, so they’re probably least likely, but they make obvious geographical sense. There are half a million people in Fresno and no major sports in the surrounding area, where arguably another half a million people or more live. San Jose St. isn’t very far from Stanford, but not everyone is a Stanford person.

Another possibility I thought of was Hawaii, which apparently does have some research credentials, but that program has crashed and burned since June Jones and Colt Brennan left the islands, so it has some of the same problems as Air Force, except I think Air Force has better road fans. Logistics aren’t very favorable for Hawaii either, of course.

Nebraska is a long-shot, but I thought it worth mentioning. I don’t think the Big Ten is quite what the Huskers signed up for. If they have to play a 9-game conference schedule and travel to one of the coasts, why not the Pacific Coast instead? With Colorado, at least they would get one of their traditional rivals back. Maybe if they joined along with Texas Tech, that would be the best way of including new teams in a more logical way.

As to how the divisional alignment would work, Utah could just be switched to the North and keep playing Colorado as a permanent opponent (or “protected series”, as the Big Ten calls it). Berkeley is about the same distance away as Tempe (Arizona St. is the second-closest Pac-12 South opponent for the Utes) is anyway. Nebraska would also help out the competitive balance in the long-run. I’m sure that would be a really expensive proposition though.

Realignment Revisited (Again)

In College Basketball, College Football, Realignment on August 31, 2013 at 4:44 PM

I’ve written about this a few times, but as the college football landscape keeps changing, that will change what realignment solutions make sense. Some of the conference additions and subtractions do make a bit of sense, and there is no reason to cause new problems unnecessarily.

One of the more noticeable things about the alignment going into next season is the number of new independents. Before BYU left the Mountain West to become independent, there were only three independent programs: Army, Navy, and Notre Dame.

The independents swell to 7 programs this season. Idaho and New Mexico St. were left without conferences when the WAC folded and no one picked them up, and Old Dominion joined the FBS as a transitional team. (Fewer than half of its games this season will take place against other FBS teams.)

Old Dominion is scheduled to join Conference USA (and I believe this is the move that makes the most sense anyway), but the CUSA will have an uneven number of teams next season as it awaits the development of UNC-Charlotte’s football team.

I mentioned last year that the absence of the WAC left a bit of a vacuum out West, and I believe this is still true despite SMU and Houston joining the former Big East (now AAC) and despite Mountain West expansion.

The only change I would make to the Mountain West is I would replace New Mexico with Idaho. New Mexico is admittedly a more traditional team to be playing Air Force and Colorado St., but I don’t think that’s the natural place for them. Idaho is a better fit with the rest of the Mountain division: Boise St., Utah St., and Wyoming. New Mexico also fits a lot better into my proposed Big West/Sunbelt/WAC conference:
Rice (currently CUSA)
Texas El Paso (currently CUSA)
Texas San Antonio (currently CUSA)
Texas St.
New Mexico
New Mexico St.
Louisiana Lafayette
Louisiana Monroe
Louisiana Tech (currently CUSA)

So that’s 4 Texas schools, 2 New Mexico schools (one of which is about 20 minutes’ drive from Texas), and 3 Louisiana schools. That’s why it’s so much more fitting for New Mexico than it is for Idaho. Also, it would be much more conceivable for New Mexico to finish with a winning record.

This is what Conference USA would look like in 2015:

Eastern Division Western Division
Florida Atlantic Alabama Birmingham
Florida International South Alabama*
Georgia St.* Troy*
Marshall Southern Mississippi
Middle Tennessee Arkansas St.*
NC-Charlotte North Texas
Old Dominion Western Kentucky**

*currently Sun Belt
**Western Kentucky is playing in its last season in the Sun Belt and will already join CUSA next season.

If you think I missed a few Sun Belt teams, North Texas, Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, and Florida International are all playing their first respective seasons in the CUSA right now. UT-San Antonio and Louisiana Tech are also playing their first respective seasons in the CUSA, but I think the give and take might work out if it’s something like what I presented. I know the conference big wigs aren’t going to read this and change everything tomorrow, but moving toward something like this would be a viable long-term plan for the respective schools and conferences. I’m not sure how all the legalities work, but whatever the new conference is called could conceivably be a successor to the Sun Belt.

The major conferences may be fairly set for right now, as moves have been made to secure programs’ television rights even if they join new conferences in the future, but I think there may be some changes where two conferences can simply work it out and the TV requirements could be waived for the right price. Maybe there will be some trades like what I’m suggesting above for the more minor conferences.

Apart from SEC scheduling, the main thing that doesn’t make sense to me in the major conferences right now is we still have a 10-team Big XII and not too far from Morgantown, West Virginia, (which is not anywhere near other Big XII campuses) there are two schools you may have heard of called Cincinnati and Louisville. Cincinnati may be relatively easy to recruit since it’s in the AAC (the former Big East) rather than in the process of joining the ACC like Louisville is. But it would seem to me that Connecticut (another AAC school) would be a better fit in the ACC anyway. They’re a natural rival with Boston College and Syracuse and at least a historical rival with Pittsburgh (if you’re out of the loop, Syracuse and Pitt are also joining the ACC). I would also hope the ACC would consider a more logical approach to their divisional alignment.

I know Louisville won the national championship in basketball, but I can’t imagine that Connecticut wouldn’t be just as good of a long-term possibility in that sport (with multiple championships in recent years). Connecticut only recently started having a major football team, but that program could be just as good as Louisville’s also. There is also the matter of Connecticut possibly driving TV revenue in the New York area. I can’t imagine that the ACC would require too much money in order to go along with something of this nature.

Solving the SEC Scheduling Dilemma

In College Football, General LSU, History, Realignment, Rivalry on May 30, 2013 at 11:47 AM

We are now more than halfway through the college football off-season. I hope everyone hasn’t forgotten about me.

I’ve had a few minor things in other sports I wanted to write about in isolation, but I might do a bigger blog about other sports in the next few weeks.

To make the blog friendly to people who aren’t avid college sports fans (or at least might not have been for the last 20+ years to the same extent I have been), I think some background is in order. Before 1992, the SEC was 10 teams and had been that way for nearly 30 years (after Tulane and Georgia Tech had departed in the 1960s). There were not formal divisions, but there were teams that traditionally played one another and other teams that did not.

I know more about LSU, so I’ll use them as an example. LSU has played Florida every year since the early 1970s, but fans would drive (or fly) past Auburn (who very rarely appeared on LSU’s schedule) on the way there. The two teams of Tigers rarely met before the division system was implemented. (The division system entails playing every team in your division every year, and LSU and Auburn were placed in the same division, so they began playing annually at that time.) LSU has remained a permanent opponent of Florida despite being in another division, but since there is only one permanent inter-divisional opponent, LSU stopped playing Kentucky yearly, and Florida stopped playing Auburn yearly.

Until Missouri and Texas A&M joined within the last year, everyone seemed content with the system, which had been on a set rotation for about 10 years. The previous 10 years were operated with two permanent inter-divisional opponents, but this meant large stretches without playing any given teams of the four other teams in the opposite division. None of the teams seemed too traumatized by losing their #2 inter-divisional opponent, and I thought it was more exciting as a fan to play the other teams on a more regular basis.

The makeshift schedule that operated last year and will operate next year–and perhaps years into the future–is a “6-1-1” format. This means 6 divisional opponents (each division expanded to 7 teams when Missouri and Texas A&M were added), one permanent opponent, with the other 6 conference teams rotating to round out the schedule. This reintroduces the problem that existed under the 1992 to 2002 format with a number of teams rotating around one spot, except that now it’s 6 teams instead of 4.

There is a proposal favored by LSU, Texas A&M, and South Carolina that the SEC forget about the permanent inter-divisional opponents entirely and simply move to a 6-2 format, six in your own division, two from the other division on a constant rotation. The Advocate newspaper reports that “several” SEC coaches have said that the teams are split over whether to go that route or maintain the same format that is being used now (or perhaps a slightly modified version). I would think Florida probably leans toward 6-2 as well, given that the Gators probably place the same priority on playing LSU every years as LSU does on playing Florida every year, which is to say, they don’t find it important at all. At least not as compared to a more equitable schedule. Missouri may also prefer it, but perhaps not as long as Missouri is in the SEC East. Missouri is not a natural match-up for Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia, but it may make up for it a bit if Missouri can begin an annual series with Arkansas. (This has not been implemented yet under the current temporary format. Arkansas is still playing South Carolina, and Missouri is playing Texas A&M.) Texas A&M and South Carolina don’t want to be forced to play one another every year as left-overs. South Carolina had been playing Arkansas, which didn’t make sense historically or geographically either.

There is a third major option that no one apart from Alabama (specifically Nick Saban) favors, which is to move to a 9-game schedule, with two rotating inter-divisional opponents and one permanent one. There are a few problems with this, even though it seems to be where most of the other major conferences are going. It creates an imbalance where some teams will have 4 conference road games and others will have 5. It would also make it more difficult to schedule out of conference. It would also likely reduce the chances of an SEC team winning the national championship due to difficulties in remaining undefeated after playing 10 games against SEC teams (including the championship game) and due to the fact that the SEC as a whole (if not the individual team) may lack other quality opponents that establish how good the SEC is. A home game is not easily parted with in the SEC, given that football helps fund the other sports and in some cases even helps fund other university expenses. 100,000 seats, even if there is a weak opponent, can command a tidy sum of money.

The biggest problems with going to a 6-2 format would be that Auburn-Georgia (“The Oldest Rivalry in the South”, played at least 108 times and annually since 1944 [1902 if you take out 1943, which was not a full season for most teams]) and Tennessee-Alabama (played at least 94 times and every year since 1944 [since 1928 with the exception of the 1943 season]) would no longer be annual games.

So I think what would make a number content with the 6-2 format if they’re currently either opposed or on the fence would be to change the divisions, which should be done anyway. Put Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn, and Georgia all in the same division. Add the two teams to the South and East (Florida and South Carolina) and the other team in the state of Tennessee, Vanderbilt.

I put this all on a map (at the bottom), so maybe it will make more sense that way. One problem with this is that in recent years, three teams in the proposed SEC East have won a total of 6 national championships in football, compared to only one team winning two recent national championships in the West.

But these are the annual series that are lost, and I don’t think it’s a bad list:
LSU-Auburn
LSU-Alabama
Miss. St.-Alabama
Ole Miss-Alabama
Tennessee-Kentucky
Ole Miss-Vandy
LSU-Florida

Don’t forget that the 6-2 format makes this less dramatic since these games will still be played every few years on average.

Missouri wouldn’t miss anything by moving West, except that LSU is not a customary or logical opponent, and maybe Vanderbilt is.

The only sensible alternative to make it more balanced would be to trade Kentucky and Florida. I’ll give a list of series that would be broken up, but first I wanted to note a couple of series that would not happen that I think would be good ones. Kentucky-Missouri makes a lot of sense, because that’s one of the closest teams to Missouri geographically, and there would probably be some carry-over from basketball. LSU-Kentucky would be brought back under the first proposal but not the alternative, it’s not geographically logical, but it is historical. Also, Florida-Auburn would be brought back under the first proposal but not the alternative. Here are the current annual series that would be lost under the alternative proposal:
Florida-Georgia
Florida-Tennessee
LSU-Auburn
LSU-Alabama
Ole Miss-Vandy
Miss. St.-Alabama
Ole Miss-Alabama

This also would also require Florida to play Missouri every year, which does not make sense at all. That’s one of the reasons to move Missouri to the West in the first place.

My understanding is the teams who want the traditional rivals aren’t focused on short-term schedule balance anyway, so I think given all the variables, my first proposal is much stronger. It may be favorable to LSU in the short term, but LSU has had its fair share of difficult scheduling over the last few years. Auburn may not be a good team again for some time, and I don’t know how permanent a fixture South Carolina is near the top of the SEC. Also, Texas A&M in the West has really taken off and could compete for national championships over the next few years. That’s not to mention Ole Miss’s recruiting of late. So LSU may not even have much of a breather anyway.

So here’s a map of the first option I mentioned. Knoxville is very close to the North Carolina border, so apologies if I made it look like it is actually in North Carolina, but you get the idea of where it is relative to the other SEC locations anyway. Obviously, even though the map classifies Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina as in the Southeast, they don’t have SEC teams. Missouri and Texas are classified as parts of other regions and do have SEC teams. I erased the other state and regional names to avoid potential confusion.

southe1

Bring Back the Big West

In Bowls, College Football, Realignment on December 8, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Even though this could have been the promising first year of a reorganized respectable second-tier conference, the WAC as we used to know it seems pretty much dead. All the football members have left or are leaving apart from Idaho and New Mexico St.

As recently as 1995, the top three WAC teams of this year, Louisiana Tech, Utah St., and San Jose St., all competed in the Big West. Nevada, UNLV, and New Mexico St. were also in that conference, and Boise St. joined (along with Idaho) in 1996.

Which got me thinking… since there won’t be a WAC, why can’t there be a Big West in football again? I can’t think of a good reason. In football, the Big East is doing so much expanding from the area near the Mississippi River all the way to Boise and San Diego, so that can incorporate these teams while the rest of the conference can keep operating as it is already, with some possible quality expansion in other sports.

These were the teams in the WAC in 1995:
Air Force
BYU
Colorado St.
Fresno St.
Hawaii
New Mexico
San Diego St.
Utah
UTEP
Wyoming

Boise St. and San Diego St. are actually going to be in the Big West in other sports, and Hawaii is already there. I imagine Utah St. and San Jose St. (which appear to be headed to the Mountain West) could be brought back with just the foundation I’ve mentioned so far. BYU left the Mountain West to become independent in football (WCC in other sports, which makes less sense than the Big West would), but no currently AQ-conference has offered them a spot, and they’re naturals to be playing the likes of Boise St. and Utah St., both of which they’ve played this season.

The East-West alliance along the lines of the previously-discussed MWC-CUSA idea didn’t work out because of all the existing obligations (essentially schools could then leave without buyout fees and without paying the conference shares of post-season revenue), but all those problems aren’t here since administratively, it would still really be the Big East.

Louisiana Tech is a definite for the Conference USA, but that’s fine because they were too far to the East for the WAC anyway. The Big West football conference did extend into Arkansas and Louisiana briefly (inlcluding Louisiana Tech and UL-Lafayette, then known as the University of Southwestern Louisiana). There is a bit of a central region in the Big East as well that could provide the anticipated mega-conference some flexibility, so they’re not completely out of the question later.

The Big East has already announced plans to include Memphis, Tulane, SMU, and Houston. With the quality Western teams available, I would think Memphis and Tulane would be playing in the true Big East (by which I mean teams that would be in the Big East in other sports and in the Eastern division in football), but SMU and Houston would be good opponents for them as well. If only one of the four goes out West (in the even both Cincinnati and Connecticut find other conferences), then SMU and Houston could still be permanent opponents.

The only teams left from a couple of years ago (to make up the core of the true Big East) will be Connecticut, Cincinnati, and South Florida.

So this is what I’m thinking as a possible alignment…

Big East Big West
Central Florida Boise St.
Cincinnati BYU
Connecticut Hawaii
East Carolina Houston
Memphis Nevada
South Florida San Diego St.
Temple SMU
Tulane UNLV
Future possibilities Future possibilities
Army Air Force
Louisiana Tech San Jose St.
Navy* Utah St.

*-Navy is already set to join in 2015.

Apart from Navy, the Western future possibilities are more likely in the event of more shuffling of the Eastern teams. The ACC or Big Ten could take teams from the East if they want to go to 16. If the SEC goes to 16, they would likely come from the ACC, which will probably want to replace those two. So if two teams are lost from the Eastern division, they could be replaced by SMU and Houston, whose spots in the Western division could be taken by San Jose St. and Utah St. I could also see SMU and Houston joining the Big XII to make it… wait for it, 12 teams. Then you could simply replace them with San Jose St. and Utah St. Air Force (who could of course be a permanent opponent of Navy) seems like another reasonable possibility

To balance out possible unfairness from permanent opponents, I would be in favor of only counting divisional play toward picking the contestants for the championship game, but this would not rule out one or two games against teams from the other side during the season. If Air Force and Navy were in different divisions, they would still need to play one another. I don’ t know if Army is a possibility, but just for instance, it might be that if all the Commander-in-Chief teams are in this conference, two permanent opponents would be needed. That can’t really be done if it counts as an equal conference game. Other programs may not prefer to play any inter-divisional games.

Also, if circumstances change (which seems to happen every couple of months), maybe there could be too much interest in the East and not enough in the West. Then, you could easily have Memphis and/or Tulane move to the West.

I guess we can expect the Mountain West to have a number of members suitable for a round-robin format, which is sort of why it was created around the turn of the 21st century. So in addition to the three programs mentioned as future possibilities for the Big West, the Mountain West membership includes Wyoming, Colorado St., Fresno St., and New Mexico. I started this off by mentioning Idaho and New Mexico St. They could fit right in if some of the defections take place. Another possibility would be UTEP, which is less than an hour away from New Mexico St. West Texas might be a place to make recruiting inroads. Of course, the Big East is already going to be in East Texas.

Idaho isn’t quite as great of a fit for either conference, but another possibility for Idaho is to go back to the Big Sky, which may also house future FBS programs, by the way.

Anyway, there are definitely suitable teams for an 8-10-team Mountain West as well as an 8-team Big West to be part of the football Big East.

The bowl policies are interesting here. The Fiesta Bowl currently is the Big XII champion’s default destination, but that is going to be the Sugar under the SEC-Big XII contract, so that will open up. Maybe the winner of the football Big East could play there, even if the winner were from the East. An Eastern team might be good enough for the Orange Bowl in some years, but nothing would rule out a Pac-12 or Big XII #2 team playing the MWC champions in the Fiesta Bowl if it worked out that way. I don’t think the MWC under what I’m envisioning would be a fixture in the major bowls, but there may be some years where that would be appropriate. The Cotton Bowl also seems to be taking on increasing importance, but one would think that would be a common location of the SEC-Big XII bowl in the years where the Sugar is a semifinal bowl. In other years, the football Big East might be a good fit as well, regardless of which division the winner comes from.

The Big East doesn’t have to be an unmitigated coast-to-coast disaster, but I’m afraid that is a possibility without the kind of clear direction I would like to see it have with the Western teams. Funny that just a could years ago, many (myself included) were thinking the solution might just be to make the MWC an AQ in lieu of the Big East or simply to remove the Big East from AQ status to make room for more MWC or WAC teams. Now I’m talking about a lot of the teams in question being in the same conference somehow.