Sport Change promised some baseball posts in April, and it looks like they’re coming toward the end of the month.  Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up the ranks.  Time to catch up with the summer collegiate Northwoods League.

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The Northwoods League is the most successful summer collegiate baseball league in the country, and has helped many college ballplayers keep their skills sharp throughout the summers between school years.  Sport Change has weighed in on the NWL a few times before, and this post lays out the details of the league pretty well.  For now, we’re going to catch up on off-season developments and throw in our two cents.

What’s New?

KENOSHA EXPANSION

The biggest piece of news in the Northwoods League is that an expansion franchise will be placed in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for the 2014 season.  Kenosha was ranked third in Sport Change’s list of potential NWL expansion sites, published last summer.  Of course, the team needs an identity!  Ownership in Kenosha has taken the well-worn (and often treacherous) path of a name-the-team contest.  Sport Change specializes in deconstruction of name-the-team contests, so let’s have at it.  Here are the name options being put up for consideration:

Kenosha Comets – The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League team that played in Kenosha from 1943 thru 1951 was named the Comets. The team played at Simmons Field, where the new Kenosha Northwoods League team will call home, from 1948 thru 1951.

Kenosha Esox -Esox is the name of the category of fish that includes the Pike. Esox also ties into one of the previous names for the City of Kenosha, Pike.

Kenosha KingFish – KingFish offers a unique combination of a tie to Lake Michigan, royalty and even a little nod to the King, Elvis Presley.

Kenosha Coopers – Traditionally, a cooper is someone who makes wooden staved vessels, bound together with hoops, for instance a beer barrel or cask. The name also connects to the Cooper’s Hawk that is native to the area. Lastly Samuel T. Cooper founded the iconic Kenosha company that became Jockey International.

Kenosha Sockets – Sockets connects to the automotive history in Kenosha as well as Snap-on Tool Company, which is another iconic company based in Kenosha.

Kenosha Lake Bears – Lake Bears is a memorable name that ties nicely to Lake Michigan and summertime in Wisconsin.

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Ok, that’s quite the range.  Here’s the Sport Change take on each one:

Comets is a great sport team moniker in general, and the alliteration is terrific.  The name, however, is highly inappropriate.  The AAGPBL Kenosha Comets are part of baseball lore, and let’s keep it that way.  I have no problem with a team like the St. Cloud Rox borrowing an identity from a bygone team, but this suggestion is too over the top.  It’s been about 70 years since the AAGPBL was around, and comparing it with a Northwoods team is like comparing apples and Rockford Peaches.  If you want to see the Kenosha Comets, watch A League of their Own.  Seriously.  That movie holds up.  (also currently on Netflix streaming.)

Esox is a great concept, and I tip my cap to whoever came up with that idea.  Plays on the ‘sox’ phenomenon are staples in minor league baseball (Everett AquaSox, Amarillo Gold Sox, Utica Blue Sox) and they’re a hoot.  That ‘esox’ is the pike family and Kenosha was once called Pike only sweetens the deal.

KingFish isn’t terrible, but there are a few faults here.  For starters, I hate the “camel-case” wording; where the capital F is like a camel’s hump.  Why?  Also, nicknames that aren’t in plural form are terrible.  It goes without being said, but the phrase: “a unique combination of a tie to Lake Michigan, royalty and even a little nod to the King, Elvis Presley.” should be an automatic disqualification   A better name would be Kingfishers, after the badass blue bird.

Coopers combines two qualities that make for a stellar minor league name: alliteration and reference to a bygone blue-collar trade.  If you ever look back at minor league names from around the turn of the century, you get great names like Furnituremakers, Clamdiggers, and Farmers.  These names tell a great story, and Coopers lends itself well to the nearby Brewers and the roll out the barrel phenomenon.  The Cooper’s Hawk thing is a bit of a stretch, but a hawk perched on a barrel would make a cool logo.

Sockets is certainly fun and ties in with the city, but it’s a tired idea.  The Lansing Lugnuts are an uber-popular MiLB team, and Sockets seems like a facsimile of the original.  The American Association (independent) team, the Wichita Wingnuts, have already gone this route.  That being said, “socket to me, baby” could be a good slogan.

Lake Bears makes we want to run for a barf bag.  Don’t get me wrong: I love lakes and I love bears.  The problem here is that this epitomizes the bland minor league brands that are ubiquitous from coast to coast.  Lake Bears is not much different than Bay Bears, Hillcats, RiverDogs, SeaWolves, River Cats…on an on.  Just say no.

Grades

Kenosha Coopers. (A-)

Kenosha Esox.  (B+)

Kenosha Sockets.  (C)

Kenosha KingFish.  (D)

Kenosha Lake Bears.  (D-)

Kenosha Comets.  (disqualified)

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Let’s keep a clean history here.

Look for the name-the-team results this summer.

ANCHORS AWEIGH

In other Northwoods naming news, the Alexandria Beetles were recently “saved” by the league taking control of the struggling team and reselling to a new ownership group.  Great!  Except that the new group is changing the team’s name from the terrific Beetles to the bland and perplexing Blue Anchors.  All I’ve got to say is…ugh.  Sport Change identified the Beetles as having one of the top Northwoods League nicknames, and one of the best in non-affiliated baseball.  It’s just a disappointment when people throw the baby out with the bathwater.  If the team couldn’t sell tickets, it was probably because Alexandria, Minnesota is a small city.  I have a hard time seeing the Blue Anchors doing a better job in the long-term.

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R.I.P. The Alexandria Beetle. 2001-2013.

KALAMAZOO NEWS

Now we’ll just get in to the realm of rumor and talk about some cities that may someday host a Northwoods League team.  First up is Kalamazoo, Michigan, which was ranked fourth in last summer’s Sport Change rankings of potential cities.  The city recently issued an RFP (request for proposals) regarding use of the ballpark, and the Northwoods League was the sole bidder.  It’s a bit surprising that the Frontier League made no efforts, but they tried and failed with the Kalamazoo Kodiaks in the nineties and the Kings, more recently.  Let’s see this happen!  Right now, Battle Creek is the lone Michigander franchise, and Kalamazoo is right near by just waiting to be a rival.  This would be a big step in expanding the league’s footprint, and may work to lure the successful Traverse City Beach Bums away from the Frontier League.  If Kalamazoo does get a team, the branding options are bountiful.  Many ideas could surface, but here are a few thoughts.  Kodiaks is solid, and could be reactivated, potentially.  Kalamazoo Kazoos was the name of an old MiLB team that played about 100 years ago.  Kalamazoo Kangaroos would be fun, though the name was used thirty years ago for a soccer team.  Kalamazoo Keepers is fun for the pun-loving among us.  In reference to Bell’s brewery, what about the Kalamazoo Brews?

BISMARCK-E

Bismarck, North Dakota, may get a ballpark together.  If they do, the NWL would love to expand westward.  Bismarck would be pretty far from current NWL teams, but then again, so is Thunder Bay.  Perhaps there is a master plan to add say, a team in Grand Forks or to poach teams form Fargo, Winnipeg, Sioux Falls…we’ll see.

ELKHART OF GOLD

Elkhart County, Indiana (near South Bend), may get a stadium deal; making the area an ideal candidate for the NWL.  This move would bring the NWL to a new state and also help with furthering the establishment of a colony of teams on the eastern side of Lake Michigan.  Only time will tell.

Yes, yes.  Many changes afoot for our growing Northwoods League.  It’s a brave wide world–the breathtaking endeavor of summer collegiate non-affiliated independent baseball.

SPORT CHANGE

I said that basketball posts would go up in March, but here’s one just a day late.  Let’s call it April Fool’s.  Here’s the natural companion to the Ideal NBA: the Ideal NBA Developmental League.

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For the uninitiated, the NBA’s Developmental League, or D-League, is a minor basketball league that currently consists of 16 teams in mid-sized cities scattered across the nation.  It functions somewhat like baseball’s AAA level of minor league play, wherein each D-League team is affiliated with one or more teams.  The D-League is over ten years old, and has been a considerable success.  Expansion is inevitable, so Sport Change will take the opportunity to expound for the league expands.  Here we go.

Scenario 1:  Realistic Suggestions.

This would be the status of the NBA D-League if Sport Change were to make at least halfway realistic suggestions for the league.  Let’s do it team by team:

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Good to Go (same name, same place, same affiliation as present)

Los Angeles D-Fenders (Los Angeles Lakers) This is simple, yet effective.  The nickname is a play on ‘D-League’ and the franchise plays in the same city as the parent.

Canton Charge (Cleveland Cavaliers)  As much as I dislike nicknames that don’t end in ‘S,’ the Charge get a pass for making an allusion to their parent club, as well as linking the name to a popular sports game cheer.

Maine Red Claws (Boston Celtics)  Portland, Maine is a terrific location for a minor league team in any sport, and the Boston parent is the only logical choice.  Red Claws is fun and regionally relevant.

Austin Toros (San Antonio Spurs) Firing on all cylinders–great minor league city, great name, appropriate parent club.

Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets) Royce White’s former team works very well.  Vipers is a great nickname, and the alliteration with ‘Valley’ sounds great.

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Good to Go, but Change the Name (appropriate parent club, but questionable brand)

Texas Legends (Dallas Mavericks)  I like ‘Legends’ quite a bit as a minor (or even major) league brand, and baseball’s Lexington Legends also wear it well.  However, the Legends can’t justify claiming the whole state, when a total of three Texan teams play in the D-League.  We’ll just give them the place-name of their location.  New name: Frisco Legends.

Tulsa 66ers (Oklahoma City Thunder)  Perfect place for an OKC affiliate, but that moniker has to go.  It’s a reference to Route 66, but that doesn’t work for a few reasons.  1.) MiLB’s San Bernardino team already uses it.  2.) Calling a basketball team the “Sixers” is already used.  Let’s give them a name that humorously complements their parent club.  New name: Tulsa Rumble.

Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State Warriors)  This is the only team that uses a ‘chip-off-the-old-block’ nickname, and it seems awkward next to nicknames like Bighorns and Vipers.  Let’s get more creative and regionally relevant–allierative, too!  New name: Santa Cruz Surfers.

Idaho Stampede (Portland Trail Blazers)  I love that there’s a team in Idaho and that the team is the farm club of nearby Portland.  Not a fan of the nickname, though.  “I’m a member of the Stampede.”  It’s a stretch, plus it’s too close to the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders.  Let’s give Idaho a real farm club name.  New name: Idaho Taters.

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Good to Go, but Pare it Down to One Parent (terrific franchises that have 3 or 4 parent clubs)

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Reno Bighorns.  Probably the top overall brand in the D-League, Reno is shared by Memphis, Utah, and Sacramento.  Since the future of the Kings is in jeopardy, we’ll go with the state to the east.   (Utah Jazz) 

Fort Wayne Mad Ants.   I love this brand, and am glad to see that Fort Wayne has a team.  There are currently four parent clubs (Bobcats, Bucks, Pacers, Pistons) and it’s a choice between Indiana and Detroit.  We’ll keep it in-state.  (Indiana Pacers)

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Change the Name and Pare it Down to One Parent

Iowa Energy.  The Energy (ugh!) currently represent the interest of the Bulls, Nuggets, Hornets, and Wizards.  Of those, the Bulls are the obvious and logical choice of parent.  Iowans tend to be fans of Chicago sports teams, as evidenced by baseball’s Iowa Cubs.  For the name, let’s go with a diminutive of Bulls.  New name and parent: Iowa Calves (Chicago Bulls)

Sioux Falls Skyforce.  It’s cool that South Dakota has a team, but as of today they are the affiliate of the Heat, Timberwolves, Magic, and 76ers.  Only Minnesota makes geographic sense.  The name Skyforce is sort of the quintessential bland minor league name.  I say we take a great name that was recently abandoned by an American Association baseball team.  New name and parent: Sioux Fall Pheasants (Minnesota Timberwolves)

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When one sport abandons a great brand, another swoops in to pick it up.

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Change it All!  (new name, new city, new parent)

Bakersfield Jam.  The Jam currently feed the rosters of the Hawks, Clippers, Suns, and Raptors.   Los Angeles makes the most sense here, so we’ll pare it down.  Why does Bakersfield have such terrible nicknames?  Their MiLB team is called the Blaze.  Ew.  Additionally, the ‘Blaze’ are the lowest draw in baseball, and I question Bakersfield’s ability to sustain a franchise.  So…we’re moving the team to San Diego and resurrecting the old ABA nickname.  New name and parent: San Diego Sails (Los Angeles Clippers)

Erie BayHawks.  Why is Erie, Pennsylvania representing the New York Knicks, when the 76ers have to go to South Dakota on scouting trips?  Even Toronto would be better, and the Raptors’ front office needs to travel to California.  Additionally, I take back what I said earlier about the Skyforce.  ‘BayHawks’ is the quintessential terrible minor league nickname.  Attaching a geological formation to an animal using “camel-case” capitalization = vomit on the shoes.  Especially when wordplay is so much fun.  New name and parent: Erie Ghosts (Philadelphia 76ers)

Springfield Armor.  A couple of things here.  Though I truly do appreciate the fact that there is a D-League franchise in Springfield, Massachusetts, the home of the basketball hall of fame, it just doesn’t work.  It’s unfair for Springfieldians to have to cheer for future members of teams that compete in the same division as the Celtics.  However, there are no other good options for parent clubs with geographic proximity–hence the current linkage with the Nets.  Armor is a terrible name too, of course.  Even if they were to stay in Springfield, they should be renamed the Springfield Hall-Ballers.  I say we move the Armor to Hartford, Connecticut, name them after the Charter Oak, and affiliate them with nearby New York.  New name and parent: Connecticut Oaks (New York Knicks)

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The Charter Oak: it means something to Connecticut.

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Fabrications!  (new teams created by Sport Change)

Now comes the fun part.  In some fashion, we’ve accounted for all sixteen current D-League teams.  However, since we pared down several of the teams to one parent club, there remains an additional 14 NBA teams that need an affiliate.  Let’s toss the serious book out the window and try to create best matches for each NBA team.  Place preference will go to cities that don’t have an NBA team, but are certainly large enough to deserve a D-League team.  Geographic proximity is a no-brainer, for many reasons.  Naming is pure fun.  Let’s do this:

Miami Heat.  Why fly to South Dakota when in-state Tampa is available as a market from which to build a stronger fan base.  For a name, let’s go with an alliterative handle that was once used in a Will Ferrell movie.  D-League Affiliate: Tampa Tropics.

Orlando Magic.  While we’re in the Sunshine State, let’s not forget about the largest city: Jacksonville.  A natural farm club for the parent in Orlando.  I’m not sure about an ideal nickname.  You could go with Mystery, as the name is similar to Magic.  In a similar vein, Sorcerers might work.  Local fauna include Lizards and Snakes, but nothing is particularly striking.  For now, we’ll call them the Jacks, until something better comes along.  Vote now or offer a write-in.  D-League Affiliate: Jacksonville Jacks. (temporary)

Washington Wizards.  The obvious farm club should be based in the nearby city that should (by all rights) host an NBA team: Baltimore, Maryland.  For a nickname, let us simultaneously pay homage to the Charm City while creating a diminutive for Wizards.  D-League Affiliate: Baltimore Charms.

Sacramento Kings.  This will have to remain somewhat goofy until we know for sure whether or not the Kings are moving to Seattle.  If they are, then for the record, the Sonics’ farm club should be based in Vancouver, BC, or Spokane, Washington.  For now, we’ll put Sacramento’s farm club in a large city that is void of an NBA franchise: Seattle.  A nickname should be diminutive here.  D-League Affiliate: Seattle Princes.

Denver Nuggets.  Another major Missourian city, Kansas City, needs a team,  We’ll give KC to the Nuggets.  That sentence made me hungry for some reason.  ‘Cyclones’ is tempting for a nickname, but we’ve used that a few times in the Ideal League process.  Let’s go with a big nugget that flies through space.  D-League Affiliate: Kansas City Comets.

Toronto Raptors.  Ottawa is tempting, but Buffalo is more promising.  For a nickname, let’s continue in the dinosaur theme, and be alliterative at the same time.  D-League Affiliate: Buffalo Brontos.

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Atlanta Hawks.  Since Atlanta is the major city for a vast swath of the South, I think we can just pick a southern city to pair with the Hawks.  Alabama would be interesting, but interest in basketball is minimal.  Let’s go with the Tidewater Region (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton) of Virginia and bring back an old ABA brand.  D-League Affiliate: Virginia Squires.

Phoenix Suns.  Albuquerque, New Mexico received strong consideration here, and it was very close. For now, however, we’ll agree to award Las Vegas a franchise and we’ll pair them up with the Suns. For a nickname, we’ll take an old MiLB name (Las Vegas Stars) and add a fun touch.  D-League Affiliate: Las Vegas Neon Stars.

Memphis Grizzlies.  St. Louis, Missouri, just up the river from Memphis, is a larger city that would make an ideal home for a D-League franchise.  As tempting as it might be to revamp the ABA’s old ‘Spirits’ brand, we’ll go with a tip of the hat to the Lou’s most famous landmark.  D-League Affiliate: St. Louis Archers.

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Milwaukee Bucks.  As tempting as ‘Green Bay Fawns’ would be, let’s go with nearby Madison, Wisconsin in an effort to sell tickets to students in the winter.  We’ll give them a nickname that was once a minor league baseball team paying homage to the state fish, the muskellunge.  D-League Affiliate: Madison Muskies.

Detroit Pistons.  This is a pretty simple game.  Pick a decent-sized city in Michigan and pair it with an alliterative and humorous car part a la the Lansing Lugnuts.  D-League Affiliate: Kalamazoo Crankshafts.

Charlotte Bobcats.  Raleigh/Durham would be the obvious choice, but we just can’t look the other way when alliteration, diminutive forms, and absurdity collide.  D-League Affiliate: Kentucky Kittens.

Brooklyn Nets.  Where else would the Nets’ affiliate play but for Newark, New Jersey.  Keep the fan base alive and continue with the nickname theme.  D-League Affiliate: Newark Backboards.

New Orleans Pelicans.  Let’s go with the Louisiana state capitol and make an effort to attract LSU college students to the games.  What’s a diminutive form of Pelicans?  D-League Affiliate: Baton Rouge Chicks.

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Those are all 30 current NBA teams.  Let’s recap while simultaneously taking a look at what divisional alignment would look like if the alignment followed that of the parent clubs.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic D-Vision: Maine Red Claws, Newark Backboards, Connecticut Oaks, Erie Ghosts, Buffalo Brontos

Central D-Vision: Iowa Calves, Canton Charge, Kalamazoo Crankshafts, Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Madison Muskies

Southeast D-Vision: Virginia Squires, Kentucky Kittens, Tampa Tropics, Jacksonville Jacks, Baltimore Charms

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Northwest D-Vision: Kansas City Comets, Sioux Falls Pheasants, Tulsa Rumble, Idaho Taters, Reno Bighorns

Pacific D-Vision: Santa Cruz Surfers, San Diego Sails, Los Angeles D-Fenders, Las Vegas Neon Stars, Seattle Princes

Southwest D-Vision: Frisco Legends, Rio Grande Valley Vipers, St. Louis Archers, Baton Rouge Chicks, Austin Toros

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Scenario 2: Playing off the Ideal NBA (aka getting even more goofy)

For this scenario we’re imagining the Ideal D-League as it pertains to the Sport Change Ideal NBA.  Click here to open the Ideal NBA in a new tab.  Without getting into too much detail, here are the differences between the current NBA and the Sport Change Ideal NBA:

-There are 32 teams instead of 30

-Each conference features four divisions, like the NFL

-The Orlando Magic never existed…or we can imagine that they moved.

-Baltimore has a team called the Ravens

-The Kansas City Kings never moved to Sacramento.

-Minnesota is called the Lakers and Los Angeles has the Wolves

-The Charlotte Hornets still exist.

-Pittsburgh has a team called the Ironmen and Toronto is called the Huskies

-New Orleans Jazz still exist and Utah goes by Raptors

-The Clippers are still in San Diego

-Washington is called the Stars

-Oklahoma City goes by Cyclones, and Memphis goes by Monarchs

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Some things are too good to change.

Alright.  Now let’s get in to it.  Several of the teams that we covered in Scenario 1 stay the same.  These are the: Canton Charge, Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Maine Red Claws, Austin Toros, Reno Bighorns (with Utah Raptors), Frisco Legends, Idaho Taters, Iowa Calves, Sioux Falls Pheasants (with Minnesota Lakers), Connecticut Oaks,  Madison Muskies, and Newark Backboards.

Now we’ll take a look at the other 20 teams.

Flint D-Fenders (Detroit Pistons) For this scenario, we steal the clever D-Fenders moniker from L.A. and transplant it in Flint, Michigan.  The Fenders follow in the car part tradition of their parent club.

Tulsa Tornadoes (Oklahoma City Cyclones) Rumble may have worked for the Thunder, but Tornadoes works with Cyclones.

Lafayette Zydeco (New Orleans Jazz)  Rather than Baton Rouge, we go with the home city of zydeco music.

Hidalgo Javelinas (Houston Rockets) Just a simple name change.  Since we have the Pittsburgh Vipers in the NBA now, Rio Grande Valley simply goes by the name of their actual city location and picks a local critter as a mascot.

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Ottawa Bobcats (Toronto Huskies)  We could go with Buffalo Bobcats, but why not give Ottawa a shot this time around?  Now that Bobcats is unused, it works perfect in Ontario.  Fun fact: the Raptors were almost named the Bobcats, but Jurassic Park was too popular at the time.

Raleigh/Durham Wasps (Charlotte Hornets)  About as basic as you can get.

Las Vegas Coyotes (L.A. Wolves)  In this scenario, we’ll have Vegas represent Hollywood.  Coyotes is a fun diminutive form, and interestingly–the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes once came close to moving to Las Vegas.  Since the Coyotes will not be included in the Ideal NHL (spoiler alert!) we’ll use the moniker here.

Erie Phantoms (Pitt Vipers)  We called them Ghosts last time around, but this time we’ll give them a new name to go with their new parent club.

Vancouver Grizzlies (Seattle Sonics)  Yes, yes.  With the Memphis Monarch no long using the terrifically regional Grizzlies moniker, we can bring it back to where it belongs–north of the border.

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St. Louis Archers (KC Kings)  Now that Kansas City has a team, we’ll match them up with in-state St. Louis.  Wichita is tempting, but Kansas has the Jayhawks–and the Shockers.

Delaware Dinosaurs (Baltimore Ravens)  With a team in Baltimore, we turn to a neighbor to the east.  Now that the Raptors and Brontos are gone, we’ll have Delaware continue the dino tradition.

Los Angeles Sails (San Diego Clippers)  If it seems appropriate for the current D-League to have a team in L.A. despite having two in the NBA, it’s fine to put one there with only one team in the Ideal L.A.

Sacramento Sierras (Golden State Warriors) Sacramento has always been something of a second-tier sports city anyway, so now it’s formalized.  The name is a reference to the Sierra Nevada range.

Albuquerque Dukes (Phoenix Suns)  It’s fun to have a team in New Mexico, and the Dukes were such a terrific minor league baseball brand that we’ll reincarnate them in another sport.

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Orlando Magic (Miami Heat)  Orlando never should have had an NBA team to begin with, so they count themselves lucky to have a Heat affiliate.

Jacksonville Jacks (Atlanta Hawks)  We’ll keep a franchise in J-ville, but now they represent the Hawks.  Until conclusive results are pulled from the above poll, we’ll stick with Jacks.

Lehigh Valley Vultures (Philly 76ers)  The Lehigh Valley (Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton) is a densely-populated and sports-crazy region.  Why Vultures?  I guess it’s something unique, and I was inspired by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers alliterative effect.

Nashville Nightengales (Memphis Monarchs)  Named in honor of the Music City songstresses.

Omaha Clods (Denver Nuggets)  If Denver is famous for mining and the Nuggets are named for gold….Nebraska is famous for farming, so the team should represent dirt.

Virginia Squires (Washington Stars)  We’ll continue with the whole Squires thing, but this time we’ll link them with the Capitol.

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There are all of those teams.  Now let’s look at the alignment as it relates to the Ideal NBA:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic: Maine Red Claws, Connecticut Oaks, Lehigh Valley Vultures, Newark Backboards

Northeast: Ottawa Bobcats, Erie Phantoms, Delaware Dinosaurs, Virginia Squires

Southeast: Jacksonville Jacks, Raleigh/Durham Wasps, Orlando Magic, Fort Wayne Mad Ants

Central: Iowa Calves, Flint D-Fenders, Madison Muskies, Canton Charge

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

Pacific: Sacramento Sierras, Las Vegas Coyotes, Los Angeles Sails, Albuquerque Dukes

Northwest: Vancouver Grizzlies, Idaho Taters, Omaha Clods, Reno Bighorns

Southwest: Austin Toros, Frisco Legends, Hidalgo Javelinas, Tulsa Tornadoes

Central: Sioux Falls Pheasants, St. Louis Archers, Nashville Nightengales, Lafayette Zydeco

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Clifton+Chenier

Clifton Chenier, king of the bayou

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In typical Sport Change fashion, about all that can be said about a topic has been said…and then some.  It’s on to baseball next!  Thanks for reading.

SPORT CHANGE

The Ideal NBA.

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What would the NBA look like if Sport Change ruled the world?  There’s two ways of looking at it: 1.) Rewriting history.  2.) Suggesting plausible changes.  Let’s do both.

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Scenario 1: Revisionist History

Let us pick up in the year 1979, following the conclusion of the ’78-’79 NBA season.  In the offseason, interests in Salt Lake City, Utah, make a strong yet unsuccessful bid to buy the New Orleans Jazz.  New Orleans retains it’s team, but the NBA takes notice.  The next year, in 1980, the league rings in the new decade by adding two expansion teams: the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Raptors–named after a dinosaur, the Utahraptor, that was discovered a few years hence.  The NBA finds good footing in the 1980s, with a few realignments here and there.  In the mid-eighties, an attempt is made to move the Kansas City Kings to California, but the Kings stay in KC.  By the end of the decade, fan support has piqued the interest of cities around North America, and the league expands by two: the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets.  In 1989, the league ignores an effort to bring a franchise to the ridiculous city of Orlando, Florida, but does award a franchise to Minneapolis.  The new team successfully buys the name ‘Lakers’ back from Los Angeles; who in turn now call themselves the Los Angeles Wolves.   The Wolves’ brand explodes in popularity, and thwarts the efforts of the San Diego Clippers’ attempts to sail north.  In 1990, the league grants yet another expansion team–this time to Baltimore, Maryland.  The basketball team is named the Baltimore Ravens, as a tip of the hat to Edgar Allan Poe.  Around this time, the Washington Bullets decide to rename the team in order to avoid association with violence.  The name Washington Stars is chosen, in honor of how Capitol cities are often represented by stars on a map.  In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of both teams leaving the NBA, the Toronto Huskies and Pittsburgh Ironmen are reinstated as franchises in the league, bringing the total to 30 teams.  Ten years later, the NBA adds two more teams: the Oklahoma City Cyclones and Memphis Monarchs.  For what it’s worth, the New Jersey Nets move to Brooklyn.  With 32 teams, the league realigns into four divisions in each of the two conferences, in a system modeled after the NFL.  As of today, the Sport Change Revisionist History Ideal NBA looks like this:

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EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic: Boston Celtics, New York Knickerbockers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brookyn Nets

Northeast: Toronto Huskies, Pittsburgh Ironmen, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Stars

Southeast: Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers

Central: Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

Pacific: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Wolves, San Diego Clippers, Phoenix Suns

Northwest: Seattle SuperSonics, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Raptors

Southwest: San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Cyclones

Central: Minnesota Lakers, Memphis Monarchs, New Orleans Jazz, Kansas City Kings

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Scenario 2: Reasonable Plausibility

This section is devoted to legitimate, realistic changes that could come to the NBA.  There are a few different topics to discuss here, so let’s break it down issue by issue.

Disparity.  This is not the type of discussion that Sport Change typically gets involved with, it’s clear that there needs to be implementation of a few basic new policies to the NBA, in order to sustain success long-term.  The issue of disparity has to be addressed.  As of now, the NBA is essentially a glorified version of the Harlem Globetrotters, with about five teams in large markets vying for fan support and championships.  It’s a problem.  The other twenty teams exist solely to be the teams that are beaten by the top ten, with barely a ray of hope for a sustainable future.  It’s important to note here that on-court success is temporary, and teams like the Grizzlies and Thunder have a very good chance of being bottom-dwellers in ten years, if the franchises last that long.  It’s coming to a head, and the NBA must make one of two decisions.

     1.) contract the league until only the teams with a large market, perennial contention, and high profitability exist.  This would be a league where the only teams might be the Knicks, Nets, Celtics, Lakers, Clippers, Bulls, Heat, Raptors, 76ers, Mavericks, and Rockets.  With fewer teams, each team would have a few superstars and have a good shot at the title each year.  As that happens, each team could draw from their large fanbase and gain many new bandwagon fans.  This will not happen, of course.  The NBA used to operate this way, but along came the upstart ABA.  The competitions between the two leagues caused a nationwide land-grab and eventual merger.  If the NBA contracted, another pro basketball league would crop up.

     2.) negotiate a legitimate salary cap system, like the one used by the NFL.  Currently, the voices of the players union and the large market franchises are certainly loud enough to drown out the squeaks from the small market teams on the brink.  This makes for bad basketball.  There are many reasons why the NFL is by far the most successful pro sports league around, but a major reason is because fans of every single team (except maybe the Jaguars) enter each season knowing that they have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs and/or win the Super Bowl.  That said, the NFL example has also proven that sustainable franchises (Steelers, Patriots, Giants) can cleverly walk the minefields of free agency and the draft, and thus retain perennial success.  Cap it!

Expansion.  If a salary cap were in place, I believe that the NBA could successfully expand the league by two teams.  Dilution of the talent pool would be minimal in a world of parity, and this would provide a few more opportunities for all the talented ballplayers in Europe and out of college to make a living in basketball.  Each team has an active roster of only 13 players; meaning 390 NBA players.  The NFL in all of it’s 32 team glory, suits up 53 players per team, or 1,696 players each year.  In a fair system, two more teams can be added.  As of this writing, the most obvious candidates are Seattle, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and the two Missouri cities–St. Louis and Kansas City.  Since it’s expected that the Kings will move to Seattle, my top two would be Kansas City and Pittsburgh.  KC is a slam dunk, since the Sprint Center is already standing and ready.  Pittsburgh is more of a wildcard, as the team would be competing with the Penguins in a market not known for supporting pro basketball.  I still stand by the choices.  Kansas City would reignite the Kings brand/history, in much the same way as the Sonics probably will.  Pittsburgh could go a number of different ways with their brand, but I’m going to suggest the Pittsburgh Vipers, or Pitt Vipers.

Relocation.  As alluded to above, we’ll assume that the Kings will go to Seattle.  Many of the other small-market teams (Charlotte, New Orleans, etc.) that are often brought up in relocation discussions will likely see their financial success be tied to on-court success.  Other small markets teams (Utah, Oklahoma City, Orlando) may see a plummeting of attendance as big-name players (Dwight Howard, James Harden, etc.) are siphoned away.  What I mean by that is that there isn’t much of a need for relocation in the NBA once Sacramento moves to Seattle.  The only move I’ll make is to send the Orlando Magic to Baltimore, since Baltimore deserves a team more than Disney.  In honor of the Charm City, we’ll change Magic to Charms.

Rebranding.  The NBA has many terrible brands, but I’ll try to keep this realistic.  Yes, I’d like to see the Utah Jazz change their name, but it just isn’t going to happen.  I’d like to see the Pacers become the Racers and the Nets become the Knights, but it’s not worth the fight.  I’ll narrow it to the Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Bobcats, and Toronto Raptors.  It’s ridiculous that not only did Memphis retain Vancouver’s region-specific nickname, they haven’t changed it yet.  There might not be a great list of options, but a name like Tennessee Stallions would be a big improvement.  We’ll go with the same name we used in the revisionist history, the Memphis Monarchs.  As stated before, I’m a fan of the Bobcats nickname.  Of course, I’m also a fan of the “Bring back the buzz” movement and the push to make the Charlotte Hornets happen again.  Deal.  The Raptors’ nickname drives me crazy because not only is it a minor-league level moniker, but it’s a one-off reference to Jurassic Park.  As much as Toronto fans want to see the Huskies name return, I’m sticking them with the now vacated Bobcats moniker.

Realignment.  With 32 teams, the logical alignment structure would be either eight divisions of four teams each (like the NFL) or four of eight.  As it is now, the NBA’s alignment isn’t terrible, but a few tweaks could improve it.  Having two Pacific Northwest teams (Seattle and Vancouver) relocate to the southern US threw it out of balance a bit, and the system can be reworked.  Let’s take a look:

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EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic: Boston Celtics, New York Knickerbockers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brookyn Nets

Northeast: Toronto Bobcats, Pittsburgh Vipers, Baltimore Charms, Washington Wizards

Southeast: Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers

Central: Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

Pacific: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, San Diego Clippers, Phoenix Suns

Northwest: Seattle SuperSonics, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz

Southwest: San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder

Central: Minnesota Timberwolves, Memphis Monarchs, New Orleans Pelicans, Kansas City Kings

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In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I gotta say about that.”  There’s the Sport Change Ideal NBA discussion.  Make comments, provide feedback, make suggestions, and they will be listened to.  Thanks for reading.  Coming up next: the Ideal NBA Developmental League.

SPORT CHANGE

In accordance with Sport Change’s authoritative, immutable rules regarding sports team nicknames, here is the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball bracket.

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If you’re new to the site, click on the NCAA tab (above) to view our comprehensive Division I moniker study.  For the top 100 moniker list, click here.

Essentially, we could simply rank every moniker in D-I, and then fill out the bracket in a formulaic fashion.  Two reasons why we’re doing the old fashioned way: 1.) This is basketball specific.  2.) It’s more fun this way.  Let’s just get right into it.

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ROUND 1 (play-in round)

North Carolina A&T Aggies vs. Liberty Flames.  This one is fairly easy.  Aggies is overused in D-I, and doesn’t earn any points from being attached to NC A&T.  Though ‘Flames’ is kind of a lame name (*cough Calgary cough*) Liberty at least makes clever use of it.  Victor: Flames

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. St. Mary’s Gaels.  As enticing as the color blue is, I do not understand the concept of taking ‘Raiders’ and coloring them; a la Texas Tech Red Raiders.  Though I consider them the lesser of the two Gael, we’ll give St. Mary’s the win here.  After all, selection Sunday was St. Patrick’s day this year.  Victor: Gaels.

Boise State Broncos vs. La Salle Explorers.  Boise State makes good use of Broncos, but Denver owns that nickname.  In the Sport Change top 100, La Salle ranked 32nd overall in D-I.  A no brainer.  Victor: Explorers.

LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds vs. James Madison Dukes.  Though I do like ‘Dukes’ as a moniker, this would only be a contest if it were the Duquesne Dukes, not the “bulldog” Dukes.  LIU-Brooklyn has a unique and excellent moniker that works at any level of play.  Victor: Blackbirds.

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This year’s dark horse is a dark bird.

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ROUND 2

MIDWEST

Louisville Cardinals vs. Liberty Flames.  Though ‘Cardinals’ is about as overused as it gets, Louisville is second only to St. Louis in ownership of that moniker.  Liberty flames out quickly here.  Victor: Cardinals.

Colorado St. Rams vs. Missouri Tigers.  Oh, boy.  If only there were a moniker seeding system.  Both of these nicknames are pro-type monikers that are very overused.  Of the two, ‘Tigers’ is the one that you can’t throw a stick without hitting.  It’ll come up again, so we’ll give CSU the nod here.  Victor: Rams.

Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Oregon Ducks.  Quack.  Enough said.  Victor: Ducks.

Saint Louis Billikens vs. New Mexico State Aggies.  Another Aggie that has no chance.  Saint Louis has a moniker that personifies the fun and whimsy of the collegiate level.  Victor: Billikens.

Memphis Tigers vs. St. Mary’s Gaels.  Apples and oranges here.  Since there is another Gael in the tournament, we’ll let Memphis advance to represent striped felines everywhere.  Victor: Tigers.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Valparaiso Crusaders.  Two armored historic figures square off in round 2.  Though MSU owns the Spartans nickname, Valpo benefits from the pleasing sound that Valparaiso and Crusaders make when placed together.  Victor: Crusaders.

Creighton Blue Jays vs. Cincinnati Bearcats.  This is a tough one to call.  Creighton does a great job with color-coordination, and the bird is ubiquitous enough that Toronto can’t quite claim full ownership of it.  Cincinnati certainly owns ‘Bearcats,’ which needs to mentioned considering that there are a whopping three Bearcats/Bearkats in D-I.  It’s always been a bit of an oddball moniker anyway, so we’ll say that Creighton wins by a beak.  Victor: Blue Jays.

Duke Blue Devils vs. Albany Great Danes.  No contest.  Bow wow.  Victor: Great Danes.

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Great Danes: eating Blue Devils for breakfast.

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WEST

Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Southern Jaguars.  Here’s an interesting matchup between two very overused monikers.  I’ve always felt that Gonzaga should have a more interesting moniker than they do, so we’ll give Southern the edge.  Victor: Jaguars.

Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Wichita State Shockers.  Tough to compare the two: one elicits respect and power while the other incites giggles and guffaws.  The choice is easy.  Victor: Panthers.

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Ole Miss Rebels.  One is a state nickname moniker that also happens to be a fierce and funny creature.  The other is a cringe-worthy reminder of the Civil War.  Victor: Badgers.

Kansas State Wildcats vs. La Salle Explorers.  Not a tough decision at all.  La Salle, the round one play-in, sails forward.  Victor: Explorers.

Arizona Wildcats vs. Belmont Bruins.  Here’s a kitty that has earned it’s stripes going tooth-to-tooth with a lesser-known bear of the brown variety.  Victor: Wildcats.

New Mexico Lobos vs. Harvard Crimson.  I love this culture-collision match-up: Albuquerque vs. Cambridge.  The only thing that’s crimson is the blood on the ivy after the wolves take care of business.  Victor: Lobos.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Iowa State Cyclones.  Though Notre Dame has it’s fans, Iowa State has claimed ownership on an underappreciated moniker.  Victor: Cyclones.

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Iona Gaels.  Though OSU has a fun state nickname, Iona is the representative  of the St. Patrick’s selection Sunday.  Victor: Gaels.

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Selection Sunday was on St. Patrick’s Day this year. That’s gotta be lucky for the Gaels.

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SOUTH

Kansas Jayhawks vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.  WKU is a snoozer, so KU cruises with their weird bird.  Victor: Jayhawks.

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Villanova Wildcats.  Another bland wild cat is stepped on by a unique, historically-relevant moniker.  Victor: Tar Heels.

Virginia Commonwealth Rams vs. Akron Zips.  We’ve already advanced a ram, so it makes it all the easier to go with the kangaroo.  Victor: Zips.

Michigan Wolverines vs. South Dakota State Jackrabbits.  This is an unfortunate seeding.  The bunnies should advance much further, but they are bitten in the neck by a ferocious and historic nickname.  Victor: Wolverines.

UCLA Bruins vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers.  Though UCLA shares respectable ownership with Boston, I’m just not a fan of the nickname.  Minnesota, goofy as it may be, has a more unique nickname.  Victor: Golden Gophers.

Florida Gators vs. Northwestern State Demons.  It would be nice to advance good ol’ just ‘Demons,’ but Florida is too good.  Victor: Gators.

San Diego State Aztecs vs. Oklahoma Sooners.  Not really a contest.  Though some find it offensive, SD St. has a pretty cool nickname.  Victor: Aztecs.

Georgetown Hoyas vs. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.  Ugh.  Uneven seeding strikes again.  I guess we’ll go with Georgetown.  Victor: Hoyas.

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For the record, a ‘hoya’ is not a bulldog. Georgetown advances due to uneven seeding.

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EAST

Indiana Hoosiers vs. LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds.  Take these broken wings and learn to fly…past bland Indiana.  Victor: Blackbirds.

NC State Wolfpack vs. Temple Owls.  Wolfpack ain’t bad, as far as non-pluralable nicknames go.  It doesn’t matter when matched up against the moniker that was ranked 5th overall in D-I.  Victor: Owls.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels vs. Cal Golden Bears.  Las Vegas has the bizarrely misplaced Southern gentleman, while Berkeley has the big animal from their state flag.  Victor: Golden Bears.

Syracuse Orange vs. Montana Grizzlies.  This is like comparing oranges with…things that could eat oranges if they were so inclined.  Montana is about as good as it gets.  Victor: Grizzlies.

Butler Bulldogs vs. Bucknell Bison.  Wow for alliteration!  Butler makes as good of a case for representing the whole kennel of canines in D-I, but I’ve got to go with Bucknell.  Victor: Bison.

Marquette Golden Eagles vs. Davidson Wildcats.  Too many wild cats, not enough mics.  Victor: Golden Eagles.

Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Colorado Buffaloes.  A nickname considered offensive vs. a badass beast of the prairie.  Victor: Buffaloes.

Miami Hurricanes vs. Pacific Tigers.  We’ve already advanced a tiger, so we’ll go with the weather phenomenon.  Victor: Hurricanes.

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The storks live to fight another day.

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ROUND 3

Louisville Cardinals vs. Colorado State Rams.  Here’s another one of those “pro-team moniker” matchups.  Louisville might not deserve the Sweet 16, but seedings aren’t based on team nicknames.  Victor: Cardinals.

Oregon Ducks vs. Saint Louis Billikens.  Toughie.  Both are very solid, and the Billikens are a perennial March Madness favorite.  That said, Oregon is quackers.  Victor: Ducks.

Memphis Tigers vs. Valparaiso Crusaders.  Neither one should scratch the Sweet 16, but Valpo is the clear winner here.  Victor: Crusaders.

Creighton Blue Jays vs. Albany Great Danes.  On the animal side of things, Albany barks the birds back up the tree.  Victor: Great Danes.

Southern Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Panthers.  Battle of the Cats!  Alliteration is a definite plus, and this isn’t much of a cat fight.  Victor: Panthers.

Wisconsin Badgers vs. La Salle Explorers.  Two very solid monikers go head to head, but we’ll give Wisco the nod based on the ferocity factor.  Victor: Badgers.

Arizona Wildcats vs. New Mexico Lobos.  I love it–Arizona and New Mexico should be going head to head.  It’s the border battle!  Cats vs. Dogs!  I look forward to watching this game actually transpire.  In the moniker world, UNM takes the cake.  Victor: Lobos

Iowa State Cyclones vs. Iona Gaels.  Iowa vs. Iona.  Say it ten times fast.  ISU represents the forces of nature.  Victor: Cyclones.

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Just like Miami–I’m not sure I get the whole ‘bird=weather phenomena’ concept.

Kansas Jayhawks vs. North Carolina Tar Heels.  An epic matchup of popular teams with weird, vaguely-historic nicknames.  UNC’s is more creative.  Victor: Tar Heels.

Akron Zips vs. Michigan Wolverines.  Zips is pure fun, but the gimmick pales in comparison to a historically relevant giant weasel.  Victor: Wolverines.

Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Florida Gators.  That is a hilarious visual.  Chomp, crunch, gopher for lunch.  Victor: Gators.

San Diego State Aztecs vs. Georgetown Hoyas.  A potentially offensive nickname against a perplexing fight song remnant.  Must be college.  Potentially implies speculation.  Victor: Aztecs.

LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds vs. Temple Owls.  Awesome!  The battle of the birds.  This could’ve happened in later rounds, but flight paths crossed early.  It’s a toughie, but Temple has been making brackets fun for kids for decades.  Victor: Owls.

Cal Golden Bears vs. Montana Grizzlies.  I love it!  The Brown Bear Bowl.  Montana gets the upper paw here by making a more specific reference.  Victor: Grizzlies.

Bucknell Bison vs. Marquette Golden Eagles.  As cool as anything sounds with the word ‘golden’ in front of it, Marquette’s moniker is overused and generic.  Victor: Bison.

Colorado Buffaloes vs. Miami Hurricanes.  Apples and oranges, but the answer is clear.  Especially when glancing ahead at the matchup in the next round.  Victor: Buffaloes.

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Bring on the Buffabowl!

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THE SWEET SIXTEEN

The teams:  Louisville Cardinals, Oregon Ducks, Valparaiso Crusaders, Albany Great Danes, Pittsburgh Panthers, Wisconsin Badgers, New Mexico Lobos, Iowa State Cyclones, North Carolina Tar Heels, Michigan Wolverines, Florida Gators, San Diego State Aztecs, Temple Owls, Montana Grizzlies, Bucknell Bison, Colorado Buffaloes

It’s important to remember here that these are not the top 16 monikers in the tournament.  It’s a good list, but without thinking too much about it, I’d sub in Billikens, Blackbirds, and Explorers for Cardinals, Crusaders, and Bison.  

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The Billikens should be here. Unfortunately, the NCAA doesn’t seed based on strength of moniker.

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Anyhow, here are the Sweet Sixteen match-ups:

Louisville Cardinals vs. Oregon Ducks.  Where do these teams stand in the pecking order?  Waterfowl prevail in the Big Bowl.  Victor: Ducks.

Valparaiso Crusaders vs. Albany Great Danes.  It’s hard to believe that Albany has lasted this long.  In a world of Terriers, Retrievers, Greyhounds, and Salukis; we have one lone domesticated dog that has cruised through favorable seeding.  Victor: Great Danes.

Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Wisconsin Badgers.  Intense.  As respectable as Pitt is, their moniker is fairly generic and overused.  Victor: Badgers.

New Mexico Lobos vs. Iowa State Cyclones.  In the words of the band Los Lobos: “Will the wolf survive?”  Yes.  Victor: Lobos.

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Michigan Wolverines.  Another epic moniker duel of nicknames that refer to scrappy folks of bygone eras.  Pretty easy to make this choice, though.  Victor: Wolverines.

Florida Gators vs. San Diego State Aztecs.  I’m starting to realize that I have a major thing for animal nicknames.  Victor: Gators.

Temple Owls vs. Montana Grizzlies.  The War of the Woods concludes with the raptor sinking it’s talons into the bear’s eyes.   Victor: Owls.

Bucknell Bison vs. Colorado Buffaloes.  The Buffabowl!  Non-singularable/non-pluralable nicknames are lame, so Colorado thunder on down the prairie.  Victor: Buffaloes.

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And the Buffabowl goes to…*drumroll*……the Buffaloes!

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THE ELITE EIGHT

Ducks.  Great Danes.  Badgers.  Lobos.  Wolverines.  Gators.  Owls.  Buffaloes.  I’ve missed my calling–I should’ve been a veterinarian.

Oregon Ducks vs. Albany Great Danes.  The duck will quack and the dane will have it’s day.  Not today, though.  Victor: Ducks.

Wisconsin Badgers vs. New Mexico Lobos.  They battle tooth and nail, but a quirky linguistic reference puts the wolf on top.  That, and the Badgers always have football to fall back on.  Victor: Lobos.

Temple Owls vs. Colorado Buffaloes.  Give a hoot.  Victor: Owls.

Michigan Wolverines vs. Florida Gators.  Worthy opponents, but never bet against a determined reptile.  Victor: Gators.

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Do the Gators have enough teeth to advance?

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THE FINAL FOUR!

Oregon Ducks, New Mexico Lobos, Florida Gators, Temple Owls.  Let’s do this.

Florida Gators vs. Temple Owls.  Think John Chaney.  Victor: Owls.

Oregon Ducks vs. New Mexico Lobos.  Teeth sink in; one last muffled quack.  Victor: Lobos.

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Loco for the Lobos.

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NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

New Mexico Lobos vs. Temple Owls.  Something about Temple just screams March Madness.  Since filling out my first brackets as a kid, I’ve been picking Temple to advance well beyond their means year after year.  If there can be no Drexel Dragons or Maryland Terrapins, the answer is easy.  CHAMPION: Temple Owls.

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How could it not be the Owls?

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Alright–mission accomplished.  If I were more tech savvy, there would be a cool bracket to look at with the logos in place of the college name.  Until I get hired by Grantland, this will have to suffice.  It will interesting to see if any of these moniker matchups will actually happen in any rounds deeper than round 3.  It would also be fun to do the same exercise with the women’s bracket and the NIT.  For the record, Maryland would probably win both.  I’ll stick with the goal of releasing the Ideal NBA and D-League within the next two weeks, so keep checking back, dear readers.

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IN OTHER NEWS: It appears that the new Miami Dolphins logo will indeed be the one that leaked a few months back, with a few minor alterations.  Eyes are added to the new version, which is de-fin-itely a good thing.  Sport Change has already weighed in on this, so there’s not much else to say.  Get ready to see Mike Wallace with a horizontal swimming cetacean on his head!

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SPORT CHANGE

Now that the Combine is over and Sport Change’s football February is nearly over, the time is ripe for a fun little exercise: the territorial mock draft.

2011 NFL Draft

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Background

For a full explanation of what is meant by “territorial draft picks,” please click on this link for a description.  To sum it up and to put it in context for this post, the basic premise is NFL teams having one special round prior to the draft in which they can pick players based on holding the territorial rights to players who played college ball in the NFL team’s geographical region.  The NBA once had a system like this, and that was the reason that the great Oscar Robertson went directly from the Cincinnati Bearcats to the Cincinnati Royals.  For this exercise, Sport Change will first clearly delineate territorial borders and then present the 2013 NFL Draft Territorial Round.  Enjoy!

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Will Ryan Nassib follow Doug Marrone from ‘Cuse to Buffalo?

Territories

Though some territorial rights are obvious (Colorado U and the Broncos, for instance) others are more nebulous.  Generally speaking, it means rights to teams within that state, nearby region if necessary, and (in a few cases) out of state; but within 100 miles and culturally relevant.  Let’s go though each team’s territorial claim:

Arizona Cardinals: all schools within the state
Atlanta Falcons: all schools within Georgia
Baltimore Ravens: all schools in Maryland
Buffalo Bills: schools in western or “upstate” New York
Carolina Panthers: both North and South Carolina
Chicago Bears: all of Illinois, plus Notre Dame
Cincinnati Bengals: partial rights to Ohio State, plus the Bearcats, Bobcats, and Miami of Ohio.
Cleveland Browns: partial rights to OSU, plus Kent State, Toledo, and Youngstown
Dallas Cowboys: Baylor, Texas Christian, Southern Methodist, and shared rights to UT
Denver Broncos: all in Colorado
Detroit Lions: all in Michigan
Green Bay Packers: all in Wisconsin
Houston Texans: Texas A&M and shared rights to UT
Indianapolis Colts: all of Indiana except Notre Dame
Jacksonville Jaguars: we’ll give them the Gators
Kansas City Chiefs: they get Kansas State and Kansas
Miami Dolphins: the U, of course, but also Florida International
Minnesota Vikings: no strong college teams in the state, so they get all of Iowa
New England Patriots: Boston College, and shared rights to Uconn
New Orleans Saints: all of Louisiana
New York Giants: shared rights to Rutgers and Uconn
New York Jets: Rutgers (what else is there?)
Oakland Raiders: they get the Cal Bears and shared rights to San Jose State
Philadelphia Eagles: few prospects from Temple this year, so Philly gets Penn State
Pittsburgh Steelers: Pitt, of course, but also nearby West Virginia U.
St. Louis Rams: they get Mizzou
San Diego Chargers: San Diego State is theirs
San Francisco 49ers: Stanford is theirs, plus shared rights to San Jose State
Seattle Seahawks: all of Washington
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: they get Florida State and Southern Florida
Tennessee Titans: all in Tennessee
Washington Redskins: all in Virginia

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Disputed Territories

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In the end, we had to share the Buckeyes.

Some of the territorial claims were subjective choices based somewhat on this year’s crop of players in an effort to spread the wealth just a little.  The state of Florida was a bit of a logjam, but we gave Tampa rights to FSU, despite Jacksonville being closer.  The Jags are happy with the Gators, anyway.  With Rutgers the only legitimate program anywhere near NYC, rights were shared with the Giants and Jets.  While doing research for a previous Sport Change article, I discovered that football allegiances in Hartford, Connecticut are basically 50/50 Giants/Patriots.  As such, both teams have equal rights to Uconn.  The Patriots also get Boston College, but that means little this year.  In Ohio, the only fair thing to do was to give access to OSU to both the Bengals and Browns, with smaller programs going to the nearest city.  In Texas, we’ve split most schools between Dallas and Houston, but both have equal rights to the Longhorns.  Notre Dame is closer to Chicago than Indy, both geographically and culturally.  As such, the Bears get the Irish.  Missouri basically came down to giving KSU to the Chiefs and Mizzou to the Rams.  The Bay Area teams simply get the Pac-10 program slightly closer to them: Stanford to the Niners and Cal to the Raiders.  Regions with essentially no prospects to speak of (Minnesota, DC) claim states that are nearby and culturally similar.

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The Vast Unclaimed Void

Alas, great swaths of American soil produce terrific footballers with no pro team in the vicinity.  Alabama probably has the strongest draft class this year, but none of their players are eligible here. So that means no Warmack, Milliner, Fluker, Lacy, Jones, or Williams.  As long as there is no NFL team in LA, there will be no picks from USC or UCLA.  Call it a protest until a team lands there–apologies to Matt Barkley.  Defensive beasts like Dion Jordon (Oregon), Star Lotulelei (Utah), and Ezekiel Ansah (Brigham Young) are in no-man’s-land.

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Ezekiel Ansah: from Ghana to no-man’s-land, at least in terms of NFL presence.

Depth and Disparity

Disparity in college football is getting more and more stark, with a handful of SEC and Pac-12 teams basically duking it out each year.  Each new signing day only reaffirms the dominance of a program like Alabama, and the trend is disconcerting.  In our territorial mock draft, some NFL teams are going to blessed with several talented players to choose from, while others have to reach for somebody…anybody.  As such, stars like Damontre Moore (A&M), Kevin Minter (LSU), Tavon Austin (WVU), and Alex Ogletree (Georgia) don’t make the cut.  

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Territoral Mock Trades and Free Agency

I’m not going to go into too much depth here, but this game can also be played with impending free agents and players likely to be traded.  I was elated to hear that Alex Smith is a Chief, for instance.  It’s not like KC and Utah are next-door-neighbors, but the Utes and Chiefs have similar colors and logos, and that pleases me.  Darrelle Revis may be leaving the Jets, and if he does, the former Pitt Panther and Aliquippa, PA native should suit up in the black & gold.  If the Cardinals need a quarterback, they should trade for former Arizona Wildcat Nick Foles.  Foles has a strong arm and could get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald.  The Cardinals send Kevin Kolb and draft picks to the Eagles.  If I was getting really cheeky, I’d say Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is thrown in with Foles and sent back to the desert.  Speaking of DRC, the Bradenton, Florida native should be picking off passes for the Buccaneers.  While we’re in the Sunshine State, Dwayne Bowe goes home to Miami to catch passes for the Dolphins while partying with another Dwyane/Dwayne…that being Mr. Wade.   I could do a whole post about this, but I’m not going to.

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Alex Smith in a Chiefs jersey…. psyche!

Absurdity

Yes, this is utterly ridiculous and you should know that before you read on.  The disparity between regional programs is significant, and that’s why the NBA dropped the territorial draft about 50 years ago.  This is simply a fun way to get to know the new group of future NFL players, and it’s a bit of a joke.  That said, all mock drafts are jokes.  I did my first mock draft back in about 1998, when you had to ask Jeeves what his draft predictions were.  Most mock drafts then and now are nearly identical, and most mockers are timid to venture too far from the status quo/Mel Kiper.  Of course, every year there are early trades that throw everything off course.  Every year somebody grabs a Bruce Irwin or a Tyson Alualu.  Every year teams reach for QBs (don’t be surprised if Barkley is a first-rounder) or freak out when their target running back is picked, and end up with David Wilson.  In short, every year mock drafts are a mockery once the draft actually happens.  With that in mind, let’s get wacky:

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2013 NFL DRAFT: TERRITORIAL ROUND

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A Wildcat is a wildcard at the top of the territorial round.

1. Kansas City Chiefs select Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State.  With few top prospects available from colleges in west Missouri or Kansas, the Chiefs pick the best player on the board, who moves in next to Derrick Johnson and becomes a part of one of the best linebacking corps in the league.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars select Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida.  The Jags fill a glaring need while taking a top player near the top of the draft.  Sometimes it just works out for Jacksonville fans.

3. Oakland Raiders select Keenan Allen, WR, Cal.  Top wide receivers are always welcome, and Allen gives Carson Palmer another target to miss.

4. Philadelphia Eagles select Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State.  Philly really has to reach for a player in their area, but the Eagles need a tackle after releasing Cullen Jenkins.

5. Detroit Lions select Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan.  It may not be their most glaring need, but Fisher is a top prospect who would theoretically take the reins from Jeff Backus.

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Jeff Backus, meet your replacement.

6. Cleveland Browns select John Simon, DE, Ohio State.  Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins may be more of a blue-chipper, but the Browns choose to shore up their pass rush with another Buckeye.

7. Arizona Cardinals select Matt Scott, QB, Arizona.  He may not be Matt Barkley, but it’s not like there a ton of options coming out of the desert this year.  Scott may be the only Arizonan drafted this year.

8. Buffalo Bills select Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse.  This is too easy considering that the Bills need a QB, and new head coach Doug Marrone coached Nassib at Syracuse.  Too easy.

9. New York Jets select Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers.  This is a tough choice between Greene and Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan, and that’s not just because the Jets have green uniforms and a coach named Ryan.  Greene is the choice because the Jets desperately need new blood in the pass rush game, with the Pace/Scott dynamic a distant memory.  Also, Darrelle Revis is still on the team as of this writing.  K. Greene stuffing S. Greene in the backfield during training camp would make a good photo.

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Khaseem Greene would look great in green.

10. Tennessee Titans select Cordarelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee.  Jake Locker is still the future, so the Titans give him another weapon rather than replacing him with Tyler Bray.

11. San Diego Chargers select Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego St.   San Diego may look longingly north at this year’s Trojan and Bruin offerings, but they keep it local and draft Antonio Gates’s complement and eventual replacement.

12. Miami Dolphins select Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International.  It’s hard to believe that nobody from the U was worthy this year, but the ‘Phins get a blue-chip safety to bolster an already tough defensive unit.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State.  Florida State has a terrific class this year, and the Bucs pass on pass-rusher Bjoern Werner and pass-heaver E.J. Manuel.  Tampa has the worst cornerbacking situation in the league, and Xavier Rhodes is a solid pick to tandem with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.  (see Territoral Mock Trades and Free Agency, above.)

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You can bet that the Bucs would be pleased to have Xavier Rhodes in their secondary.

14. Carolina Panthers select Jonathan Cooper, OL, UNC.  It’s a choice between Cooper and fellow Tar Heel Sylvester Williams, a defensive tackle.  Cooper is the clear winner in a unit without Jeff Otah and with an aging Jordan Gross.  As a side note, there are a ridiculous amount of Jonathans and Johnthans in this draft.  Yikes.

15. New Orleans Saints select Barkevious Mingo, Passrusher, LSU.  The Tigers have yet another strong class, and the Saints are pleased to meet a need effectively.  This is one pick that could actually happen in April–the Saints say ‘bingo’ when they see Mingo.  The Honey Badger sheds a single tear and lights up a joint.

16. St. Louis Rams select Sheldon Richardson, DL, Missouri.  Richardson would perhaps line up next to Michael Brockers in the 4-3 to form the core of the Rams’ defense of the future.  Jeff Fisher’s mustache twitches with delight.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers select Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia.  Mountaineers wide receiver Tavon Austin is tempting, but let’s assume that Mike Wallace is resigned and the Steelers opt for Big Ben’s backup and eventual replacement.

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Geno Smith: from grey & gold to black & gold.

18. Dallas Cowboys select Margus Hunt, DE, Southern Methodist.  Hunt, a beast-of-the-combine, stays in the metroplex and bookends DeMarcus Ware.  Something about a pass rusher named Hunt is scary.

 19. New York Giants select Sio Moore, LB, Connecticut.  A tough decision between Moore and Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan.  In the end, the Giants fans just wouldn’t be able to accept anyone with the last name of Ryan.  That, and linebacker is a slightly more (Moore) glaring need for Big Blue.

20. Chicago Bears select Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame.  This is a very tough choice between “The Full Manti” and tight end Tyler Eifert.  Both positions are needs, but Te’o is selected as Urlacher’s eventual replacement.  Sure, he’s gullible enough to believe his crazy cousin.  Sure, he had a rough combine.  But does anybody remember how dominant he was on the gridiron last year?

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Don’t forget: Manti Te’o is a beast…or should I say Bear?

21. Cincinnati Bengals select Johnathan Hankins, DT, OSU.  Hankins projects as a nose tackle, and the Bengals play a 4-3 already flush with talent.  That said, Hankins is a top prospect and DTs tend to get injured.  A solid pick for a rotation that already features Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Devon Still, and Brandon Thompson.

22. Washington Re****ns select B.W. Webb, CB, William & Mary.  The Washington football team traded their actual first round pick to the Rams for the chance at RGIII, so they’re lucky for the territorial round.  We’ve given the whole state of Virginia to the Washington football team, but the choice is a tough one.  Offensive lineman Oday Aboushi of Virginia U fits a need, while similarly ranked cornerback Webb does as well.  Aboushi has been sliding down the draft boards, so we’ll continue to see Tyler Polumbus give up sacks and we’ll go with the cornerback.  Something seems lucky about a CB from W&M named B.W. Webb.

23. Minnesota Vikings select A.J. Klein, ILB, Iowa State.  The Golden Gophers have a terrible football program, so there is no decent college player in the entire state.  Iowa, the neighbor to the south, has plenty.  We’ll go with a linebacker named A.J. to fill the void left by E.J. and the other Henderson brother.

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The Vikings have to look south of the border to get their guy.

24. Indianapolis Colts select Kawann Short, DT, Purdue.  Indy needs help on defense, and Lafayette delivers.  For the record, he’s listed at 6’3″–about average height for a tackle.  More like Kawann Averageheight.

25. Seattle Seahawks select Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington.  Yes, the Seahawks do not have a glaring need for a cornerback, but Marcus’s little brother is really the only option this year, and he’s darn good to boot.  Doesn’t hurt to have another good cornerback….there’s nickel defenses, injuries, and the chance that Richard Sherman will go off the deep end.  By that, I mean shave a stripe in his head, change his name to Dick Dos Cinco, and wear a 49ers helmet during a game just to mess with people.  Trufant it is!

26. Green Bay Packers select Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin.  This is a tough call between Frederick and fan-favorite Montee Ball.  Both positions are weaknesses on the Packers, but it’s hard to imagine Ball being significantly better than James Starks, Ryan Grant, DuJuan Harris, or any of the other mediocre backs that the Pack have trotted out in recent years.  The most gaping void on the team is at center, where recently-retired retread Jeff Saturday filled in last year.  Frederick squeezes his 312 pounds in front of Aaron Rodgers and fills that void.

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A lumberjack beard to go with A-Rodge’s mustache.

27. Houston Texans select Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M.  Finally, at pick 27, Joeckel comes off the board.  The Texans rejoice, as they could use an upgrade at right tackle anyway.

28. Denver Broncos select David Bahktiari, OT, Colorado.  The Broncos pick the best available player from Colorado, after kicking the tires on tight end Nick Kasa.  It’s always nice to have a full stable of O-linemen; particularly when your quarterback’s neck is worth more than the holy grail.

29. New England Patriots select Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut.  This is just a classic Bill Belichick move: reach a bit at the end of the first round for a defensive back with a weird name.  There are more highly ranked players from Uconn on the board, but Bee-Dub-Dub will become a fixture in Foxborough.  Put money on it.

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They might as well install Bee-Dub-Dub’s locker at Gillette now.

30. Atlanta Falcons select Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia.  He’s more highly ranked and has a cleaner record than Alex Ogletree, and every team loves an elite pass rusher.  The Falcons revel in SEC heaven.

31. San Francisco 49ers select Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford.  The Niners drink the tandem-TE Kool-Aid by pairing up Vernon Davis with one of the top tight ends in the draft.  Every other team in the league bites their nails.  Incidentally, why are so many tight ends named Zach?  What the hell?  When this Zach gets an injury, his teammates call to the coach, “Zach Ertz, Zach Hurts.”  (bad, bad joke)  “Have you ever had an Ertz doughnut?  *pinches arm*  “Ertz, doughnut?”

32.  Baltimore Ravens select Kenneth Tate, LB, Maryland.  The Super Bowl champs get….not too much.  It’s a lean year for Terrapin prospects.  Even if we extended the range to include Delaware, there aren’t any Blue Hens this year either.  Perhaps the blue hens are riding the terrapins across the Atlantic as we speak.  Anyway, Kenny Tate was highly touted until blowing out his knee last year. Let’s say he heals up and helps form a new Baltimore linebacking corps in the wake of Ray Lewis’s retirement.

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Kenny Tate to the champs.

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So there you have it.  In the NBA’s old draft, round one would follow the territorial round.  It would be interesting to have that now and see where all the Alabama, Texas, and Utah players go.  For now, we’ll just say “the Jaguars take Matt Barkley” and call it good.  It will also be quite fun to see if any of these territorial picks actually occur in April.  The most likely are probably Floyd to Jacksonville, Mingo to New Orleans, Frederick to Green Bay, and Te’o to Chicago–in who knows what round.  But I don’t want to get in to predicting the draft–then it won’t come true.

Thanks for reading.  If you’re looking for a legit mock draft, I recommend Walter Football, a site I’ve been following for several years.  Reports on football will now take a break for a while.  We may have to weigh in on hot topics (like the Dolphins’ new logo) but March will be focused on basketball.  There will be an Ideal NBA and D-League, as well as an NCAA moniker bracket.  Stay posted.

SPORT CHANGE

Sport Change’s Ideal Leagues series continues with an exploration of a league that has strong ties to both the past and the future: the United States Football League.

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Background

For the uninitiated, the USFL was a professional football league that operated for a few years in the 1980s and found moderate success playing spring football in cities across the US.  Then Donald Trump ruined everything by pushing for the league to play in the fall to hopelessly compete with the NFL.  For a complete history, I highly, highly recommend the movie Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?  For a quicker history, here’s something from NFL.com.  Suffice it to say, nary a whisper had been heard from the USFL for a quarter century….until…a new USFL bought the rights to the league’s name and has quietly been laying plans to re-launch the league starting in March 2014.

Foreground

The new USFL has one year to put together a new league that will serve a few different functions, including but not limited to: providing insatiable football fans with a spring season league, providing bubble NFL players and has-beens with a venue for competing, and serving as a de facto developmental league for the NFL.  It’s a recipe for success, and the new USFL seems to be approaching the task more thoughtfully than the UFL or Arena League.

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Why it’s better than the UFL

The UFL was a cool experiment, and the league was very intriguing when it launched in 2009 and stayed afloat for a few years.  The coaches were household names and the rosters were filled with enough NFL retreads to make it compelling.  It was easy to get excited about Jeff Garcia leading the Omaha Nighthawks against Daunte Culpepper’s Sacramento Mountain Lions.  The problem is that the UFL made the same mistake of the old USFL–playing in the fall.  The UFL was lost in the shadow of of the NFL, and with few opportunities for players to bounce between the two leagues.  The new USFL will have an open-door policy with the NFL, keeping in mind that support from the NFL is crucial to the league’s success.

Why it’s better than the Arena Football League

The AFL works great on paper.  A spring football league that doesn’t require large outdoor stadiums to be built or maintained.  Just roll astroturf onto the basketball court or put pads over the hockey boards and you’re good to go.  A small field means more offense and higher scores.  Great, right?  Well, not really.  The whole thing is coated with a sheen of gimmickry that feels pretty off-putting, the small field doesn’t seem like the ideal venue to hone future NFL stars, and there are safety concerns that come with a quickened pace of play.  The new USFL has a good opportunity to mimic conditions of the NFL, while stressing player safety from the outset.  I anticipate that player safety rules will be stricter than even the NFL.

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Players

Like most semi-pro leagues of this nature, the USFL rosters will likely be initially comprised of a ragtag mix of young and old football players trying to make their mark or eke out a paycheck.  If the league reached a point where it was a true minor league system (like the NBA D-League) it would become a win-win for both parent and affiliate clubs to be located within the same market region.  There has been some mention of territorial drafts, and that is an ideal scenario.  Fans will flock to games if the team features both practice-squad and over-the-hill players from their favorite NFL team, as well as players from their favorite college teams who didn’t make an NFL roster.  For example, a team in Baton Rouge, Louisiana might have JaMarcus Russell of LSU at quarterback and Deuce McAllister, formerly of the Saints, at running back.

Only Issue

At this point, I have only one real issue with the plan: the scheduling.  Despite the fact that there is a gaping football void in the early spring, I think starting in March is way too early, and I think the season should start in May.  Here are three reasons: 1.) Weather will be a major problem for northern locations.  Minor League Baseball struggles with this, and they start in April.  It’s one thing to enjoy a football game with fall flurries, but a foot of muddy slush is never fun.  2.)  Many colleges are out of session by May, and stadiums would be made available in many potential USFL cities.  An early summer agreement might be worked out with a university, but I doubt the spring would work as well–especially with sports like soccer and lacrosse gaining in popularity.  3.) The USFL should make a concerted effort to sign undrafted free agents in the wake of the NFL draft.  Successful college quarterbacks would be especially notable, and it would be very exciting for fans to have their teams sign regional favorites and have them starting a week or two later.  At this point, undrafteds will just jump in mid-season.  I can understand how the league wants to play a good, long season, but I think 10 weeks in May/June/July would work well.  Perhaps the championship could be around 4th of July weekend; leaving plenty of time for the USFL stars to make it to NFL training camps.

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The USFL might want to consider starting their season a little later in the year than March.

Moving Forward

As of this writing, the USFL has embarked on a cross-country trip to build support and finalize the locations of the eight teams that will launch the 2014 season.  Information on this is subject to change, but new revelations will be included in this ever-updating Ideal League.  Wikipedia currently lists sixteen “Target Franchises,” but at least one of them has already been removed from contention.  Sport Change will not speculate about the eight teams in question.  Rather, speculation will give way to unbridled imagination and whimsy.  Here’s a ridiculous pitch for the Ideal USFL.

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THE IDEAL USFL

Let’s imagine that the USFL is a huge success right out of the gate, and the original eight teams are expanded to 12 in 2015 and 16 in 2016.  Pairs of teams are added over the next few years until the ultimate goal is reached, let’s say in 2020: a 32-team “AAA” developmental league for the NFL, with a regional farm club for each franchise.  It’s very difficult to see this actually happening, but this is what Sport Change fantasy world is all about.

TEAMS

Sport Change will look into each of the 32 Ideal USFL franchises, play matchmaker, assign monikers, and have a lot of fun.  With a few variations, we’re including the 16 locations listed on Wikipedia; in addition to other “second tier” markets and dark horse college towns.  Former USFL cities are favored, but any cities that currently host an NFL team have been avoided, such as Houston (Gamblers) and Jacksonville (Bulls).  Here we go.

 

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Akron_Football_Wordmark_Color

Akron, Ohio.  It has been a bit of a surprise to see Akron on all the lists of target cities for the USFL, and the promotional tour was even kicked off in the Ohio city.  Perhaps it would make more sense to put a team in Dayton, where the minor league baseball Dragons are a top draw, or maybe in Canton–birthplace of the NFL.  Whatever: we’ll go along with Akron.  The obvious parent club would be the nearby Cleveland Browns, so the hilarious moniker choice would be a shade of brown.  The Sepias, Umbers, Taupes, and Tans all make compelling cases, but the Akron Ochres has a nice ring to it.

Alabama.  This is a tricky one, as it seemed like a slam dunk for the Birmingham Stallions to be resurrected.  Alas, no.  There will be a team in Alabama, however, and I suppose it could be in Montgomery, Mobile, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, or even Auburn.  So for now we’ll just say ‘Alabama,’ and call them by a new moniker.  Copperheads are venomous snakes native to Alabama, and the opportunity for a copper-colored helmet is too good to pass up.  The Tennessee Oilers almost went that route before choosing Titans.  The ideal NFL parent club would be the regional favorite–the Atlanta Falcons.

Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Albuquerque is a surprisingly large city that currently hosts the New Mexico Lobos.  The weather would certainly be nice in the spring, and the Arizona Cardinals would make for a logical parent club.  For a nickname, there are a few good possibilities (Javelinas, Mustangs, etc.) but my vote goes to the Gila Monster, or the New Mexico Monsters.  The helmets could have an orange and black speckled pattern.  Awesome.

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A helmet that mimics the color pattern of Gila Monsters would be super cool.

Austin, Texas.  Austin keeps coming up in USFL reports, and I like the idea more than the (more likely) Dallas area, which we’ve excluded.  Austin is well-renowned for music, so I’ll suggest the Austin Tunesmiths–or Smiths for short.  I wonder how many Austin Smiths there are in the world?  In lieu of a Dallas area team, we’ll give Austin to the Cowboys.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  This is a location that was neither on the Wikipedia list nor my list of an additional 16 markets.  Rather, Baton Rouge is popping up in recent reports about the USFL, and it seems like a done deal.  This is great for the Saints (in our fantasy) in that they will have a nearby farm club.  Under a better moniker surfaces, we’ll call them the Baton Rouge Red Sticks.

Columbus, Ohio.  The largest city in Ohio seems like a slam dunk, particularly with OSU’s fan base already in place.  With the other Ohio team (Akron) being an easy choice for Cleveland, Columbus would fall to the Cincinnati Bengals.  Let’s be cheeky and give them a nickname that’s another subspecies of tiger–the Columbus Malayans.

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Move over Bengals…here come the Malayans!

Erie, Pennsylvania.  Erie is a good sized city that has a healthy rep in the NBA’s D-League–the Erie BayHawks.  That’s a terrible nickname, so we’ll give them something better.  Continuing in the blue-collar tradition of their natural parent club, the Steelers, we’ll call them the Erie Fishermen.

Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Fort Wayne seems to be an ideal city for a minor league franchise.  Both Minor League Baseball’s Tin Caps and NBA D-League’s Mad Ants have successful and effective brands.  Fort Wayne would be a great affiliate of the Colts, and continuing in that vein, we’ll call them the Foals.

Gainesville, Florida.  This seems a bit random, but a team in Gainesville could play in the Florida Gators’ stadium and be a nearby affiliate of the Jaguars.  Additionally, the franchise could serve as something like a placeholder for a USFL franchise in Jacksonville should the Jaguars move to L.A.  For now the Gainesville Ocelots will be the farm club for the Jags.

Hartford, Connecticut.  As another market that makes both the Wikipedia list and the Sport Change list, Hartford is a logical choice.  The issue is with affiliation.  From what I can gather, NFL allegiance is mixed in Connecticut; about 50/50, Patriots/Giants, with a little Jets love here and there.  I’m tempted to give the team to the Jets and call them the Hartford Helicopters, but that would likely alienate Pats fans.  Hartford goes to the Giants and we’ll pick another mascotable synonym for the word ‘large’ as the nickname–the Hartford Mammoths.

Hershey, Pennsylvania.  My original list of 16 ideal locales had Erie on it, but we’ll just substitute another Pennsylvanian city that Wikipedia suggested–Hershey.  For a nickname, we look to what makes Hershey famous and call them the Hershey Chocolatiers.

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A sweet nickname that continues the tradition of regionally-relevant blue-collar nicknames.

Iowa.  We’ll say Des Moines, since it’s the largest city, but Ames (home of ISU) or Iowa City (Hawkeyes) could also work.  Iowa is a often overlooked as a hotbed for sports enthusiasm, and the state deserves a team at this level.  The Iowa Farmers become the farm club of their neighbor to the north, the Minnesota Vikings.

Lansing, Michigan.  Grand Rapids is another strong candidate, but we’ll say Lansing and imagine the team sharing a stadium with the Spartans.  Minor League Baseball’s Lansing Lugnuts are perennially popular, and a Lions affiliate could work here.  Let’s not only get alliterative with the nickname–let’s introduce yet another big cat to the sports world.  I give you the Lansing Leopards.

Las Vegas.  The Locomotives are the most successful UFL team, and Vegas is certainly big enough to support a minor league (but certainly not major league!) football team.  Locomotives is a good name, but we’ll go with Libertines as a tip of the hat to Nevada lawlessness.   The Oakland Raiders become the parent club–at least for the time being.  (I’ll explain later)

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Las Vegas would gladly put their football past behind them.

Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.  The Lehigh Valley (Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton) of northeast Pennsylvania is a terrific option for the USFL.  In minor league baseball, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are the top draw among all ~150 MiLB teams–pulling in more people than Indianapolis, Columbus, San Antonio, etc.  A major reason for the success of the IronPigs is that they’re the AAA affiliate of the Phillies.  A football affiliate of the Eagles would presumably be successful as well.  For a nickname, let’s pick a smaller bird of prey–Kestrels.  (I considered Eaglets, but that’s too much of stretch.)

Los Angeles.  As long as there’s no NFL team in L.A., this is quite obvious.  The ideal scenario here would be to resurrect the Los Angeles Express, as much as I loathe sports team nicknames that are non-singularable/non-pluralable, like Jazz, Magic, etc.  The Express could go back to playing at the Coliseum, and I presume that they would be a top draw.  The Chargers are the logical parent club at this point.

Madison, Wisconsin.  Though Milwaukee has more people and is listed on the Wikipedia site, USFL CEO Jaime Cuadra recently stated that he doesn’t want teams in MLB cities.  I’m sure they’ll make an exception for Los Angeles, but Milwaukee could be bumped in favor of the college town of Madison.  The Badgers’ stadium may even be available later in the spring, when most of the snow has melted.  For a moniker, I think it would be wise to continue in the food/drink worker tradition of the Packers and Brewers.  The Packers’ affiliate could be the Madison Cheesemakers, or Makers for short.

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While the pros are packing meat, the semipros are making cheese.

Memphis, Tennessee.  This is another one that should be a slam dunk.  The former USFL Showboats could be resurrected in a large city that could get behind a team.  The Titans of nearby Nashville would be the logical parent club.

New Jersey.  The Generals could certainly be defibrillated, and perhaps Newark would work well as a specific location; especially if Rutgers is open to stadium-sharing.  Since we gave Hartford to the Giants, we’ll give the Generals to the Jets.

Oklahoma City.  Yet another ‘legacy’ USFL team that’s a common sense choice to boot.  Bring back the Outlaws, and we’ll assign them to the Chiefs.  As the song goes, “everything’s up to date in Kansas City.”

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Outlaws.

Omaha, Nebraska.  Another city that made all lists, but is often overlooked.  A USFL team will someday be in Omaha, and for now, we’ll assign them to the Rams.  For a cheeky moniker, let’s take a diminutive form of Rams–the Omaha Lambs.

Orlando, Florida.  Another old USFL team, the Orlando Renegades, once called Disneyville home.  We’ll resurrect the Rens and give them to the Dolphins.  Orlando is a good city for minor league teams, not pro teams.

Pensacola, Florida.  This gulf coast city is certainly a long-shot, but narrowly beat out nearby Mobile, Alabama to claim the region.  The Bucs need an affiliate, and this will suffice for now.  As for a name—why, the Pensacola Panhandlers, of course.

Portland, Oregon.  The USFL once had the Portland Breakers, and it seems fine to bring them back now.  The Seattle Seahawks lay claim to their neighbor to the south.

Boston / Portland / New Orleans Breakers

Breakers.

Portland, Maine.  Yes, the other Portland.  Portland, Maine has strong teams in Minor League Baseball and the NBA D-League, and is a perfect candidate for the Patriots’ affiliate.  We’ll call the team the Lobstermen and look forward to the potential of a championship game played against the Portland Breakers.

Raleigh/Durham.  Sport Change would’ve picked Louisville, Kentucky over R/D, but we’ll cede to Wikipedia on this one.  R/D would make a terrific location for the Panthers’ farm club, and for the team nickname we’ll look to a North Carolinian Minor League Baseball team: the Winston-Salem Dash; named after the punctuation mark betwixt Winston and Salem.  Naturally, this USFL team will be the Raleigh/Durham Slashes.

Rockford, Illinois.  We’ll give Rockford the edge over Chicago’s suburbs in the battle to represent the Bears.  The name has to be Cubs, of course, but we’ll try to differentiate by saying the Rockford Bearcubs.

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Future Urlachers.

Richmond, Virginia.  The Capitol of the South is a logical location for a Ravens affiliate; after all, Edgar Allan Poe called both Baltimore and Richmond home at various times in his tortured life.  For this nickname, we’ll take a hint from the St. Louis Cardinals/Memphis Redbirds and call the team the Richmond Blackbirds.

Sacramento, California.  With the Kings bolting for Seattle, Sacramentonians need something to feel optimistic about.  How about a 49ers farm club?  If the Niners are the ones doing the digging and panning, we’ll call this team after the source of riches–the Sacramento Gold.  A tip of the hat to the old USFL Denver Gold.

Salt Lake City, Utah.  This certainly makes sense, and the team can feed it’s Rocky Mountain neighbor, the Denver Broncos, for the time being.  A nickname is a challenge, but I’m drawn toward some type of native animal.  I’ll pick Mountain Goats over Elk due to my general hatred of nicknames that don’t end in ‘S.’

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GOAT BOWL!!!

Rochester, New York.  This wasn’t on the Wikipedia list, and on the Sport Change sixteen I had Rochester/Syracuse listed as an affiliate of the Buffalo Bills.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that in recent press releases, Rochester has actually been targeted by the USFL.  We’ll call them the Rochester Billies (as a diminutive of Bills) and have a goat as a mascot.  Hey, if the NFL can have 2 horses, 4 wild cats, and 5 birds, the USFL can have two goats.  Rochester and Utah could someday face off in the ‘Goat Bowl.”  I’d buy a ticket!

San Antonio, Texas.  It must be time for the Gunslingers to return, whether or not the name is permitted by the standards of political correctness that have been erected since the original USFL folded.  Texas is football-crazy, and the Houston Texans find a nice affiliate in nearby San Antone.

Virginia Beach, Virginia.  This may seem like a long-shot, but Virginia Beach has this big Sportsplex built where the UFL’s Destroyers have a home.  Additionally, the Tidewater Region (VB, Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News) is very densely populated.  I’d liken it to the Lehigh Valley region that we mentioned earlier in terms of several mid-sized cities crammed together with a collective passion for sports.  Since the UFL’s taken the serious route, we’ll call this team the Virginia Beachcombers.

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Comb the beach and see what you can find.

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LEGACY TEAMS

That makes seven former USFL teams fully resurrected, with potential for similar brands to the Stallions, Gold, and Invaders.  These ‘legacy’ teams, particularly the New Jersey Generals and LA Express, would form the core of the new USFL and make the league’s play much more compelling.  The new USFL should actively pursue obtaining the rights to these brands and even keep the outdated branding materials to appeal to retro sports connoisseurs.

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MATCHUPS

Here are some matchups from our 32 teams that would be fun to watch:

The Metro Bowl: Los Angeles Express vs. New Jersey Generals

The Wild West Bowl: San Antonio Gunslingers vs. Oklahoma City Outlaws

The Goat Bowl: Utah Mountain Goats vs. Rochester Billies

The Portlandia Bowl: Portland Breakers vs. Portland Lobstermen

The Food Bowl: Madison Cheesemakers vs. Hershey Chocolatiers

The Lawless Bowl: Las Vegas Libertines vs. Oklahoma City Outlaws

The Spotted Cat Bowl: Lansing Leopards vs. Gainesville Ocelots

The Reptile Bowl: Alabama Copperheads vs. New Mexico Monsters

The Baby Farm Animal Bowl: Fort Wayne Foals vs. Omaha Lambs

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Alright…I think I took this too far.

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ALIGNMENT

Now that we’ve trotted out all 32 teams, let’s look at aligning them into conferences and divisions.  In this scenario, divisions for the USFL teams are aligned the exact same way as the parent clubs in the NFL.  The beauty of this alignment is that it would, in theory, better prepare future NFLers for the travel demands of their particular team as well as build rivalries between intradivisional competitors before they even reach the NFL.  Let’s see what this looks like.

AFC Jr.

East: New Jersey Generals, Orlando Renegades, Rochester Billies,  Portland Lobstermen

North: Akron Ochres, Columbus Malayans, Erie Fishermen, Richmond Blackbirds

South: San Antonio Gunslingers, Memphis Showboats, Fort Wayne Foals, Gainesville Ocelots

West: Los Angeles Express, Oklahoma City Outlaws, Las Vegas Libertines, Utah Mountain Goats

NFC Jr.

East: Hartford Mammoths, Hershey Chocolatiers, Virginia Beachcombers, Austin Tunesmiths

North: Madison Cheesemakers, Lansing Leopards, Rockford Bearcubs, Iowa Farmers

South: Alabama Copperheads, Baton Rouge Red Sticks, Raleigh/Durham Slashes, Pensacola Panhandlers

West: Portland Breakers, Sacramento Gold, New Mexico Monsters, Omaha Lambs

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The LA Factor

What if LA gets an NFL team?  This will likely happen by 2020 at the latest, either via expansion or relocation.  Since Sport Change is adamantly opposed to the NFL expanding beyond 32 teams, relocation is the answer.  Right now, the city with an NFL team that least deserves it is Jacksonville.  If the Jaguars move to LA, let’s assume they get a new brand.  In that case, the Jacksonville Jaguars survive as a USFL franchise–an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Bucs.  The Pensacola Panhandlers move to California and become the San Jose Invaders, an affiliate of the Raiders and a tip of the cap to the old USFL’s Oakland Invaders.   Las Vegas then becomes the affiliate of the new LA franchise.    If the Chargers move to LA, it’s simple.  The newly christened San Diego Express become the affiliate of the Los Angeles Chargers.  If the Rams move to L.A…..never mind, it’s too complicated.

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Meh…it’s too complicated.

Alright, that’s all I have to say about the new USFL right now.  By the end of the month, we’ll likely know some of the locations of future USFL teams.  That news may be exciting, but alas…disappointing.  This bubble of fantasy will be burst, and cold, hard reality will set in.  Such is life.  Thanks for reading.

SPORT CHANGE

What would the NFL look like if Sport Change ruled the world?  What if Sport Change could turn back the hands of time and change the course of the league’s history?  Read on to learn more, and please throw in your two cents.

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Please read the introduction to the Ideal League concept to understand the basics.  For the NFL, we’re going to look at things a few different ways, but the primary method will be rewriting the historic narrative of the NFL.  Time for some genuine fantasy football!

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THE NFL: A REVISIONIST HISTORY

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1968

We start in the year of our lord, nineteen-hundred and sixty-eight.  The NFL is comprised of 16 franchises: the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Minnesota  Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Colts, Los Angeles Rams, and San Francisco 49ers.  The scrappy upstart AFL is made up of nine teams: the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Boston Patriots, New York Jets, Houston Oilers, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers.  Cincinnati is pushing for an AFL franchise, but their efforts are shelved.

1970 Merge

The two leagues make a decision to merge into one NFL for the 1970 season, and split into two conferences.  Four NFL teams move to the new AFC: the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts, and St. Louis Cardinals.  An expansion team, the Seattle Hawks, is added to balance out the conferences, and is placed in the new NFC.

Two teams decide to make name changes in anticipation of expanded exposure of the newly merged league.  The Washington Redskins embrace changing sensibilities of the cultural zeitgeist and choose the alliterative Washington Warriors as a moniker.  The Buffalo Bills grow weary of explaining their overly-clever name, and choose to take on a nickname formerly used in the NFL: the Buffalo Bisons.

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Buffalo looks to the past for a new brand.

1975 Expansion

The league expands yet again.  The city of Cincinnati finally succeeds in landing an NFL franchise, and the newly minted Cincinnati Cats are placed in the AFC.  Out of left field comes a market that has yet to host a major pro sports team, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers become the newest member of the NFC.

1985 Expansion

The league grows in unexpected ways.  Cities like Baltimore and St. Louis nearly lose their beloved franchises, but are able to hold on to them.  The NFL awards the aggressive pursuits of cities making a push for teams by expanding again.  This time around, the Indiana Knights are added to the AFC and the Arizona Scorpions are added the NFC.

1995 Expansion

Two more upstart markets are awarded NFL franchises when the Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans become the 31st and 32nd NFL teams.

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Two new expansion teams for the 1995 season.

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2005 Realignment

The league decides that 32 teams is an ideal number, but it becomes clear that realignment into 8 divisions of four teams each is the optimal scenario.  The realignment is undertaken with care, and most historic rivalries are kept intact.

The Oilers and the Dolphins, who had shared a division since Dolphins’ inception, form a brand new AFC South–taking the Indiana Knights and Tennessee Titans with them.  The Patriots, Jets, Colts, and Bisons form the AFC East.  The Browns, Cardinals, Steelers, and Cats form the AFC North.  The Cheifs, Raiders, Broncos, and Chargers remain together as they always have, and form the AFC West.

The Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers, and Panthers form a new NFC South.  The Rams, 49ers, Hawks, and Scorpions form the NFC West.  The Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, and Warriors stay together to make up the NFC East.  The Packers, Bears, Lions, and Vikings remain together as they always have, and form the NFC North.

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Some things change, somethings remain the same.

Present

Here is the structure of the historic Ideal NFL in the present day:

AFC

East: Baltimore Colts, Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bisons, and New York Jets

South: Houston Oilers, Miami Dolphins, Indiana Knights, and Tennessee Titans

West: Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, and San Diego Chargers

North: St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Cats, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers

NFC

East: Washington Warriors, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, and New York Giants

South: New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, and Atlanta Falcons

West: Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Hawks, and Arizona Scorpions

North: Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and Minnesota Vikings

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THE NFL: CLEAR & PRESENT

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Let us now take a look at the current state of the NFL and discuss changes in a realistic way.

Expansion.  The NFL is at 32 teams, which is the max that any Big Four league should take on.  There is no compelling enough case at this time for expansion–certainly not London!

Relocation.  Aside from one glaringly obvious need, there are not many compelling cases for relocation in the NFL.  Toronto would certainly like a team, but the Bills are going nowhere at this point.  Besides, they’ve got the Argonauts.  Los Angeles has been screaming for a team for nearly twenty years now, and that’s the prime focus in the NFL.  The team that most deserves to move is the Jacksonville Jaguars, so let’s imagine a simple relocation of the Jaguars to Los Angeles.  If L.A. needs another team down the line, there always exists the San Diego option.

Realignment.  The NFL has the best alignment structure of any sports league around, so the eight divisions in two conferences should remain intact.  When the Jaguars move to L.A., they should be placed in the NFC West to compete with the Niners; while leaving the door open for an AFC team in L.A. should the Chargers or Raiders move.  The St. Louis Rams should then move to the AFC South to play with the Titans, Colts, and Dolphins.

Rebranding.  As much as I’d like to suggest “Visions of Reversion” that would send the Cardinals moniker back to St. Louis and the Colts back to Baltimore, that is just not going to happen.  The most pressing need is to rebrand the Redskins.  This will likely happen, and if it does, I hope to see the Washington Warriors hit the mark and assume the old arrow helmets as a primary.  If the Jaguars do move to L.A., they could choose to either keep the moniker or start anew.  Starting anew would be the best bet, so I suggest Los Angeles Wolves.

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If these changes were to go into effect in say, 2015, here’s what the realistic Ideal NFL would look like:

AFC

East: New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets

South: Indianapolis Colts, St. Louis Rams, Houston Texans, and Tennessee Titans

West: Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, and San Diego Chargers

North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers

NFC

East: Washington Warriors, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, and New York Giants

South: New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, and Atlanta Falcons

West: Los Angeles Wolves, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and Arizona Cardinals

North: Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and Minnesota Vikings

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Whaddaya think?

So there you have it.  What do you think?  Please leave comments and become an active participant in the Sport Change Ideal Leagues.  Thank you for reading–have a great day.

SPORT CHANGE