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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, 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.

nfc-north1

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

It’s Football February here on Sport Change, so let’s all take a look at the brand new logo for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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Gettin’ jaggy wit’ it.

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Yep, there it is.  The Jacksonville Jaguars football club just announced that they will have this as their new logo starting in the 2013 season.  There has been plenty of commentary from Shad Khan over the last year about rebranding, and this logo appears to be the first manifestation of that…or should I mustachiofestation.  (Shad Khan jokes never get old.)

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Khan has stated his wish to make black the primary color of the Jags, and I assumed this would translate to taking a minimalist approach and potentially even completely dropping the nineties era teal.  Alas, no.  Though the logo is sharper and clearer, it’s essentially the same thing–a jaguar head with a teal tongue faced to the right.  For comparison, here’s the Jaguars “old” logo:

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I’ve always appreciated this old logo.  Sure, it’s a cruder rendering of a jaguar, but it has an simple, artistic feel to it.  I liked how the tongue was the only bit of blue–as if the cat had just downed a blue-raspberry slushie.  The new logo, however, added teal to the nose and eyes.  This was to make it look more like a realistic jaguar, of course.  What a strange choice.  Incidentally, the new logo looks quite a bit like IUPUI (NCAA D-I) Jaguars’ logo:

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6494_iupui_jaguars-alternate-2008

 

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It’s interesting that the Jaguars slight logo change follows on the heels of the Carolina Panther’s recent slight logo change.  We all remember how both cats entered the NFL fray in the nineties–two new teams from the South who were both represented by large wild cats and variations on the color teal blue.  Two cats linked in destiny; yoked together in the annals of NFL history.  Go figure.

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This cat is signing off for now.  Till next time.

SPORT CHANGE

Sport Change has just completed six full months of reporting and studying the subjects dearest to Sport Change’s heart.  Much of that work has built to articles that will come within the next four months–the Ideal Leagues.

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The premise

Like most random sports voices on the internet, Sport Change likes to opine and reimagine all sorts of things sports-related.  Though Sport Change has a steady group of followers and daily page-visitors, the voice of the site is just one of many with no actual say or sway.  As such, there is full creative license to reshape teams and leagues through the ever-available medium of fantasy.  The Ideal Leagues are simply what sports leagues (both pro and minor) would look like if Sport Change ruled the world–or rather if the world had independently arranged itself better to Sport Change’s liking.

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Ongoing and participative

Though each Ideal League will be presented as something resembling a finished product, each league could become subject to change due to real-world changes or through the uncovering of previously undiscovered knowledge.  Additionally, Sport Change readers can make their voices heard by posting opinions on our message boards.  These opinions may work to effect Sport Change’s Ideal Leagues, so don’t hesitate to participate.

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The gist

To begin the Ideal Leagues, we will be starting toward the top of the American sports pyramid with the Big Four professional sports (NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB) and top minor-league or semipro leagues.  Each league will exist in a fantasy world of sorts, and decisions made about one league are to be informed by decisions made in another.  The primary topics covered will be realignment, rebranding, relocation, and other forms of reimagining; in the context of both historic narratives and real-world scenarios.

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The schedule

February is for football.  The NFL will be first up, followed by an scenario for a resurrection of the USFL.  Teams such as the Houston Oilers and San Antonio Gunslingers will be mentioned.

March is for basketball.  There won’t be much NCAA March Madness talk, but Sport Change will weigh in on an Ideal NBA and NBA Developmental League.

April is for baseball.  While teams take to the field, Sport Change will be unrolling the Ideal MLB.  Additionally, there will be several posts on Minor League Baseball and independent ball.

May is for hockey.  Expect an Ideal NHL and perhaps AHL as well.

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Throughout all of this, there may be the occasional stray post to weigh in on a hot topic or an idea that just can’t wait, such as a Territorial Mock Draft for the NFL in April.  If you’re curious about the Sport Change take on the New Orleans Pelicans’ logo, all I can say is…meh.

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Sym-meh-try

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Thanks for reading.  Stay alert for the Ideal Leagues–it should be fun.  Have a great day!

SPORT CHANGE

When a sports team moves to a new city, should the team’s history be carried along with it?  Please entertain Sport Change as Sport Change takes a break from rankings and realignment scenarios to wax philosophic on the subtle considerations involved in franchise relocation.

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Kevin Durant and his team moved to OKC five years ago, but did the “Sonics” move with them?

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I’ll quit using ‘Sport Change’ in the third person and I’ll talk to you straight.  This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for quite a while, and it was awoken out of dormancy by a recent post written by Chris Creamer on sportslogos.net–a favorite website of mine.  The topic of that post was related to the branding possibilities brought up by the rumors of the Sacramento Kings’ possible relocation to Seattle.  Chris Creamer is primarily curious about whether the Seatte Supersonics brand will be resurrected or if the Kings brand will move with the team.  Chris’s piece raised the bigger question of what constitutes a team’s identity and a team’s history.  Like many other sports fans, Chris’s take on the matter is that when a team moves, a team moves it’s history and vestigial identity with it.  I disagree with this notion, and will attempt to explain why.  There’s a lot of gray area in this discussion, but I’ll try my best to address those questions and articulate an argument.

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If the Sonics retake their history, what does that mean for a franchise that has seen many incarnations since 1945.

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What is a team?

Let’s start with the basic question and build from there.  As far as I can observe, a team is comprised of a few elements: 1.) Players, coaching staff, and team employees.  2.) Trademarks and branding materials.  3.) History.  4.) Fans.

Who really owns a sports team?

Let’s make no mistake here: a sports franchise is an object that can be bought and sold by those wealthy enough to do so.  A franchise is a company that holds the legal rights to any contracted employees and any trademarks.  If a team owner wishes to sell the team, relocate the team, or make the team public property–they have the right to do so.  Of the four elements listed above, the owner has the strongest hold on number 1, and the grip loosens as we move through to number 4.  In my opinion, the order of importance is reversed and the definition of ‘team’ should begin with fans and history.

What is a team’s identity?

Though a team is (in most cases) a private franchise, the team’s identity is harder to pin down.  History and fan support are the core of a team’s identity, but branding materials also factor in.  A team’s nickname, logos, team colors, and uniforms are synonomous with the team, and though they are liable to change over the years–they are part and parcel of the team’s identity.  Besides following the linear path of a team (Chicago Cardinals to St. Louis Cardinals to Arizona Cardinals) there are other unique ways a team can find definition.

An old way and a new way.

Traditionally, when a sports team would relocate, it was analogous to a person moving to a new city. Teams would move their belongings, history, and name with them.  They were the same person, but with new surroundings.  A franchise’s history went with the owner, of course, but so did the branding materials and in many cases–the fans.  Taking a good look at the current era of franchise relocation, it’s clear that things have changed.  It’s gotten more complicated.

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There was a time when franchise relocation meant cold-hearted loss for fans who had identified with the identity of their team.  It also meant no chance to ever regain that identity.

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Here are five categories that relocated teams can fall into:

1.) A team that moves to a distinct new location and retains history and brand elements.  Place name and fan base change, but much of the old identity is left in tact.  Perhaps the best examples of this come from the Big Four’s westward expansion of the middle twentieth century: LA Dodgers, LA Lakers, and San Francisco Giants.

2.) A team that ‘moves’ to a location that is in the same region (geographically and culturally) as the previous city and retains the basic elements of the team–history, fan base, and some brand elements.  To get scientific about it, let’s say a move within 100 miles East of the Mississippi or within the same state if West of the Mississippi.  The Brooklyn Nets are an obvious recent example, and the Baltimore/Washington Bullets would arguably fall into this category as well.

3.) A team that moves to a distinctly new location, establishes new brand elements/team identity, but retains linear franchise history.  This is a common scenario, both traditionally and currently–whether it’s the Washington Senators becoming the Texas Rangers or the Houston Oilers becoming the Tennessee Titans.

4.) A team that moves to a new location, but picks up brand elements and fan base of a former team in that location.  This is a scenario that was common in bygone eras, then essentially non-existent for several decades before reemerging in recent years.  Though they reactivated their franchise through expansion, the Cleveland Browns are good example.

5.) A team that moves to a new location and leaves all elements of team identity with the former location.  This is new idea that occurred notably when the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore, and the Ravens started a new linear history as if they were an expansion team.

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Ray Lewis was the first draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens franchise in 1996. He has never been affiliated with the history of the Cleveland Browns.

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Let’s look at the last ten franchise relocations that have occurred in the Big Four, and see which category or categories they fall into:

(2012) New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn Nets.  Category #2.  This is a classic example of a team moving to a new location, but still within the same geographic area.  Of course it makes sense for the Nets to retain the New Jersey team’s history–they even kept the team nickname.

(2011) Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg Jets.  Category #4.  Here’s an example of the newer phenomenon of cities being reoccupied by a pro club and picking up an old team’s brand elements.  The new Jets still have Atlanta’s history, though, and the old Jets history is down in the desert.

(2008) Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City Thunder. Categories #3/#5.  This is a unique one.  The Thunder were born with a completely new brand and fan base–essentially all that remained of the Sonics was the players/personnel.  The city of Seattle holds the rights to the SuperSonics name and team colors, though the Thunder own the team’s history.  It’s likely that a new Sonics team would have to buy the history back from Oklahoma City.  It’s a brave new world.

(2005) Montreal Expos to Washington Nationals. Categories #3/#4.  On the surface, this relocation just looks like a classic #3–relocation and rebranding.  However, there have been a few different baseball teams in Washington called the Nationals in bygone eras, and the Nats draw from their history–whether official or not.

(2002) Charlotte Hornets to New Orleans Hornets. Category #1.  A simple relocation that is currently facing a rebrand–reportedly as the New Orleans Hornets.  There has been plenty of talk as well about the Charlotte Hornets regaining their old moniker.  Team nickname relocation is a new topic, and it reflects the trend toward nostalgia that is ever-present in the Big Four.

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When the New Orleans Pelicans fly to town, will the Hornets buzz back to Charlotte? If so, we would have a new precedent for brand relocation.

(2001) Vancouver Grizzlies to Memphis Grizzlies. Category #1.  This is a classic #1 branding gaffe–right up there with the Lakers and Jazz.  Memphis could’ve pulled off a clean #3 and started with a totally new brand, but they foolishly clung to the Grizzlies identity.  I can’t imagine British Columbians are as heartsick watching their old Grizzlies continue play as Brooklyn Dodger fans were over the years–it’s the brand that is the problem.

(1997) Houston Oilers to Tennessee Titans. Category #3.  A rebrand/relocation that was pulled off very well.  The team played as the Tennessee Oilers for a year or two, but that never felt right.  It would’ve been preferable if the city of Houston had somehow been able to retain the rights to the Oilers’ brand and history and transferred them to the Texans.

(1997) Hartford Whalers to Carolina Hurricanes. Category #3.  Not much to say about this one.  It’s a classic number three, done fairly well.

(1996) Cleveland Browns to Baltimore Ravens. Category #5.  This is where things got very interesting for the topic of relocation.  When the Browns moved to Baltimore, the brand was put on hold and the Ravens were reborn as a new franchise.  If only the same method had been applied to the Baltimore Colts move to Indy in the eighties.  Today we would have a team in Baltimore called the Colts that could claim history of Johnny Unitas, Bert Jones, and other old Colts teams.

(1996) Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix Coyotes. Category #3.  This is another basic number three, but with two funny twists all these years later.  1.) The Winnipeg Jets became a team again.  2.) The Coyotes are probably the the NHL team that is most likely to move.  If only they had moved to Winnipeg instead the Atlanta Thrashers–then the history could’ve been retained.  Funny how that works out.

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The Coyotes should’ve tucked their tail between their legs and moved back to Winnipeg a few years ago.

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Looking forward

Now let’s look at a few upcoming relocation possibilities and see where they land:

-Sacramento Kings to Seattle.  This is the hottest relocation possibility in the Big Four currently, and it looks like it may very well happen.  If so, it’s almost a given that Seattle would reapply the SuperSonics moniker/team colors, and look to buy back their history from Oklahoma City.  It’s a shame that the history of the Royals/Kings NBA franchise would reach a dead end, but we’ll cover that in a bit.  This would either be a category #4 (Winnipeg Jets) or a category #5 (Baltimore Ravens).

-An NHL team to Quebec City.  There have been plenty of passing mentions of the NHL increasing it’s presence in Canada through expansion or relocation.  The most likely candidate is Quebec City, who are still stinging from losing the Nordiques to Colorado in the mid-nineties.  Construction on a new arena has begun, and it seems like a lock that that the league will occupy it.  If so, it’s very likely that the Quebec Nordiques would be reborn as a franchise.  Most likely, this would be a situation similar to the Winnipeg Jets–a category #4.

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If Quebec gets and NHL team, it would be hard to brand them as anything but the Nordiques.

-The Tampa Bay Rays to….?  There is always plenty of speculation about the Rays relocating, and Sport Change has looked deeply into this issue.  If the Rays were to move to to say, Indiana, Louisville, Portland, or Oklahoma City–it would likely be either a #3 rebrand or a #1 brand retention.

-An NFL team to Los Angeles.   It’s very likely that there will be an NFL team in L.A. within a few years.  It’s quite unclear which team this would be, but the most likely candidates are probably the Chargers, Raiders, Rams, Jaguars, and Buccaneers.  Each of the first three teams were once located in L.A. and are in-state/West of Mississippi.  If they were to move, branding materials and history would likely move with them–so category #2, like the Nets.  If the Bucs or Jags moved, it would likely be a rebranding and retention of team history–category #3.

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If the Jaguars moved to LA, can you really imagine them retaining the brand? Well…I guess they did it with the Lakers and Dodgers.

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THE RULES

As we all move forward into a new era of Big Four relocation, we should discuss what the rules of relocation are–unwritten though they may be.  All of this can be grouped into two basic rules:

Rule #1:  

In most cases, the brand should be left behind with the vacated city.  The city would hold the rights to these elements, like in the case of the Sonics.  As stated earlier, it would be a shame to see the history of the Cincinnati Royals/Kansas City Kings franchise come to an end, but the brand should remain available for pickup (through expansion or relocation) by any city that formerly held that brand.  There are exceptions to this, of course.  Category #2 relocations (like the Nets) are perfectly acceptable and the brand/history should be retained.  Additionally, I think that it’s acceptable for a brand under twenty years old and without a championship (like the Rays) to retain these elements as they move.  This is acceptable if the brand is universal–the sun’s rays shine everywhere (well, maybe not Portland) so a team like the Indiana Rays would be fine.  The Grizzlies fall into this exception, but made the terrible mistake of retaining a region-specific identity.

Rule #2:

In most cases, history is put on hold.  In this modern era of relocation, it’s unnecessary for a team like the Nationals to retain the history of the Expos.  That history should be left with Montreal.  If the city ever got a new team, they could reactivate and claim that history–even with a new brand.  A new Sonics team or a new Nordiques team should have full access to team history within the time that the city held that brand.  The history is the story of the franchise’s relationship with it’s city and it’s fans.  When a team relocates, history is vestigial at best and burdensome at worst.  Again, it’s acceptable to carry history if the team relocates within 100 miles East of the Mississippi or within the same state in the West.  On the Eastern seaboard, we could even say 50 miles.  The Baltimore/Washington Bullets and New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets would fall within that rule of radius.

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If Montreal ever gets another team, shouldn’t they have access to the Expos’ history?

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That sums it up.  It’s certainly an adjustment and any change can feel awkward.  However, what feels more awkward is the current methods.  These days, it’s like a Wild West of teams choosing from any of the five categories.  This will make franchise history tracking difficult and lead to identity crises for fans.  Can the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets claim their three WHA championships from the seventies?  Not as long as the Phoenix Coyotes are wearing them like identification tags on a dog collar.

Thanks for reading and please leave comments to get a discussion going.  Keep checking back for more posts as the winter moves along.

SPORT CHANGE

What if Roger Goodell and his ilk were to get their way and the NFL were to expand internationally?  Just how would that work?  Time to drink the Kool-aid and take a ride on the Sport Change roller coaster of organized imagination.

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Background

For several years now, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has publicly stated his wish to expand the  league internationally by placing franchises abroad.  London is the most immediate target, and Wembley Stadium plays host to an NFL game each season as part of the NFL International Series.  In addition to London, the International Series hosted an NFL game in Mexico City in 2005.  Each time the London match rolls around, Goodell waxes romantic about how wonderful it would be to have an NFL franchise across the pond.  Rumors swirl about expansion teams overseas and/or relocation of a current franchise.

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Backlash

Though most responses to the International Series fall somewhere between indifference and eye-rolling, there is also a considerable amount of criticism from sports press and fans alike.  Common refrains include: “It’s the National Football League…National!,” “NFL Europa and the World League both failed,”  and “this is just another way for the greedy NFL to make more money.”  There has also been backlash from some players, who complain about long plane rides, wacky scheduling, and loss of a home game.  British fans of American football often laugh at the notion and share doubts about a franchise’s success in London–most are already fans of an existing NFL franchise, and have no plans to change that.

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The World League/NFL Europa was an interesting experiment, but it didn’t last.

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The Sport Change Take

As previously stated here and here, Sport Change is adamantly opposed to NFL international expansion or relocation.  If rich guys really want to see the NFL take flight overseas, go for it.  Just leave our National Football League out of it.  There’s too much history, too much interest, and too much success to risk losing or harming the league in an action rooted in hubris and greed.    There are more pressing concerns–perhaps a team in L.A. would be nice?  A team in Toronto would be a tough enough pill to swallow, and that’s barely international.  

Despite all this, Sport Change cannot help but wonder and ponder how an international NFL scenario could play out.  Let’s do this in Q&A form–here we go!

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The Basic Premise of the Preposterous Proposition

Two NFL teams are added as expansion franchises–one team in London and one team in Mexico City.  Neither team would belong to a division, but the London franchise would be a member of the AFC and the Mexico franchise would be a member of the NFC.  Each team would play a full slate of games, but each game would be a home game.  Read on to learn more.

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Why London?

The question of whether or not London is actually ready for an NFL team hasn’t stopped league brass from trumpeting their mission.  As such, we’ll entertain it.  The team would play games at Wembley Stadium for the time being, and perhaps Olympic Stadium down the line.

Why Mexico City?

As mentioned earlier, the NFL International Series began with a bang in 2005.  The Arizona Cardinals played a regular season game against the San Francisco 49ers at the colossal Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.  The game drew a whopping 103,467 spectators, which broke the NFL attendance record at the time.  Looking back to a preseason game played by the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers at Azteca in 1994, the attendance was a ridiculous 112,376–standing room only.  Mexico City is the third largest city on Planet Earth, and interest in football is surprisingly high.

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Mexico City is the planet’s third largest city and has hosted two NFL games that drew north of 100,000 fans.  Is the NFL ready for vuvuzelas?

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What would the brands look like?

Sport Change recently polled readers to ask what the best names for teams in these locations would be.  It’s important to consider that the name would have to be accessible to fans both in that country and here in the U S of A.  In London, Dragons and Griffins fought tooth and nail, with the fire-breathers having the last laugh.  In Mexico, Aztecs was the clear leader, but Sport Change contributor and political correctness zealot Maria Maccamini-Cowan articulated why Aztecs may be an offensive moniker.  Maria is the expert in these matters, so Sport Change gave her the benefit of the doubt.  There was a tie for second place between Lobos and Toros, and we chose Lobos due to the relative lack of wild dog related monikers in the Big Four.  So we have the London Dragons and the Mexico Lobos.  (I guess Lobos de Mexico D.F. would be more appropriate, but as stated, the brand must be decipherable to America.)  For uniforms, I’m going to say black/green for the Dragons and white/orange for the Lobos.  For helmet logos, imagine something similar to the Dayton Dragons for London and New Mexico U for the Lobos.

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The London Dragons–clad in black and green. Classy.

Who would play for these teams?

Initially, the rosters for these two teams could be stocked with free agents and standouts from the CFL, UFL, Arena League, etc.  There could also be an expansion draft of some kind; wherein each team must declare a player or two for eligibility.  Working the teams into the NFL Draft could be tricky–we’ll explain more in a bit.

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Why AFC and NFC?

Sport Change has placed the London Dragons in the AFC and the Mexico Lobos in the NFC.  This is a bit arbitrary, but there’s some reasoning at play.  For starters, distance is inconsequential.  The geographical layouts of the AFC and NFC are nearly identical in the bigger picture.  Yes, the Raiders, Chargers, and Broncos would have long flights to London.  So would the Seahawks, Niners, and Cardinals.  The reasoning behind the conferencial placement stems from cultural factors.  A cumulative poll over the last five years reveals that the Patriots and Dolphins are the two most popular NFL teams in England.  Couple that with Jacksonville signing on to play games in Wembley for the next few years and the answer is clear: AFC to London.  To make things easy, the NFC holds the edge in Mexico.  The Cowboys seem to be the most popular team on a consistent basis over the years.  AFC teams are popular South of the Border as well (Steelers, Dolphins, Raiders) but the 49ers, Packers, and Giants also have broad bases in Mexico.

The NFC carries the torch...er..flag for Mexico.

The NFC carries the torch…er..flag for Mexico.

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How would scheduling work?

Here is where this proposition gets a little unorthodox.  As alluded to earlier, each international team would play a full slate of sixteen games, but play only at home.  Each team in the AFC would travel to London once per season, and each team in the NFC would play in Mexico once per season.  There is no point in having a team abroad if they are travelling to play in the US.  To ensure a sustainable revenue stream out of the gate, it makes sense to have a sold-out stadium each week.  It’s also the only fair way to do it.  If a London team were placed in the AFC East, for example, Bills fans may blame their losing ways on the travel demands of the international game each year.  They already blame Canada!  If 16 games remained the standard in the NFL, the international game could replace a regularly slated game on a set schedule by taking the place of one of the three conference-non-division games each team plays each year on a rotating schedule.  For instance, the last place Lions would be scheduled to play the last place NFC East and West teams one year, East and South teams the next year, and West and South teams the year after.  Another way to do it would be to add a seventeenth game of the season for each team–either replacing the last preseason game or replacing the bye week.  That would be 17 games for each team, with the international teams squaring off once per regular season (alternate stadiums year to year) to fill the schedule.  No doubt Goodell and gang would salivate at that notion–the NFLPA?  Not so much.  Either way, the premise remains the same: each AFC team travels to London for a game each year, and each NFC team travels to Mexico City for a game each year.

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The AFC in London. It’s already happening.

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What about playoffs?

I don’t think there would be any fair way to include the Dragons and Lobos in the playoff hunts of their respected conferences.  With only home games and in-conference match-ups, the playing field wouldn’t be level.  Imagine your favorite team losing the wild card spot to an international team.  That would probably be the quickest way to slay the Dragons, so to speak.  That said, the international teams would need some sort of postseason to play for.  I think the best solution would be to simply have the Dragons and Lobos play each other in a World Bowl–similar to a college bowl game.  The World Bowl could be played in the football-starved time vacuum that is the weekend prior to the Super Bowl.   The team with the best overall record hosts the World Bowl–a huge incentive to stay competitive all year long.  In the event of matching records, there would no special tiebreaker needed to determine the host site–the Dragons and Lobos would have that one regular season head-to-head matchup each year.

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Time to resurrect the World Bowl?

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Potential problems?

You betcha.  For starters, the players would likely be opposed to both extending the season and adding travel.  The international teams would likely have a hard time finding enough quality players to field a competitive team.  Money would certainly be available, but it may be a tough sell to convince players, coaches, etc. to pack up their families and settle in a new land.  That could lead to more players/coaches from the homeland of each nation–making for exciting but low caliber teams.  There could be issues of all kinds relating to gambling, throwing games, stadium security, etc.  Another concern would be the economic impact of these games.  Hosting an NFL team would likely be a boon to the economy of a particular city, but it’s hard to be sure.  If the international games were able to consistently draw a significant amount of American fans, that would certainly be an influx of revenue to the foreign cities.  The teams would likely be employing locals to run just about everything as well.  However, make no mistake: the NFL and NFL team owners would be eating the biggest piece of the pie.  At the end of the day, if the games were taking loose change from the pockets of ordinary citizens in a foreign land and depositing them in a Swiss bank account, something is off.  That said, I guess that’s no different than taking the loose change of fans in Buffalo, Oakland, or Jacksonville.

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What is this proposition?

As stated ad nauseum, Sport Change is opposed to the NFL expanding internationally.  However, if it were to happen, this idea may be an equitable and interesting way to make it work.  What do you think?  Please share your comments.  Thank you for reading.

SPORT CHANGE