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Other Leagues

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

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.

new-afl-logo

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.

gila monster

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.

chocolatier

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.’

shocking-mountain-goat

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

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.

New_Orleans_Pelicans

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

Which North American markets are second tier?

Tampa-3

My city is second tier, baby.

In the last Sport Change post, we revealed the rankings for the first tier of sports markets in North America–the top 30.  Now we’re taking a good look at the second tier–the next 30.  The second tier is perhaps more interesting as it reveals the general lack of viable unused pro sports markets.   The original plan was to rank the top 100 split into three tiers, but the dregs were hit just trying to fill out the top 60.

For information on what defines a sports market and our criteria for selection, please read the introduction in our previous post.

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Let’s get right into it::

31. Indianapolis.  Indy just barely missed the first tier, so it’s a bit of a disappointment to think of this market as a secondary option for pro sports.  Let’s think of them as a C+ market–just about as good as a B-.  The Colts have a promising team and a sparkly new stadium, though attendance is middling.  The Pacers have trouble filling seats as well.  That said, I think Indy is a viable pro sports market.  If not, there is always the Hoosiers.

32. Montreal.  Ignore the Expos debacle for a moment and consider this: the NHL’s Canadiens are probably the most historic, supported, and successful hockey team on Earth.  I doubt any other Big Four league will come knocking, but there’s an outside chance at a second NHL team.

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The Canadiens are synonymous with pro hockey. Just ignore that whole baseball thing.

33. Tampa Bay.  The Tampa/St. Petersburg area boasts three teams in the Big Four.  So why is it a second tier team?  For starters, the Rays and the Buccaneers are unable to fill seats despite having exciting teams.  Within a few years, it’s likely that one or the other will have relocated.  The NHL’s Lightning do better, but was putting a pro hockey team in Florida a good idea in the first place?

34. Portland.  The Trailblazers are the lone rep on the pro circuit, but they are a simply outstanding smaller market franchise that (as of this writing) draws 4th best of all NBA teams.  It remains to be seen if the state of Oregon can support another pro team, but the Oregon Ducks football team is also a powerhouse–both on the gridiron and in the ticket booth.

35. Utah.  Salt Lake City is similar to Portland in that the city only supports an NBA team in the Big Four.  The Jazz draw surprisingly well–just a shade below the Blazers.  In other athletics, the AAA minor league baseball Salt Lake Bees fill seats.  Brigham Young’s basketball and football teams also enjoy success.  That said, I think the Jazz will remain the lone Big Four rep indefinitely.

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The Spurs have earned their keep, but Texas is a bit crowded.

36. San Antonio.  San Antonio is a very large city that is often brought up in relocation/expansion talks for MLB and the NFL, despite Texas having a good foothold in pro sports.  The NBA makes it work with three successful Texan franchises, but I’m unsure about baseball or football.  Both sports are popular in Texas, but the Cowboys have a wide-reaching influence and the Astros make it clear that a team in a large Texan city can struggle.

37. Oklahoma.  The newish Thunder were extremely fortunate to begin their run in the NBA with such young talent.  We’ll see how it plays out over time.  Oklahoma is well represented on the amateur levels by the AAA RedHawks in baseball, and the Sooners and Cowboys in college athletics–particularly football.

38. Vancouver.  The Grizzlies idea took a faceplant, but the Canucks hold steady in the NHL.  Vancouver is a decent-sized city that has an appetite for sports.  The B.C. Lions are a top draw in the Canadian Football League.

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Vancouver is a fixture in the NHL, but I don’t think they’ll be in any other Big Four league after the Grizzlies debacle.

39. Columbus.  Ohio’s largest city gets ranked this high mainly due to the presence of the Ohio State Buckeyes.  The NHL’s Blue Jacket experiment hasn’t panned out very well, so Columbus will need to work hard to hold on to it’s only Big Four team.

40. San Jose.  Against all odds, the Sharks have been a staple in Californian hockey for over twenty years.  There has been talk of the Golden State Warriors relocating to San Jose, which would be essentially unnoticeable in the bigger picture of sports.  They wouldn’t even have to change their name.

41. Calgary.  The Flames are a successful NHL franchise, but that will remain the lone Big Four representative.  That’s fine–there’s the CFL’s Stampeders.

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Calgary stamps on the competition.

42. Jacksonville.  It may be Florida’s largest city, but I’m not so sure the J-Ville is much of a sports town.  Shad Khan is trying to breathe new life into the Jaguars, and hometown hero Tim Tebow seems likely to return.  We’ll give that some time and see how it pans out.

43. Orlando.  Despite the relative support for the Magic, I do not consider Orlando to be viable or acceptable pro sports market.  Too much about the city is contrived and newfangled.  I expect the Magic to wear off as the team plummets further into mediocrity.

44. Sacramento.  The Kings are at the forefront of every whisper about NBA relocation.  They are likely to move–probably to Seattle.  Mayor (and former Phoenix Sun) Kevin Johnson has been trying to lure the Oakland A’s to Sac-town, but for the foreseeable future the biggest ballclub in town will remain the AAA Rivercats.  At least they’re one of the top draws in the minors!

 

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More like the kings of a group of cities that have no business hosting a pro sports team.

45. New Jersey.  For the record, this doesn’t include the Meadowlands.  The lone representative in the Big Four is the New Jersey Devils of Newark.  Jersey is still stinging from the Nets’ departure, but the state as a whole enjoys a good measure of success in minor league and collegiate sports.

46. Ottawa.  The Senators are fairly respectable, but there is a marked lack of a CFL team–at least for now.  As such, Canada’s capital is our fifth ranked Canadian market.

47. Edmonton.  The Oilers have shown a remarkable ability to maintain a presence in Edmonton despite many obstacles over the years.  The CFL’s Eskimos round out the market.

 

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The Oilers keep it greasy in the NHL.

48. Winnipeg.  The Jets happily returned to Manitoba recently–hopefully ticket sales will pick within a few years.  The Winnipeg Goldeyes, an independent pro baseball team in the American Association, do very well.

49. Kentucky.  The last section of our list features teams that do not currently have even one team in the Big Four.  This is where things get interesting.  The state of Kentucky doesn’t have much precedent for pro sports, but the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels come to mind.  On the collegiate level, UK and Louisville dominate fan interest in basketball.  The schools both have successful football programs as well.  In Minor League Baseball, the Louisville Bats are typically the 2nd biggest draw in all the minors, and the Lexington Legends rank around 25 out of about 150.  Louisville is a sizable city with more denizens than dozens of cities in the Big Four.  Even Lexington has more people than Cincinnati, Buffalo, or Orlando.  The Bluegrass State should not be overlooked in discussions of pro sports relocation or expansion.

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I’m Kentucky. Hear me roar.

50. Alabama. The Crimson Tide and Auburn are two of the top draws in college football.  There is peripheral interest in basketball and baseball as well–but if Alabama could support a pro team it would have to in the NFL.  The question is whether or not Alabamans would split allegiance between Saturday and Sunday.

51. Virginia.  It may be a little broad to use the whole state of Virginia as a market.  The Virginia Beach/Norfolk area in particular hosts millions of people and is sports-crazy.  Richmond is also worth mentioning.

52. Nebraska.  Omaha, specifically, is a large enough city to support a pro team–at least in theory.  The Lincoln-based Cornhuskers dominate the state’s sports attention at present, but I could see a pro team in some league sticking in Nebraska.

53. Iowa.  This is a long shot for pro sports, but Iowa’s dedication to baseball, football, and basketball is undeniable.  The Iowa Cubs are a very popular MiLB team, and the Hawkeyes draw fans to the gridiron and the court.

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The Hawkeyes are popular, but would a pro team fly?

54. Las Vegas.  This is the city that is always brought up in any talk about expansion or relocation.  The main reason is that Las Vegas is the largest metro area in the US without a team in the Big Four.  Here’s the problem: Vegas is not a major sports city.  They can barely support a minor league baseball team.  The best they can muster for football is the UFL’s Locomotives.  The UNLV Rebels do well, so if any league goes to Vegas I’d say the NBA has the best shot.

55. Arkansas.  The Razorbacks are wildly popular in college football and basketball.  I’m not so sure that the state could support a pro team, but it’s worth mentioning.

56. Hamilton.  Hamilton, Ontario is a large city in a very densely populated area on Lake Ontario’s west coast.  The city currently hosts the CFL’s Tiger-Cats and the AHL’s Bulldogs, among other teams.  Hamilton is possibly the best candidate for relocation or expansion in the NHL.

57. Quebec City.  Quebec is presumably still hurting from the NHL’s Nordiques leaving for greener pasture in Colorado nearly twenty years ago.  I could see the league returning at some point–but the language barrier remains an obstacle.

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The Nordiques fled Quebec City for Denver nearly twenty years ago. Will the weird N thing return?

58. Saskatchewan.  The two largest cities in the province are Saskatoon and Regina–fairly close to each other.  Saskatchewan has hosted the CFL’s Roughriders for many decades, and has an outside chance at a future NHL team.

59. Connecticut/Rhode Island.  They’re pretty much the same state, so I lumped them into one.  College basketball jumps to mind, with Uconn, Providence, and Rhode Island U leading the charge.  Providence and Hartford are fairly large cities with a short history in the Big Four.  Notably, the Hartford Whalers used to call the NHL home and the Providence Steam Roller (or Rollers) had incarnations in the NFL and NBA.  Minor League Baseball teams in both states are quite successful as well.  Occasionally there’s talk of a pro ball team in Hartford, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

60. New Mexico.  We’ll round out the second tier with an underdog that has yet to sniff the pro leagues.  Albuquerque, New Mexico is the 32nd largest metro area in the US, and is larger than about half of the markets in the Big Four.  The AAA baseball Albuquerque Isotopes (named after a Simpsons episode) draw in the top ten of all ~150 minor league clubs.  The New Mexico Lobos are a very popular college basketball team.  We’ll call New Mexico the the distant wildcard in Big Four discussions.

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I’ll show you second tier.

So there is the second tier.  You can see how the list gets thin at around 50 and then the wildcards come out of left field.  We’ll be referencing this study in several future posts, including our upcoming Ideal Leagues series.  The Ideal Leagues are an in depth exploration of what the Big Four pro sports leagues would look like if Sport Change ruled the world.  Stay posted.  Thanks for reading.

SPORT CHANGE

Alright.  Now that we’ve talked about the best, it’s time now to unveil the 33 worst pro sports nicknames as selected by Sport Change.  How low can we go?

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Let’s flip the moniker rankings upside down.

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To view the top-ranked monikers, click here.

For information on what makes a bad pro sports moniker, click here.

If you’re curious about the rationale behind the rank of each individual team, find them on their specific league rankings pages.  Links to external pages:

Moniker Rankings for the NFL

Moniker Rankings for MLB

Moniker Rankings for the NBA

Moniker Rankings for the NHL

What we’re going to do is rank the worst 33 monikers in the Big Four from 90-122, with #122 being the absolute worst moniker in all of the Big Four.  Why 33, you ask?    Read on to find out why.

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90.  San Antonio Spurs

91.  Buffalo Bills

92.  New Orleans Saints

93.  Anaheim Ducks

94.  Los Angeles Clippers

95.  Brooklyn Nets

96.  Ottawa Senators

97.  Nashville Predators

98.  Colorado Rockies

99.  Buffalo Sabres

100.  Indiana Pacers

101.  Jacksonville Jaguars

102.  Calgary Flames

103.  Carolina Hurricanes

104.  Washington Wizards

105.  Phoenix Coyotes

106.  Minnesota Twins

107.  Arizona Diamondbacks

108.  Toronto Raptors

109.  Memphis Grizzlies

110.  San Diego Padres

111.  Houston Astros

112.  Miami Heat

113.  Cincinnati Bengals

114.  Colorado Avalanche

115.  Columbus Blue Jackets

116.  Tampa Bay Lightning

117.  Minnesota Wild

118.  New York Islanders

119.  Orlando Magic

120.  Oklahoma City Thunder

121.  Utah Jazz

122.  Washington Redskins

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So there you have it–the 33 worst monikers in the Big Four major pro sports.  So why 33?  Because it was a good number to create 11 divisions of 3 teams each.  This is a pointless exercise that Sport Change likes to indulge in.  Here they are:

The Ambiance Division: Wild, Jazz, Magic

The Forces of Nature Division: Thunder, Heat, Flames

The Natural Disaster Division: Avalanche, Lightning, Hurricanes

The Carnivore Division: Jaguars, Coyotes, Predators

The Sub-Species Division: Bengals, Grizzlies, Diamondbacks

The Place Name Division: Rockies, Islanders, Twins

The Inanimate Object Division: Spurs, Nets, Sabres

The Allusions to Movement Division: Pacers, Clippers, Astros

The Moral Authority Division: Senators, Saints, Padres

The Nineties Leftovers Division: Raptors, Wizards, Ducks

The Headscratcher Division: Bills, Blue Jackets, Redskins

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Feel free to comment.  If your favorite team wasn’t on this list or the Best Monikers list, then they’re either an historic skater, losing duplicate name, or just a plain old middler.

Many more posts in the hopper!  NCAA will be a new focus, but there will continue to be posts relating to just about any and all leagues.  Stay posted.

SPORT CHANGE

This project was a natural afterthought to the recent Sport Change moniker rankings for each of the leagues in the Big Four.  Now that we’ve stated our rankings for individual leagues, let’s see which monikers are the best overall.

What are the best names in the Big Four?

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The individual team rankings can all be found on the Moniker Monitor page.  This may seem like a simple “take the top tier from each league” process, but moving the monikers out of their individual leagues alters the criteria for selection in a few ways.

Removing the Historical Skaters

-For starters, no historical skaters are included.  These are the teams with questionable pro-level monikers who ranked high in the individual leagues simply due to their historic cred.  The NFL doesn’t have too many skaters, though the Bills, Colts, and 49ers were not even remotely considered.  Major League Baseball skaters are Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Cubs, and Dodgers.  Mets and Phillies were also well out of consideration, though that may go without saying.  NBA skaters were Celtics, Knickerbockers, 76ers, and Lakers.  In the NHL, the literal historic skaters are Maple Leafs, Bruins, Rangers, Blackhawks, Canadiens, and Red Wings.  Red Wings is a pretty solid moniker, but is didn’t meet the next criterion….

In or Out of Context

-Monikers that only make sense within the sport they play are not going to be ranked high.  An example would be the Nets, a nickname that would be meaningless in say, baseball.  Not that the Nets would be ranked high anyway–that is a terrible moniker.  Another example would be the Philadelphia Flyers.  That’s a great nickname that fits the team.  They ranked high in the NHL due to alliteration, brand consistency, and some history.  Taken out of context and into the big picture, the same is bland and somewhat meaningless.

Only One Team Per Moniker

There are six nicknames in the Big Four that are shared by two different teams.  These are Giants, Jets, Rangers, Panthers, Cardinals, and Kings.  For each of these pairs, only one was chosen to be considered.  The simplest way to explain it would be: who wears it best?  The New York Giants were an easy choice over the displaced baseball Giants of Frisco.  New York Jets takes a slight edge over Winnipeg, though Jets isn’t a top name to begin with.  Texas Rangers was an easy choice over the urban cowboys of Manhattan–definitely historical skaters.  Though it’s cool that a Florida Panther is an actual animal, we chose Carolina for three reasons: 1. the NHL Panthers shouldn’t be claiming the whole state of Florida as their own when Tampa has a franchise.  2. A black panther better represents the nickname Panthers.  3. Carolina is a more successful franchise–the Florida Panthers seem poised to relocate due to terrible ticket sales.  The St. Louis Cardinals were a gimme over the desert Cards in the NFL.  The Los Angeles Kings were our top-ranked NHL moniker, and the lowly Sacramento Kings don’t wear the crown nearly as well.

So there are a few rules.  Other than that, it’s mostly subjective. Please peruse, disagree, leave comments, and enjoy!

1. Pittsburgh Pirates.

2. New York Giants

3. Chicago Bears

4. Los Angeles Kings

5. Detroit Lions

6. Detroit Tigers

7. Chicago Bulls

8. St. Louis Rams

9. Golden State Warriors

10. Cincinnati Reds

11. Tennessee Titans

12. Dallas Cowboys

13. Texas Rangers

14. Green Bay Packers

15. Pittsburgh Steelers

16. Milwaukee Bucks

17. Atlanta Hawks

18. Philadelphia Eagles

19. Cleveland Browns

20. St. Louis Blues

21. San Jose Sharks

22. Miami Dolphins

23. Carolina Panthers

24. Minnesota Vikings

25. Milwaukee Brewers

26. Edmonton Oilers

27. Pittsburgh Penguins

28. New Jersey Devils

29. St. Louis Cardinals

30. Oakland Raiders

31. Dallas Mavericks

32. Seattle Mariners

There are the 32 as picked by Sport Change.  There is plenty of discussion and disagreement to be had here.  Feel free to use the comment board.  Here is some analysis:

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Honorable mention:

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, New York Jets

MLB: Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Atlanta Braves, Oakland Athletics

NBA: Portland Trailblazers, Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins

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Who Jumped?  Who Slipped?

In the NFL, the Browns leapfrogged the Chiefs to make it to the big list.  Other than the historical skaters, MLB stayed true to the original list.  In the NBA, the Mavericks jumped ahead of the Blazers.  The Philadelphia Flyers slipped more than any other team; from second in the NHL to out of the top 32.  A handful of teams leapfrogged the Flyers as they were more worthy when removed from the context of the NHL.

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Contribution by League

NFL contributed 14 of 32 for ~44%

MLB contributed 7 of 32 for ~22%

NBA contributed 5 of 32 for ~15%

NHL contributed 6 of 32 for ~19%

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Divisions.  For fun, let’s separate these top 32 monikers into divisions based on their category:

The HMC (Humanoid Moniker Conference)

Seafarers Division: Pirates, Vikings, Raiders, Mariners

Wild West Division: Cowboys, Rangers, Mavericks, Warriors

Blue Collar Division: Packers, Steelers, Oilers, Brewers

Looming Figures Division: Kings, Giants, Titans, Devils

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The CMC (Color/critter Moniker Conference)

Furry & Fearsome Division: Bears, Lions, Tigers, Panthers

Miscellaneous Mammals Division: Rams, Bulls, Bucks, Dolphins

Air & Water Division: Eagles, Hawks, Penguins, Sharks

Rainbow Division: Cardinals, Reds, Blues, Browns

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Now that was a waste of time.  Surely there is nothing more to be said about the state of pro sports nicknames, right?  Of course not!  Next up, we’ll list the worst 32 monikers in pro sports.  Stay posted.

SPORT CHANGE