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Volume 4, Number 3
March, 1999

View From the Cheap Seats Expansion of the, er, Fittest...

by Dave Lind

Very soon, probably even before you read these words, the great and powerful minds that comprise the National Football League will meet to discuss such weighty issues as expansion, realignment, and what to do about whatever it is that Al Davis is (or will be) suing them over this time. The legal matters belong to the ambulance chasers and shall thus be left for another day. The other two issues call out for the Solomon-like wisdom of Yours Truly, and shall therefore receive nothing less.

The issue of expansion is the easiest, so lets tackle that first: Put the team in LA, stupid! It's a disgrace that the greatest sport in the world, America's Sport, isn't even represented in America's largest market. Every other major sport boasts at least one, sometimes even two teams in the LA area. How this is even left open to question is utterly beyond the ability of rational minds to comprehend. If the issue of realignment was as this easy, this would be the shortest column in the history of.....uh, columns.

Anyway, the argument for realignment is one which has surfaced periodically over the past several years, usually whenever some geography major stumbled across an atlas and realized that Atlanta and New Orleans were nowhere near the West Coast or that, by golly, Dallas and Arizona were plum on the wrong side of the Mississippi to logically be located in the NFC East. The geography complaint is an old one which, quite frankly, still bears little if any bearing on the current need for realignment.

Think about it, the only reason people have had such a hissy-fit over divisional alignment is because of the names of the divisions. Honestly, the NFL's decision to hang geographical designations on each division was one of the worst ideas since the "in the grasp" rule. Would anyone have cared what part of the country Atlanta was in if they played in the NFC Halas Division instead of the NFC West? Sure, it made sense to group the teams geographically back when teams traveled by train, but wake up people! We have things called airplanes now, and in the NFL's case, luxury jets, which can get you from San Francisco to Atlanta faster than a train can get you from Oakland to San Diego.

So if geography isn't a good reason for realignment, why realign? I'm so glad I asked myself that question. Simply put, the time is right. With the addition of the next expansion team (and it'd better be LA), the league will have 32 teams. Thirty-two teams divide neatly into eight four-team divisions, four for each conference, and thus will appeal to the legions of obsessive-compulsive numerologists who are simply dying for a reason to by PSLs and become ardent football fans.

So now that the decision to realign has been calmly and rationally arrived at, the next question would be how to go about it. Again, it's fortunate for you that I am around to provide answers to such complex questions. Now, you see, we encounter the difficulty inherent in realignment: How do we accomplish our objective, which is four four-team divisions in each conference (stay with us, now) without alienating the die-hard fan?

The key is to keep as many of the time-tested bitter rivalries intact while shifting just enough teams around that we can create new rivalries and that all-important fourth division. Here's how it should look when finished:

Buffalo Baltimore Cincinnati Denver
Miami Cleveland New Orleans Kansas City
New England Indianapolis Pittsburgh Oakland
NY Jets Tennessee Jacksonville San Diego

Dallas Atlanta Chicago Arizona
NY Giants Carolina Detroit Los Angeles
Philadelphia St. Louis Green Bay San Francisco
Washington Tampa Bay Minnesota Seattle

There, as you can see, we have kept most of the divisions intact and simply subtracted a team here and there. The AFC West (minus Seattle), AFC East (minus Indianapolis), AFC Central (minus Baltimore and Jacksonville), NFC Central (minus Tampa Bay), and NFC East (minus Arizona) have all escaped pretty much unscathed. The only division to get radically changed was the NFC, and that division sorely needed it anyway. I mean honestly, will anyone really miss those super-charged Niners-Rams showdowns twice a year? The newly reconstituted NFC West will feature four teams West of the Rockies, which should please the geography nuts out there, and will ensure, at least for the near future, two Mike Holmgren (Seattle) and Steve Mariucci (Niners) showdowns a year.

We've managed to keep the Black and Blue division intact, though it will now be the Mountain division instead of Central, and we've kept the AFC West rivals Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, and San Diego at each other's throats twice a year. The same can be said of the AFC East (Miami, Buffalo, NY Jets, New England) and the NFC East (Dallas, NY Giants, Philly, Washington). The AFC Central will miss out on the much-anticipated Cleveland Browns' return, but the chance to stick the Indianapolis (formerly Baltimore) Colts, Baltimore (former Cleveland Browns) Ravens, and Cleveland (still bitter about losing their team to Baltimore) Browns in the same division is just too good to pass up. We tossed Tennessee in just because we needed a fourth team and, well, since we were working on the whole ?free-agent franchise? motif....

Finally, the fourth NFC division, the reconstituted NFC Central features three of the doormat teams from the NFC West (Atlanta, St Louis, and Carolina) plus longtime league doormat Tampa Bay. If nothing else, it guarantees at least one of these teams will win a division championship every year.

There, that didn't hurt so bad, did it? And we managed to do it all without moving too many teams from one conference to another which, trust me, is a horrible, horrible idea. Overall, fans identify as much with their conference as with their team and too much upheaval is a bad idea. In that spirit, the only teams that did switch conferences, Seattle and New Orleans, are both teams whose fans have suffered such abuse over the years that a new start in a new conference just might offer them enough of a glimmer of hope to keep that gun out of their mouths for one more season.

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