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article imageOp-Ed: NFL expansion: Is a 'new' team the way to go?

By Vincent Gerace     Aug 7, 2015 in Sports
As the NFL season looms fans get ready to cheer on their home team. With rumor winds blowing harder than ever about an NFL return to LA, expansion of the league is a hot topic going into the 2015 season.
As the 2015 National Football League season is set to get underway with the Hall of Fame Game this coming Sunday there is the idea over this year, now more than ever, that it could be one teams last season in their current home city. Speculation is that the new host city will be Los Angeles, with London, England being kicked around as a possible expansion destination as well. Addressing the latter first, the NFL has had some success hosting games in London in recent years. That has helped formulate the idea that an oversees franchise could be met with quality fanfare and relative success. This idea has seemingly been hushed in the past couple of seasons, though select teams will continue to sacrifice a home game to play in London once a year. However, the future of football in Los Angeles has been gaining traction.
The current expectation is that a decision on a team headed to LA will be made as early as next season and the franchise will not be a true expansion team but rather a relocated team that currently exists in the structure of the league. The top candidates at this moment are the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, and St. Louis Rams. If one were to guess, the odds on favorite would be the Rams. Like Oakland, that Rams already have history in The City of Angels. The Rams moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles in 1946, they remained in Southern California until 1995. Only having been in St. Louis for 20 years now, and with that area being a baseball first community, the move for the Rams could be an easy one.
The part about this move that makes the most sense is that Los Angeles has had franchises before. The reason this is a major factor in this being a good move is the last three teams to be introduced to the NFL have been placed in cities that have previously held franchises. This allowed the teams to enter a market that already had a fan-base built in. Such was the case in 2002 when the Houston Texans made their debut to a town that was without a team since 1996 when the Oilers split for Tennessee. The same can be said for the 1999 reincarnation of the Cleveland Browns, a franchise that had been on hiatus with a starving, passionate fan-base since the team moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens who filled the void left by the Baltimore Colts who took off in middle of the night for Indianapolis for the 1983 season. Adding LA to this would make them the fourth city in a row to be granted a team when they have previously had one.
That idea brings me to this, why stop at cities with history in the NFL? It makes perfect sense that best football league in the world would target areas with a previous history in pro football to capitalize on an already existing fan-base, but there's only so many cities that previously held NFL teams. Why not expand that footprint to areas the had a presence in other professional football leagues?
As the NFL continues its growth it is not inconceivable to think we could see a forty team league in the next 15 years. Wouldn't it be intriguing and appealing to fans if the league did this by placing teams in cities formerly home to teams in such leagues as the USFL? The United States Football League lasted three years in the 1980's and featured great players like Doug Flutie, Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly, Reggie White, and others. The fans were passionate about their spring league and the first ever USFL Championship game was the most viewed pro-football title game ever watched, beating the Super Bowl to that point. The United Football League was another three year run for an alternate league. Spanning 2009 to 2012 this league was able to sustain reasonable success playing in the fall and also featured its share of quality talent like former Pro-Bowl Quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Daunte Culpepper, as well as Simeon Rice and Ahman Green and other NFL Alums. Another league that has left several markets without a team has been the Canadian Football League. Yes, the CFL has had a presence in US markets and has had NFL caliber players compete in it. That talented list of players has consisted of the previously mentioned Flutie and Garcia but also Warren Moon, and Joe Kapp, to name a couple additional quarterbacks. The likes of Cameron Wake, current Miami Dolphin, and Joe Horn also played the twelve man version of the game; Horn did so in Memphis Tennessee the town the CFL's Mad Dogs called home, as one of their American franchises.
If the NFL does expand as widely and rapidly as some expect it to, I think it best to stay away from places like London and keep the league American. It is our game that was created on our soil,iIt's a great thing that the game has expanded to other cultures but our NFL should remain in the United States. There is plenty of room for expansion on our own country's land and it should be done by placing teams in cities where USFL, CFL, and even UFL teams have previously played. During their run, which is still going strong up north, these three leagues have placed teams in ten states that do not have NFL franchises with two teams, from different leagues calling Birmingham, Alabama home as well as Las Vegas, Nevada.
With the NFL's recent trend of "expanding" to markets that use two house teams they should seriously consider gaining the rights and branding of these former franchises, including their history in other leagues and reestablish them as reincarnated versions in the NFL, much like what was done with the Browns upon their return in 1999. The team name, colors, and history still intact and a new version of the team up from the ashes. This could also help serve the league in expanding the playoffs, which has been a trending topic as of late. Instead of adding another "Wild Card" team in each conference these former teams could be purchased, and a new division could be added to each conference, with some possible realignment.
Imagine if you will, a 40-team NFL, each conference, AFC and NFC, broken down into five divisions. The north, south, east and west we see in both conferences today plus the addition of a central division in each conference. The alignment could stay almost the same and no team would have to jump conferences like the Seahawks did when the Texans joined the league in 2002, however a couple teams made need to shuffle about with respect to historic rivalries but also geography.
As and example, let's say the league, and its division alignment looked like this:
AFC North NFC North
Cleveland Browns Chicago Bears
Cincinnati Bengals Detroit Lions
Baltimore Ravens Green Bay Packers
Pittsburgh Steelers Minnesota Vikings
AFC South NFC South
Jacksonville Jaguars Atlanta Falcons
Indianapolis Colts Carolina Panthers
Houston Texans New Orleans Saints
Tennessee Titans Tampa Bay Buccaneers
AFC East NFC East
New York Jets New York Giants
Miami Dolphins Dallas Cowboys
Buffalo Bills Philadelphia Eagles
Boston Patriots Washington Redskins
AFC West NFC West
Oakland Raiders Seattle Seahawks
San Diego Chargers San Francisco 49ers
Las Vegas Locomotives (UFL) Las Angeles Rams
Portland Breakers(USFL) Arizona Cardinals
AFC Central NFC Central
Denver Broncos Oklahoma Outlaws (USFL)
Kansas City Chiefs Birmingham Stallions (USFL)
Hartford Colonials (UFL) Virginia Destroyers (UFL)
Omaha Nighthawks (UFL) Shreveport Pirates (CFL)
In this alignment eight former pro teams have been resurrected, four from the USFL, three from the UFL and one from the CFL. Geographically it makes sense because minimal movement must take place with already existing teams for the divisions to be reasonable based on team location. In the NFC we would get a brand new division of four additional teams and in the AFC two new teams would jump into the West and the Broncos and Chiefs would become a part of the new Central, though they would move divisions they would still get to keep the passion of their rivalry going strong. This would give the NFL at least one team representing 29 different states and the District of Columbia. As one sees from looking at this "new" alignment the Rams are now residing in Los Angeles, as they likely will be soon and the Patriots have gone back to the days featuring a Minute-Man on their helmet as the "Boston Patriots." This is simply because one of the expansion teams is the UFL's Hartford Colonials and, with Connecticut being in New England it would be odd to have a team represent part of an area, and another represent the whole thing. The best part being, the fan-base already exists and the teams already have history. This would give the league a fourteen team playoff with the one seed in each conference receiving a bye week in the first round as there would be five division champions per conference and the two wild card teams, just as we see today.
If the NFL does choose to make the rumors true and cast a wide net on expansion in the next two decades or so this is the way to do it. Give the fans of these former teams something to be passionate about while growing the NFL brand and staying in America. It's a win, win, win.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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