The NFL Owes St. Louis and San Diego

Midway through the 1995 season, the owner of the original Cleveland Browns, Art Modell, announced that the team would be moving to Baltimore effective the following year. As one might well understand, the fan base in Cleveland was none too happy at the move — so much so that two years after Modell died in 2012, a Browns fan went to Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville, Maryland, a Baltimore suburb, where Modell is buried, and took a video of him relieving himself on Modell's grave, and posting it on YouTube, where it went viral.

One year later, Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams played his last game in that city, moving temporarily to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis in 1997 and to Vanderbilt's home field in 1998 while their permanent stadium in Nashville was being built. These vagabond beginnings in the Volunteer State are probably why the franchise is known as "Tennessee" rather than "Nashville" — and they were also the Tennessee Oilers until moving to Nashville in 1999, when they became the Titans (the Minneapolis Lakers did not change their moniker when they moved to Los Angeles in 1960 — and how many lakes in Los Angeles can you name? So Tennessee's lack of oil wells is no excuse).

But were Cleveland or Houston left high and dry for long?

As Ralph Kramden said on an episode of "The Honeymooners," No, sir sir sir!

Cleveland got an expansion franchise in 1999 — and it even got to be named the Browns as Modell had agreed to rename his franchise the Baltimore Ravens after the most famous opus of Edgar Allan Poe, who died in Baltimore (for which the Ravenite Social Club in New York City's Little Italy was also named — by Carlo Gambino, the boss of the New York crime family that still bears his name).

Then it was Houston's turn: after enduring three seasons with an undesirable odd number of teams (forcing at least one team to have a bye every week, including both the first and last weeks of the regular season), the NFL awarded its 32nd franchise to Houston to compensate the city for its loss of the Oilers five years earlier. In addition to rectifying the problem referred to above, it also allowed the league to realign both conferences into the same four four-team divisions that the pre-merger NFL had from 1967 through 1969 — an alignment that was very popular at the time, mainly because it allowed the NFL to double the number of teams that made the playoffs without inviting any second-place teams to the postseason party, which would have alarmed the so-called "purists."

The NFL finally did give in on the latter score — sort of — with the 1970 realignment, coincident with the NFL/AFL merger, which created the NFC and AFC with three divisions in each, and admitted one wild card team along with the three division winners in each conference to the playoffs; this may have been inspired at least in part by what happened in the NFL in 1967, when the then-Baltimore Colts finished 11-1-2 — and were undefeated going into their last game — but did not make the playoffs because they did not win the Western Conference's Coastal Division, finishing with the same record as the Rams, but having lost to them once and tied them once (the Colts lost to the Rams 34-10 in the season finale).

So now it's time to do the same thing by St. Louis and San Diego, right?

St. Louis lost the Rams in 2016, when they returned to Los Angeles — and San Diego lost the Chargers the following year, when they also returned to Los Angeles.

Shouldn't what's good for the goose be good for the gander?

With a population within the city limits alone approaching 1.5 million, San Diego is certainly entitled to an NFL team, and can support one. As for St. Louis, it has a long NFL tradition, and its metropolitan area had a GDP of more than $160 billion in 2017, the most recent year for which such statistics are available — and unlike in San Diego, St. Louis has no stadium problem, self-imposed or otherwise, as The Dome At America's Center (the former Edward Jones Dome) remains very much standing, whereas a San Diego expansion team would have to return to SDCCU Stadium (formerly known as Qualcomm Stadium, and Jack Murphy Stadium before that, where the Chargers played from 1961 through 2016) until a new stadium can be built for them, assuming that the Padres would not agree to even a temporary co-tenancy at Petco Park.

The San Diego team would almost certainly be slotted into the AFC West, while the St. Louis team could be placed in the NFC East, where the Cardinals resided when they played in St. Louis from 1970 through 1987, or the NFC South, three of whose teams were division rivals of the St. Louis Rams from 1995 through 2001, or the NFC North, where they would be the best fit in pure geographical terms.

And with the latest rumors swirling around a compromise between the NFL owners and the NFL Players Association calling for a 17-game schedule rather than an 18-game schedule, the 17th game can, in most cases, simply be one more game apportioned on the basis of first vs. first, second vs. second, etc. from the previous season, including the two fifth-place teams, one in each conference, which would always play each other.

Depending on who plays who in the rotation, the teams in the five-team divisions would either play no "position games" at all (once every four years, when the two five-team divisions play each other), or only one, while the teams in the four-team divisions would play one, two, or three, based on how many five-team divisions, if any, each such division is playing against that year — and since not every team in the same conference would be playing the same number of games within the conference due to all the permutations involved, in some cases one team finishing in a tie with another for a playoff spot or playoff seed would finish ahead of that team in conference record by half a game, e.g., 8-4 over 8-5, so that the arcane tie-breakers that come after conference record would not come into play. That would mean fewer headaches all the way round.

Having 34 teams rather than 32 would also mean less opposition to expanding the playoff field from 12 teams to 14, because 14 out 34 is 41.2% while 14 out of 32 is 43.8%, exceeding the high water mark reached from 1990 through 1994, when 42.9% of all teams (42.9%) made the playoffs.

In a world where everything relates to everything else, there is no reason not to do the right thing — which in this case means bringing the NFL back to St. Louis and San Diego.

Comments and Conversation

November 7, 2019

banp:

Drivel. The NFL does not owe anybody anything.

November 9, 2019

Anthony Brancato:

How come the NFL felt that they did owe Cleveland and Houston? And if the owners want 18 games or even 17 games, they will have to add two more teams. Try formatting a 16-game schedule with 34 teams. I have - over and over again. It would be an absolute mess.

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