Memo to the USFL: Grow or Die

In 1984, by far its most successful season, the original USFL had 18 teams, split into two nine-team conferences, with one five-team division and one four-team division in each conference.

In the league's inaugural season of 1983, it had 12 teams, and three four-team divisions, with the three division winners and one wild-card team advancing to the playoffs (in 1984 the division champions in each conference plus two wild-card teams therein qualified, for an eight-team postseason tournament).

The Boston Breakers of 1983 became the New Orleans Breakers of 1984 (and then the Portland Breakers of 1985 — so maybe their name should have been the Vagabonds?); the other 11 teams also came back for another try, and six "expansion" teams were added: the Houston Gamblers (whose offensive line certainly played like that of an expansion team, as Jim Kelly, their starting quarterback, was sacked 75 times!), the Jacksonville Bulls, the Memphis Showboats, the Oklahoma Outlaws, the Pittsburgh Maulers, and the San Antonio Gunslingers. The Arizona Wranglers and the Chicago Blitz switched franchises — echoing what the then-Baltimore Colts and Los Angeles Rams had done a dozen years earlier.

Imagine having to play an 18-game schedule with no bye weeks? Well that's what the original USFL did — but the CFL started with two bye weeks (in large part due its odd number of teams) until adding a third such week in 2022.

And without intending to, 49ers tight end George Kittle has picked up the banner dropped by Ben Roethlisberger when he retired by kvetching about Thursday night games in the NFL, giving the league the opening it needs to do two things: first, enabling the league to give each team a second bye week (as it did in 1993), and give every NFL team that has the misfortune of having to play one of these Thursday games an automatic bye the week before; and second, eliminate the off week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, which absolutely no one wants to keep. Doing these two things also means that the Super Bowl gets played on the Presidents' Day weekend, making "Super Bowl Monday" a national holiday, the goal for tens of millions for literally decades.

But back to the USFL: as was the case last year, only three of the league's eight teams will be playing their home games in the city after which they are named (Birmingham, Detroit and Memphis), with the "home" games of the New Jersey Generals and Pittsburgh Maulers being played at Canton, Ohio. The Philadelphia Stars will "host" their games in Detroit, the New Orleans Breakers as well as the Stallions playing in Birmingham, and the Houston Gamblers (love that name!) playing "at home" in Memphis as well as the Showboats.

The simplest way to add four more teams is to bring back the four teams from the original Western Division — the Arizona Wranglers, Denver Gold, Los Angeles Express, and Oakland Invaders — from the old league, except that it would be the San Diego Express instead (and the team's home games would be played at Arizona or Oakland due to the lack of a stadium of suitable size in the San Diego area — but if fan interest proves to be adequate, the city/county of San Diego might reconsider the building of an appropriate venue).

The playoff format of 1983 would be brought back as well as the original Western Division, with the three division winners plus one wild card team qualifying for the postseason. However, since fans have long since gotten accustomed to teams in the same division meeting in the playoffs (there are no restrictions on this in either the NFL nor MLB), the top seed in each conference is always assured of playing the wild card team with the poorer record in that conference, with the other division winner hosting the wild card team with the better record, even if it causes a third meeting between two teams in the same division — as it did in the Eastern Conference in 1984.

And since all teams not in the same division will have one meeting, assuming a 14-game schedule, whoever won that meeting wins the tie-breaker for either the wild card, or playoff seeding if both teams had won their division (in 1983 half of all non-division opponents played each other twice and the other half once).

What remains of the COVID-19 pandemic is no excuse for the USFL to keep their brakes on.

So it's up to you, Daryl Johnston: more teams — or no teams.

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