- DJ Gallo, ESPN.com
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The NHL has proposed a realignment plan that would give the league four divisions instead of six.
Yet while radical realignment has some detractors -- those who are really into the current Southeast division’s Winnipeg-Tampa Bay rivalry, for example -- so far the plan has been accepted positively. This is remarkable, considering the plan was likely conceived at least in some manner by Gary Bettman.
With the NHL realigning, who says we have to stop there? Why can’t we rearrange the furniture a little bit in every league to give them all fresh looks? What rule says we have to have the same boring conferences and divisions year after year after year? Teams will play teams and a champion will be crowned regardless of how a league is structured. Let’s not be slaves to tradition. It’s time to reshuffle every league. Here are a few plans to do it.
Merciful Geographic Realignment
Barring a few exceptions -- the Dallas Cowboys being in the NFC East, for example -- divisions are made up of teams from the regions they claim to represent. We can keep that structure in place and still help our hapless franchises.
Take the Cleveland Browns of the AFC North. While it is appropriate for them geographically to be in a division with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, it doesn’t leave them much opportunity for success. The Browns simply try to make it through games without humiliating themselves. Why force them to constantly play the Super Bowl champion, the team with the most Super Bowl titles and a team that has made back-to-back playoff appearances? It’s cruel.
Under merciful geographic realignment, we would get a Good North Division and a Bad North Division, allowing the Browns to match up with other success-averse teams -- the Lions, Bears and Vikings -- while still maintaining geographic integrity. The Packers would slide over with the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals, giving us competitive football and hope to our less fortunate teams.
Q Rating Realignment
Let’s be honest. No one cares about half the teams in every league, and we have zero interest in watching them play. I don’t need to list the teams. You know them. I know them.
Q rating realignment would split each league into two conferences divided by high-profile teams people care about and the boring no-name franchises we don’t. Only games played between teams in the high Q rating conference would be televised nationally, sparing us from having to watch the teams we usually pretend don’t really exist. (Fine. You want an example? All professional teams in Florida other than the Heat.)
Granted, teams with no following nationally have at least some fans in their home cities. Those local fans would still get to see all of their teams’ games on regional TV. It’s just that the rest of us would be spared from having to witness them.
You may think Q rating realignment seems unfair or dismissive to our Florida teams and those like them (coughColumbusBlueJacketsandPhiladelphia76erscough). Not at all. It actually gives them a chance to raise their profile. At the end of the season, the champion out of the high Q rating conference would play the winner of the low Q rating conference (the low Q rating playoffs would not be televised, of course, because gross and boring) in the championship round. Win that matchup, and the lesser franchise instantly gains millions of bandwagon fans and is placed into the superior conference. The conference that matters.
Q rating realignment would give one nothing franchise a shot at relevance every year. This plan provides greater opportunity than the current system for our many easily ignored franchises, whatever their names are.
College Conference Footprint Realignment
No matter what divisions or groupings pro leagues place their teams into, they will never generate the same amount of fan passion and loyalty that college fans have for their conferences. So why not just place pro teams into professional versions of the SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC, Big 12 and Big East? The same loose -- very very loose -- geographical footprint applies, putting a team like the Cowboys in the Big 12. Or SEC if they’d like. Or the Big Ten, if the Big Ten makes a good offer. One of them. But you get the idea: pro conferences modeled after existing college conferences.
The best part of this plan? We no longer have to hear about how great SEC football is. At least the Pro SEC, that is. Good luck trying to win every Super Bowl with the Jaguars, Dolphins, Buccaneers, Panthers, Falcons, Titans and Saints. Combined, they’ve won just two championships in 40 years. Ha! The SEC stinks at football now.
In the non-sports world, the extremely wealthy have successfully been able to separate themselves from the rest of us. They live in gated communities or exclusive high-rises with private entrances and security. They eat at restaurants we can’t afford. They are kept apart from us on planes via a curtain in first class or simply fly on their own personal jets. At sporting events, they enter sections not open to general ticket holders and sit in luxury boxes behind glass. Money may not buy you happiness, but it does buy you the opportunity to never have to associate with the lower classes.
Why should sports be any different? Baseball has no salary cap. NBA teams can pay their players pretty much whatever they want to if they can afford the luxury tax. But we can give more benefits to our wealthy teams. Why not let the Yankees, or the Cowboys, or the Knicks or the Maple Leafs pay to be in their own division away from the rest of the lower, filthy, poor teams? They could still play games against other divisions -- divisions populated by gutter trash like the Pirates and Royals -- they would just get a free pass into the playoffs thanks to finishing the season as champion of their own personal division, a division title they worked hard for via existing in a big market. Congratulations to the New York Yankees, champions of the New York Yankees Division presented by Bank of America! (Note: for a few extra million, these teams could also buy themselves a first-round bye. Or even a bye right to the title round. It’s open to negotiation.)
Maybe none of these realignment plans will ever take off. But you know Jerry Jones will at least inquire about the last one.