If you follow college football even a little bit, you know that conference expansion and realignment is all the rage right now. This trend has been going on for the last year or two in the NCAA, but it received new life with the recent news that Rutgers and Maryland would be jumping to the Big Ten, a move that is bound to trigger a domino effect of even more teams pulling up stakes and looking for a new, better home in a different conference.
As we all know, baseball has fallen behind football, both professional and college, in terms of popularity but this expansion and realignment trend might be just what MLB needs to get back in the public spotlight. Realigning is totally cool, right? OK, maybe not. But if there is one thing that Bud Selig has never been shy about, it is realigning the divisions. Heck, starting next season the Houston Astros are moving from the NL Central to the AL West. But why stop there? If major conference reconfiguration is good for college football, why not give it a shot in baseball too? The only problem is figuring out which model to follow:
The Big Ten Model
It appears that the Big Ten's plan is to just expand, expand and expand some more. Pretty soon college football is going to be just the Big Ten conference with a handful of divisions with stupid names (Legends and Leaders? Really?). That sure sounds like something right in Bud Selig's wheelhouse, doesn't it?
|Chicago White Sox||Las Vegas*||Montreal*||LA Dodgers|
|Detroit||LA Angels||NY Mets||Milwaukee|
|Puerto Rico*||San Antonio*||Pittsburgh||San Diego|
|Tampa Bay||Seattle||St. Louis||San Francisco|
Just look at the size of those divisions! That's BIG, like the Big Ten! Of course, it means the league had to expand into a few new markets, which is counter-intuitive because it seems like MLB is far more likely to contract two teams than they would be to add two teams, much less eight as suggested here. Still, these giant divisions give baseball that conference like feel of college football, complete with stupid division names. The added bonuses here are that the league is now so big that they'd almost certainly have to do away with that pox on humanity that is interleague play. They could possibly do away with the whole Wild Card thing too by having the top two finishers in each division play for the division title. Or they could really clone college football and divide each division into two smaller divisions of five teams each and have the winners of each sub-division play a division championship series. Eight divisions? 40 teams? What more could you want? Well, other than not having the talent pool become so wildly diluted.
The Big East Model
Let's be honest, this conference expansion fad is all being done for the sake of increased revenue. No confernece is a more sterling example of this than the Big East who has been working feverishly to turn their conference into an overpopulated behemoth with a geographical footprint. This is how you get teams like Boise State, Southern Methodist, and San Diego State in a conference called the Big East. Sure, it makes no sense, but oh that sweet, sweet television revenue is just too good to pass up. MLB has been thriving financially in recent years thanks to local TV revenue, but not all markets are created equally. Perhaps a non-sensical geographic realignment of the divisions can mix things up enough to give the lesser teams a much-needed bite of TV revenue and maybe the diverse divisions will finally put an end to all that nasty east coast bias we keep hearing so much about.
|AL East||AL Central||AL West||NL East||NL Central||NL West|
|Colorado||Atlanta||Cincinnati||Chicago White Sox||Chicago Cubs||Arizona|
|Minnesota||Cleveland||LA Dodgers||St. Louis||Seattle||LA Angels|
|NY Yankees||Milwaukee||NY Mets||San Diego||Toronto||Miami|
|San Francisco||Oakland||Texas||Tampa Bay||Washington||Pittsburgh|
Just look at those divisional footprints! West coast and east coast teams living together? Next thing we know cats and dogs will sharing beds! Sure, none of this makes any sense to fans and creates ungodly travel schedules for the players, but you are missing the big picture: TV MONEY. Teams like the Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees have made a killing on their local TV deals, but teams like the Twins are barely even getting a sniff of that kind of money. What if each division set up their own channel and divided the money evenly? Each division has one powerhouse team to make the channel a must-carry on every cable and satellite provider, so they'll all make a lot of money. Sure, the big market teams won't like it since it caps their earning potential, but such a model would give more money to the small market teams, thus evening the financial playing field. This could be the solution that finally provides Bud Selig with that parity he has long lusted for… assuming the teams all spend their new TV riches on improving the team and not just pocketing it for the owner's personal gain. I'm talking to you, Jeffrey Loria.
The Pac-12 Model
If there is one conference that seems to be going into this realignment business with some actual logic and forethought, it is the Pac-12. Not only are they expanding slowly, but they are adding teams and slotting them into divisions based on actual common sense. They've only added teams close to their established geographical region and have made an express point of constructing the divisions so that teams are grouped in a proper geographic manner, thus taking full advantage of the wildly popular built-in natural rivarlies. Well, gosh, that just makes a ton of sense, doesn't it? Frankly, it probably makes too much sense for MLB to embrace, but let's examine how that might look in MLB:
|Boston||Atlanta||Chicago Cubs||Detroit||Arizona||LA Angels|
|NY Mets||Baltimore||Chicago White Sox||Kansas City||Colorado||LA Dodgers|
|Philadelphia||Tampa Bay||Cleveland||Minnesota||Seattle||San Diego|
|Toronto||Washington||St. Louis||Pittsburgh||Texas||San Francisco|
Just look at that. It is a thing of beauty, no? Everyone tightly packed by region, which is perfect for fostering natural rivalries that have thus far only been exploited through contrived interleague setups. It even has the pleasant side effect of grouping teams according to spending power, with a few exceptions. The big issue is that so many teams would be switching leagues that the AL and the NL as we know them would be dissolved and, in all likelihood, the designated hitter would have to be adopted across the entire league. In other words, several owners would pitch a fit while traditionalist fans would suffer fits of apoplectic rage. But these are just short-term pains. After several years, that pain will have subsided and get replaced by the joy of increased local TV ratings thanks to the increase in rivalry games.