What’s Going on with Michigan Football?

Despite a relatively unremarkable season, Michigan football and in particular, Jim Harbaugh, tends to get a larger share of national coverage than any other program. This year the coverage has had a largely negative slant, despite a modest 8-3 record to date. This is a team that is hitting their pre-season expectation almost exactly (this site projected 8.874 wins, Bill Connelly’s S&P+ projected 8.9 wins, and the Bovada over/under was set at 9 wins), yet if you tuned into ESPN this week you’d think the program is in shambles. So, what’s really going on with Michigan football? Let’s take a look at the national sports media talking points, but with the intent of finding the truth rather than baiting for more readers/viewers with sensational proclamations.

  • Expectations have not been met

This is both the most common and the most puzzling take I have found, especially as it pertains to this year. Michigan is going to end up, at worst, one game below expectations this season. So technically, yes, they very well could fall just short of their preseason expectations. However, they are far from the only team who will pay out on the ‘under’ this year. Among the Power 5 teams (65 in all, including Notre Dame), 4 are exactly on their over/under total with only one (Northwestern) expected to move above it, 9 are 0.5 below with only 5 projected to move ahead, another 6 (including Michigan) are one game below, and 22 are too far below to get above their mark this year. This puts Michigan at or just below the median for Power 5 teams. Hardly a headline-worthy disappointment.

 

Team Conference  Wins Losses  Over/Under Difference
Mississippi State SEC            8 3 5.5 2.5
South Carolina SEC            8 3 5.5 2.5
Purdue B1G            5 6 2.5 2.5
Boston College ACC            6 5 4 2
Wisconsin B1G          11 0 9.5 1.5
Georgia SEC          10 1 8.5 1.5
TCU XII            9 2 7.5 1.5
Notre Dame Ind            9 2 7.5 1.5
Washington State P12            9 2 7.5 1.5
Michigan State B1G            8 3 6.5 1.5
Wake Forest ACC            7 4 5.5 1.5
Iowa State XII            7 4 5.5 1.5
Arizona P12            7 4 5.5 1.5
California P12            5 6 3.5 1.5
Miami FL ACC          10 0 9 1
Arizona State P12            6 5 5 1
Virginia ACC            6 5 5 1
Rutgers B1G            4 7 3 1
Alabama SEC          11 0 10.5 0.5
Oklahoma XII          10 1 9.5 0.5
Clemson ACC          10 1 9.5 0.5
USC P12          10 2 9.5 0.5
Auburn SEC            9 2 8.5 0.5
Maryland B1G            4 7 3.5 0.5
Northwestern B1G            8 3 8 0
Kentucky SEC            7 4 7 0
Texas A&M SEC            7 4 7 0
West Virginia XII            7 4 7 0
Penn State B1G            9 2 9.5 -0.5
Stanford P12            8 3 8.5 -0.5
North Carolina State ACC            7 4 7.5 -0.5
Missouri SEC            6 5 6.5 -0.5
Iowa B1G            6 5 6.5 -0.5
Duke ACC            5 6 5.5 -0.5
Ole Miss SEC            5 6 5.5 -0.5
Texas Tech XII            5 6 5.5 -0.5
Syracuse ACC            4 7 4.5 -0.5
Washington P12            9 2 10 -1
Oklahoma State XII            8 3 9 -1
LSU SEC            8 3 9 -1
Virginia Tech ACC            8 3 9 -1
Michigan B1G            8 3 9 -1
Indiana B1G            5 6 6 -1
Ohio State B1G            9 2 10.5 -1.5
Texas XII            6 5 7.5 -1.5
UCLA P12            5 6 6.5 -1.5
Utah P12            5 6 6.5 -1.5
Georgia Tech ACC            5 5 6.5 -1.5
Illinois B1G            2 9 3.5 -1.5
Oregon P12            6 5 8 -2
Kansas State XII            6 5 8 -2
Vanderbilt SEC            4 7 6 -2
Kansas XII            1 10 3 -2
Louisville ACC            7 4 9.5 -2.5
Colorado P12            5 6 7.5 -2.5
Minnesota B1G            5 6 7.5 -2.5
Nebraska B1G            4 7 7 -3
Arkansas SEC            4 7 7 -3
Pitt ACC            4 7 7 -3
Tennessee SEC            4 7 7.5 -3.5
Florida SEC            4 6 8 -4
North Carolina ACC            3 8 7 -4
Oregon State P12            1 10 5.5 -4.5
Florida State ACC            4 6 9.5 -5.5
Baylor XII            1 10 7.5 -6.5

 

Expanding the scope further to Harbaugh’s entire Michigan coaching career:

Year Over/Under Regular Season Wins
2015 7.5 9
2016 10 10
2017 9 8 (chance for 1 more)

 

Cumulatively, this puts Harbaugh’s regular seasons at worst a half game above expectations. In addition Michigan is 1-1 in the postseason under Harbaugh where the win was a blowout and the loss was by one point.

 

  • Jim Harbaugh is going to leave for X team after this season

Every year since Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor (and even in the days before he was hired at Michigan) there have been rumors that he will be coaching at somewhere besides Michigan the following season. His name was connected with the Raiders, Bears, Jets, and Dolphins in 2014 before choosing Michigan, the Colts in 2015, the Rams in 2016, the Colts again in 2017, and even UCLA was mentioned this week. He hasn’t left yet, and now there are rumors of a lifetime contract with Michigan which could be an attempt to finally dampen these annual rumors that he is leaving.

 

  • Harbaugh’s salary is too high

Harbaugh’s salary is often reported as being $9 million, which is not true. It is $7 million. I’m not sure why this matters enough to talk about, but for whatever reason it is a common talking point when Harbaugh’s name comes up. The $9 million comes from a 2016 life insurance policy which included two $2 million premium payments for the insurance in addition to the $5 million salary.

Coach salaries are misconstrued to be proportional to the number of wins a coach earns with the team, but that’s not really how they work. Their salary represents their market value, i.e. how much an entity is willing to pay them for their services. This is no different than any other profession. If a company wants to keep an employee that they deem valuable who is being pursued by a competitor, the current employer may offer a higher salary to ward off the competition and get their employee to stay. This does not mean that the employee will instantly perform better at their job. The higher salary is a reflection of the demand for their services; their perceived value.

 

  • Harbaugh’s antics are all for show

Everything Harbaugh does is with a purpose. That purpose is most commonly recruiting exposure and improving the student-athlete experience for his players. Things like trips to Florida and Rome with the entire team for spring practices are a way to reward his players which were (at the time) within the NCAA rules. These experiences are being provided instead of under the table payments to players, which is a less out-in-the-open but much more accommodated reward system.

Stories of unusual recruiting tactics surface from time-to-time, whether it be climbing trees with a recruit or spending the night at their house, and these are met with enthusiasm by the recruits but with derision by opposing fans and media. But if it works and is within the rules, why should it stop?

There was even ridicule of his actions on the sidelines, as if he is the only coach to ever express emotion during a game. He has since dialed it back in 2017 after the introduction of a rule created to detract his outbursts. He was penalized once in 2016 before this rule existed, but has not been penalized since.

  • “His best finish is 3rd in the division”

This one is technically true, but really needs some context as its aim is only to sound degrading. In 2015, Michigan finished ranked 12th in the final AP poll. Two teams in their division finished ranked 4th and 6th, respectively. In 2016, Michigan finished ranked 10th in the final AP poll. And again, two teams in the division finished ranked higher, this time 6th and 7th. The claim of finishing 3rd does not paint an accurate picture of the success, as 3rd out of 7 sounds much worse than 12th or 10th out of 128. This claim is intentionally misleading, and really only speaks to the strength of their division as no other division had 3 teams ranked as highly as the Big Ten East had in either 2015 or 2016.

  • Michigan’s roster is full of 4 and 5-star players

Michigan typically has highly ranked recruiting classes. The classes which could make up the 2017 roster (2013 through 2017) were ranked as follows:

Recruiting Class Class Rank # of commits
2017 5th 30
2016 8th 28
2015 37th 14
2014 20th 16
2013 4th 27

This breakdown implies that the youth on the team and any players who stuck around for a 5th year would make up the most talented portion of the roster. However, attrition played a huge role in shaping this roster, nearly all of which occurred in recruiting classes assembled prior to Harbaugh’s arrival. Here’s a list of all the players from one of the five classes above who left the program early for reasons other than entering the NFL Draft, and their last year of competition with Michigan:

Recruiting Class Player Star Rating Position Final year with program
2015 Brian Cole 4 ATH 2015
2015 Keith Washington 3 ATH 2016
2013 Ross Douglas 3 CB 2015
2013 Reon Dawson 3 CB 2015
2014 Michael Ferns 4 LB 2014
2013 Logan Tulley-Tillman 4 OL 2015
2013 Kyle Bosch 4 OL 2014
2013 Dan Samuelson 3 OL 2014
2015 Grant Newsome 4 OL 2016*
2013 Chris Fox 4 OL 2014
2013 David Dawson 4 OL 2016
2013 Shane Morris 4 QB 2016
2013 Derrick Green 5 RB 2015
2016 Devin Asiasi 4 TE 2016
2014 Freddy Canteen 4 WR 2015
2013 Csont’e York 3 WR 2013
2013 Da’Mario Jones 3 WR 2015
2016 Nate Johnson 3 WR 2016
2013 Jaron Dukes 3 WR 2015

*Newsome injured his leg early in the 2016 season and has not yet returned.

Note that there are 6 offensive linemen who left the program earlier than expected; 5 of which would be 5th year seniors and Newsome who would be the starting left tackle. Offensive line also happens to be the most heavily criticized position on Michigan’s roster, and this illustrates why there is a problem. Some attrition is to be expected in football, but losing 6 would-be veteran players from the same position group would crater any roster.

Also note that 10 players from the 2013 class left the program after 3 or fewer years. Again, some attrition is to be expected, but losing over a third of a class well before their eligibility runs out will eventually take a toll.

  • Harbaugh has never won a championship

This take is bizarre in two ways. First, it is very selective in what is deemed a championship, as Harbaugh led the University of San Diego to two conference championships (2005 & 2006) in his 3 years as their head coach, Stanford to an Orange Bowl championship in 2010, and the 49ers to an NFC championship in 2012. This implies that conference championships don’t count at the FCS level or in the NFL, but at the FBS level not only do they count but count for more than a postseason major bowl victory and final AP ranking of 4th. Secondly, it implies that a championship is the only criteria for a successful coach. He has been at Michigan for just under 3 seasons, and here is the list of teams with equal or higher winning percentages in that same time frame:

Rank Team Record Win Pct.
1 Alabama 39-2     0.9512
2 Clemson 38-3     0.9268
t3 Ohio State 32-5     0.8649
t3 Oklahoma 32-5     0.8649
5 Wisconsin 32-6     0.8421
6 Stanford 30-8     0.7895
t7 Michigan 28-9     0.7568
t7 Georgia 28-9     0.7568
t7 Oklahoma State 28-9     0.7568

 

  • He wears out his welcome

Harbaugh’s coaching trajectory has been as follows:

Team Title Years
Oakland Raiders QB coach 2002-2003
San Diego Toreros (FCS) Head coach 2004-2006
Stanford Cardinal Head coach 2007-2010
San Francisco 49ers Head coach 2011-2014
Michigan Wolverines Head coach 2015-present

Each move prior to landing at Michigan has been an obvious step-up, which tends to happen for coaches who perform well. The move from the 49ers to Michigan can be interpreted as a step down, but it cannot be interpreted as a demotion since he chose Michigan over numerous other NFL positions as shown in linked article earlier and it was not a firing but a mutual decision.

The national media has bungled their coverage on Harbaugh at Michigan since before he arrived in December 2014. They have gotten in wrong every year since. Why should anyone trust them to get it right today or going forward?

If you want the real story of what’s going on with Michigan football, the national media is not the place to go. Their job is to cover everything a little bit, it is inch-deep/mile-wide coverage. If you want in-depth coverage, you need to go to a local source, media that only covers this team. Or better yet, go straight to the source: Jim Harbaugh has a weekly podcast with his dad co-hosting. Amazon is chronicling the 2017 Michigan football season with a series set to air in January on Amazon Prime.

 

So, what’s left? Michigan is performing as closely to expectations as possible, Harbaugh is not leaving for the NFL, and Michigan’s program is actually in decent shape for the future with a young, talented roster. Pretty boring, right? But if this were the story that was being told, nobody would pay attention; nobody would care because it isn’t interesting.

If Michigan loses tomorrow, all of these points will be harped on again as if there is a serious problem to address. And if Michigan wins, they will be celebrated excessively and most of this will be forgotten. At least until their next loss.

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The Safest Bet in Sports

I’ve promised that I would never place a 100% win probability on any game on this site, and that will always be true here. My goal is to determine the likelihood of outcomes and identify the safest picks. But what makes a pick safe? When it comes to sports, especially at a non-professional level as is the primary focus here, there really doesn’t appear to be a truly safe pick. But when a specific match-up features the same result, year after year, it becomes difficult to believe that a different outcome will occur in the next event.

This week, Michigan State plays at Michigan. This will be the 11th meeting in which Mark Dantonio is the Spartans head coach. In the previous 10 meetings between these two teams, against the spread, he is 10-0. His team covers when they’re favored and when they’re underdogs. Home or away; doesn’t matter. Here’s what I’m talking about:

MSU_Michigan_lines

2007_MSU_Michigan_openingline

Sources for graphics above: http://www.oddsshark.com/stats/dbresults/football/ncaaf

http://archive.scoresandodds.com/grid_20071103.html

I include the 2nd graphic to show that the line opened at Michigan -4.5, which MSU did cover. The first graphic shows that the line closed at Michigan -3.5, which MSU did not cover. At that point we’re really splitting hairs though; this streak is truly incredible.

The opening line for this game on October 7th is -12.5 in favor of Michigan. I’m not saying this is a guaranteed cover for MSU, but I mean…10 in a row? Something is going on here that the Vegas oddsmakers have failed to recognize for a decade. Will this year be any different? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Bracket Guidelines

I thought about writing a full preview of the bracket, complete with match-up breakdowns and identifying the most likely contenders. Upon researching however, I found that everything I planned to include is already out there for consumption; I would not be adding any value by piling on with yet another opinion. Instead, the goal of this preview is to provide a guide on how to set up your bracket to put it in position to win an office pool. Will this guarantee that your bracket will win? Absolutely not. The idea is to get out of your own way and focus on the important aspect of the bracket: identify teams which are most likely to advance. I have a few rules I like to keep in mind when filling out a bracket, and I only go against them when I have a really good reason for it.

  • First, set up your bracket with the 1 seeds advancing to the Sweet 16 and the 2,3, and 4 seeds advancing to round 2. Historically, these seeds have had at least an 80% success rate in these games, and there is a considerable drop-off from the 4 seed to 5 seed in round 1. If you have a good reason to go against a couple of these, go for it. Otherwise leave these as they are and move on.
  • Protect the king. Think of each round of the bracket like a group of chess pieces. The king is the most important; you must protect it at all costs. This is your eventual champion, and it is important to not voluntarily drop a potential champion in the first weekend. Historically, there is a 91% chance that the eventual champion is a 1,2,3 or 4 seed, which is why the first rule is to keep all of them at least one round. Similarly, think of all the latest rounds as the more valuable chess pieces and the 1-win teams as pawns. Upsets are fun to pick, but if you only have that team getting to the round of 32 at the expense of a team that could make a deep run it isn’t worth it.
  • A coach shouldn’t be picked to go more than 2 rounds further than their current best round. For example, if a coach has never taken a team to a Final Four, his current team should not be picked as a national champion. Similarly, if this is a coach’s first tournament appearance, his team should not be picked beyond the 2nd round (ignore play-in games). This is not a cover-all-scenarios rule; there certainly have been exceptions. But in general, it’s a good idea to keep a coach’s track record in tournaments in mind.
  • Be aware of recent injuries to key players. If a team has gone through most/all of the regular season with injuries, then this can be ignored as we have a good sense of what that team is already. A player who has been sidelined since early February or later should be factored in.
  • Superstar players can take over a game. Look at the list of Naismith semifinalists and all-conference 1st team players from the power conferences. Teams with multiple players on these lists are more likely to advance than teams with no players on these lists.
  • Veteran players with tournament experience. Teams with a lot of players who have played in tournament games will tend to perform more consistently to or even above their expectations. The first-timers are more likely to falter under the brighter lights.
  • High win percentage away from home. Teams that struggled on the road or at neutral sites during the season won’t all of a sudden figure it out at tournament time.
  • Capability to blow out teams. If a team struggled to put away bad teams during the season, they are ripe for an upset in the tournament. Look for upsets of teams who weren’t able to crush anybody during the regular season.
  • Strong record in close games. The tournament is full of them, so pick teams who tend to fare well in a tight match-up.

Metrics are important, but I’d tend to shy away from them unless they have a proven success rate over time. If you have something that you think is time-proof, test it out on the Algebracket over multiple years.

I’ll post my own bracket as soon as it is complete. Good luck out there!

 

 

College Football Divisional Overhaul

College football expansion/realignment has been discussed nearly every off-season for the past decade. The latest wave involves the Big XII (which currently consists of 10 schools) and their future plans for expansion. Schools that are not currently members of another Power 5 conference are mentioned as candidates to join the Big XII. This list includes Houston, BYU, Boise State, Memphis, Colorado State, Central Florida, South Florida, Cincinnati, and Connecticut. The pros and cons have been weighed for both sides; the conference can expand their media market footprint and thus bring a stronger hand to the negotiation table when it comes time for new TV contracts (the current Big XII contract runs through 2025, but expansion could trigger negotiation of a more lucrative deal), and the schools that are invited to move up could increase their TV revenue ten-fold. The downside might be a watered down share of the contract for current members as well as a less appealing overall strength of schedule.

The implications of expansion have been discussed at length many times over, so I want to approach it from a different angle. The Power 5 conferences (and Notre Dame) consist of 65 teams which compete for a spot in the 4 team College Football Playoff. Technically, the rest of FBS is eligible for a berth in this playoff, but it is an unwritten understanding that this will never happen without very extenuating circumstances. The entire FBS would be better off if the Power 5 teams broke away to form their own division, and the rest of FBS merged with the FCS. Here’s what that would look like.

The New Division: 4 Conferences of 16 Teams

Step 1 of creating a new division of college football is to determine who is included. Currently there are 65 candidates; a team that isn’t in the Power 5 by now has missed their chance (the divisions are fluid long-term; transitions in future years are inevitable, but this article is only looking at a theoretical starting point). Only 64 will be included, so who gets left out? I’ll get to that in a minute. First up, the 4 conferences: ACC, Big Ten, PAC12, and SEC. The Big XII and Notre Dame will be split amongst the 4 remaining conferences as follows:

Teams to ACC: West Virginia and Notre Dame; 16 total

Teams to Big Ten: Texas and Oklahoma; 16 total

Teams to PAC12: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State; 16 total

Teams to SEC: Baylor, TCU; 16 total

Remaining: Iowa State

This doesn’t necessarily mean Iowa State is left out of the new division, however they are on the very short list of candidates. Other candidates to consider: Texas Tech and Rutgers. Why these teams? It comes down to fitting in with their peers. First, they are each geographic outliers, which has led to complications forming a rivalry. Sure, Iowa State has a natural rivalry with Iowa (which will ultimately be their saving grace), but what about Texas Tech and Rutgers? Do either of these schools have a reciprocated rivalry within the new division? Texas Tech is at best a secondary rival to Oklahoma State, and at best tertiary to any other Texas team. Rutgers doesn’t have a rivalry with anyone; they are a misfit in the Big Ten already so their absence would go unnoticed. To avoid getting into a diatribe on any of these teams, I’m going to affirm the move of Texas Tech to the PAC12, move Iowa State to the Big Ten, and push Rutgers down to the lower division. This allows each of these 3 to remain amongst their natural peers.

The New Division splits up very nicely, preserving traditional rivalries and prioritizing geographic proximity:

 

ACC Big Ten PAC12 SEC
North East East East
Boston College Illinois Arizona Alabama
Louisville Indiana Arizona State Auburn
Notre Dame Maryland Colorado Florida
Pitt Michigan Kansas Georgia
Syracuse Michigan State Kansas State Kentucky
Virginia Ohio State Oklahoma State South Carolina
Virginia Tech Penn State Texas Tech Tennessee
West Virginia Purdue Utah Vanderbilt
South West West West
Clemson Iowa California Arkansas
Duke Iowa State Oregon Baylor
Florida State Minnesota Oregon State LSU
Georgia Tech Nebraska Stanford Missouri
Miami FL Northwestern UCLA Mississippi State
North Carolina Oklahoma USC Ole Miss
North Carolina State Texas Washington TCU
Wake Forest Wisconsin Washington State Texas A&M

 

Scheduling

Each conference will be two 8 team divisions. Their schedules will include 7 games against the rest of their division and 3  cross-divisional games within their conference. Two non-conference games will allow for at most 1 game against a team from the lower division (in order to preserve long-running rivalries like Colorado/Colorado State, Utah/BYU, and Notre Dame/Navy). The 10 conference games will feature at most 5 home games, but will allow for neutral sites where both teams agree (e.g. Texas/Oklahoma, Florida/Georgia). Neutral site games do not count against the 5 home game cap.

The season will feature 12 games for each of the 64 teams. The 12 game schedule will allow for at most 6 home games (i.e. 1 non-conference home game per year); the remaining 6 can be set up as road or neutral sites, so long as the 6 home game cap is not violated. This ensures a competitive balance among the 64, and removes the ridiculous claim that a team needs 7 home games to “balance their budget.” Plus, bonus home games can be earned in the post-season (details below).

The season would be played over a 13 week span from the last Saturday in August to the Saturday before Thanksgiving (in 2016 this would be August 27 through November 19) with one bye week; all games are on Saturdays. One exhibition game is allowed two weeks prior to the start of the regular season. This can be played against a team from any division level and does not count towards the regular season record and is not used in any tiebreakers or rankings.

Post-season games

Each division winner will play in their conference’s championship game Thanksgiving weekend on the campus of the team with the better conference record (tiebreakers applied as necessary). The four conference champions will play in a 4 team playoff, with semis again at home sites two weeks after the conference championship games. The national championship would be played New Year’s Day at the Rose Bowl.

The Expanded FCS Division

The teams outside the 64 in the new division would join the current FCS division and abide by their rules. Less money coming in the door from TV revenue is a likely consequence, but reduced scholarship obligations and long-distance travel costs would lessen the financial burden currently facing most non-Power 5 programs. Additionally, this would finally enable the Boise States of the world to compete for a national championship.

Final Thoughts

I would love to see college football take this route because it provides everyone with a more level playing field amongst their peers, cuts down on low-quality matchups, and moves post-season games to home sites. Additionally, it creates more interest in the FCS level, as fans of teams in the new division could adopt their local FCS team in a similar fashion to minor league baseball. The financial burden on the new FCS teams would be substantially reduced, lowering the pressure on those teams to meet unrealistic expectations against teams with exponentially more resources.

Unfortunately this will likely never happen, as smaller schools would rather hold out hope of eventually being called up to a major conference and receiving their windfall of TV revenue. The Big XII needs to be very careful with their selection of new teams, but most importantly they need to be accommodating to their most high-profile teams so the conference has a future. If Texas and/or Oklahoma leave, the Big XII is done as a major conference. The best-case scenario for the Big XII is that the College Football Playoff expands beyond 4 teams so their conference may be granted an auto-bid. Four playoff teams for five major conferences is not sustainable, but whose hand will be forced first?

Where should they play?

*Disclaimer: This exercise is entirely hypothetical. I’m not suggesting a mass-relocation of teams should be done or is even remotely feasible. This was merely to appease my own curiosity.

When news broke that the St Louis Rams were moving back to Los Angeles and the San Diego Chargers may soon follow suit, it raised questions of why are they moving, and specifically why are they moving to Los Angeles. The short answer is that LA has a much larger population and thus would be better suited to support an NFL team than virtually any US city, let alone St Louis or San Diego. Going from zero teams to two may seem like a bit of an over-correction, but LA is so much larger than every US city save New York (who hosts multiple teams in all four leagues) that it makes sense that they may host two teams from the NFL (more precisely, they should only be adding one team to their metro-area. More on that later).

I was curious whether or not all of the 122 major pro sports teams (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) in the US and Canada are properly distributed, so I did some analysis based on metro-area populations (according to Nielsen as of early 2015) and discovered that the teams are distributed quite well according to population, but there are a few exceptions. First, let’s run through the numbers:

  • 48 different metro-areas have at least 1 team (41 US, 7 Canada)
  • 31 different metro-areas have at least 2 teams (30 US, 1 Canada)
  • The largest metro-area without any teams is Hartford & New Haven, CT (the Whalers never should have left!), which sees 16 smaller metro-areas with teams, five of which (Kansas City, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Buffalo) have two teams.
  • The smallest multi-team metro-area is Buffalo at just under 1.6 million people. The smallest US metro-area with a team is Green Bay-Appleton (1.1 million) and the smallest in Canada is Winnipeg (just over 1 million).
  • 33 teams would need to be re-located to efficiently distribute them across the metro-areas.
  • The Bay Area (SF/Oakland/SJ) loses the most teams (from 6 down to 3).
  • The smallest metro-area to become a multi-team market is Sacramento.
  • 75 metro-areas would have at least one team.

The full chart shows more detail, including population and which teams move where. Here is a quick-glance summary of changes:

Rank US Rank Can. Rank Metro-area State/Prov Total Should have
1 1 New York NY 9 9
2 2 Los Angeles CA 7 7
3 3 Chicago IL 5 4
4 1 Toronto-Hamilton ON 3 4
5 4 Philadelphia PA 4 4
6 5 Dallas-Ft. Worth TX 4 3
7 6 San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose CA 6 3
8 7 Boston (Manchester) MA 4 3
9 8 Washington, DC (Hagrstwn) DC 4 3
10 9 Atlanta GA 3 3
11 10 Houston TX 3 3
12 2 Montreal QB 1 2
13 11 Phoenix (Prescott) AZ 4 2
14 12 Detroit MI 4 2
15 13 Tampa-St.Pete (Sarasota) FL 3 2
16 14 Seattle-Tacoma WA 2 2
17 15 Minneapolis-St. Paul MN 4 2
18 16 Miami-Ft. Lauderdale FL 4 2
19 17 Denver CO 4 2
20 18 Orlando-Daytona Bch-Melbrn FL 1 2
21 19 Cleveland-Akron (Canton) OH 3 2
22 3 Vancouver-Victoria BC 1 2
23 20 Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto CA 1 2
24 21 St. Louis MO 2 1
25 22 Pittsburgh PA 3 1
26 23 Portland OR 1 1
27 24 Charlotte NC 2 1
28 25 Raleigh-Durham (Fayetvlle) NC 1 1
29 26 Baltimore MD 2 1
30 27 Indianapolis IN 2 1
31 28 San Diego CA 2 1
32 29 Nashville TN 2 1
33 30 Hartford & New Haven CT 0 1
34 31 Kansas City MO 2 1
35 32 Columbus OH 1 1
36 33 San Antonio TX 1 1
37 34 Salt Lake City UT 1 1
38 35 Milwaukee WI 2 1
39 36 Cincinnati OH 2 1
40 37 Greenvll-Spar-Ashevll-And NC 0 1
41 38 West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce FL 0 1
42 39 Austin TX 0 1
43 4 Kitchener-London ON 0 1
44 40 Grand Rapids-Kalmzoo-B.Crk MI 0 1
45 41 Las Vegas NV 0 1
46 42 Norfolk-Portsmth-Newpt Nws VA 0 1
47 43 Birmingham (Ann and Tusc) AL 0 1
48 44 Oklahoma City OK 1 1
49 45 Harrisburg-Lncstr-Leb-York PA 0 1
50 46 Greensboro-H. Point-W.Salem NC 0 1
51 5 Edmonton AB 1 1
52 47 Alburquerque-Santa-Fe NM 0 1
53 6 Calgary AB 1 1
54 48 Jacksonville FL 1 1
55 49 Louisville KY 0 1
56 50 Memphis TN 1 1
57 51 New Orleans LA 2 1
58 52 Buffalo NY 2 1
59 53 Providence-New Bedford RI 0 1
60 7 Ottawa-Gatineau ON 1 1
61 54 Fresno-Visalia CA 0 1
62 55 Wilkes Barre-Scranton PA 0 1
63 56 Little Rock-Pine Bluff AR 0 1
64 57 Richmond-Petersburg VA 0 1
65 58 Albany-Schenectady-Troy NY 0 1
66 59 Mobile-Pensacola (Ft. Walt) AL/FL 0 1
67 60 Tulsa OK 0 1
68 61 Knoxville TN 0 1
69 62 Ft. Myers-Naples FL 0 1
70 63 Lexington KY 0 1
71 64 Dayton OH 0 1
72 65 Wichita-Hutchinson Plus KS 0 1
73 66 Charleston-Huntington WV 0 1
74 67 Roanoke-Lynchburg VA 0 1
75 68 Green Bay-Appleton WI 1 1
76 69 Flint-Saginaw-Bay City MI 0 0
77 8 Québec City QB 0 0
78 70 Tuscon Sierra Vista AZ 0 0
79 71 Des Moines-Ames IA 0 0
80 72 Spokane WA 0 0
81 73 Omaha NE 0 0
82 74 Springfield MO 0 0
83 75 Toledo OH 0 0
84 76 Honolulu HI 0 0
85 77 Columbia SC 0 0
86 78 Rochester NY 0 0
87 9 Winnipeg MB 1 0

To determine which teams change locations, I tried to apply at least one of the following criterion to each team:

  • Shortest possible distance of move
  • Move the metro-area’s least popular/newest team(s)
  • Add the likely most-popular sport to the recipient metro-area

Towards the bottom of the list I ran out of teams to match these criteria effectively, so had to just randomly assign to complete the moves.

It may seem like some of these metro-areas are too small to successfully host a team, but I’d argue that an area that only has one team will rally that much harder behind them, especially when the team is successful (see: Green Bay). It is easy for an unsuccessful team in a multi-team area to be forgotten, but when the team is the only show in town they’re not going to be ignored.

There were several surprising discoveries from this exercise:

  • The Bay Area has way too many teams. They’re close to being large enough to host four, but six is really excessive for their population.
  • Flint, MI is the largest metro-area that would not get a team.
  • Montreal is nearly large enough to host 3 teams; currently has just one.
  • Hartford really should have a team; they’re almost big enough to justify two teams.
  • Green Bay would be the smallest metro-area with a team. The Packers can stay!
  • The current distribution has about 201 million people in metro-areas with a team, with an average of 1.819 million people per team. The hypothetical distribution has about 245 million people in metro-areas with a team, with an average of 1.968 million people per team. The hypothetical gets not only more people living in a pro sports town, but also gets more people per team in these locations.

Please feel free to pose questions and suggest changes to which teams re-locate and where they should go.