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Sports Geography

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

[Jason Lara, from his blog Tom Fulery]

The geographic illogic of US sports conferences is hardly news. As a recent example, three weeks ago we learned that Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros would leave the the National League’s Central Division for the American League West. A little crazy, but at least they would be united with a natural geographic rival already in the American League West, the Texas Rangers. And today brings genuinely crazy news, with the Big East conference announcing, in the wake of the departure of Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia to the Atlantic Coast Conference, that they would add Central Florida (sure), Houston and SMU (huh?), and, in football only, Boise State (!) and San Diego State (!!!).

I should point out that the addition of Boise State has been rumored for weeks. It’s not news. And after their snub on Sunday, left out of any of the five BCS bowls despite being one of the top five or six teams in the country, who can blame them for joining whatever BCS conference will take them? But still, the Big East with a team from Idaho? And a team whose home city sits on the Pacific Ocean? I suppose it could be worse — what if SDSU joined the ACC, joining the Pacific to the Atlantic? We wouldn’t need the Panama Canal anymore.

Which brings me to some good news: the announcement yesterday of plans for a realignment of the National Hockey League into four geographically-based conferences, approved by the NHL’s Board of Governors. The NHL Players Union still needs to weigh in, so this isn’t a done deal, but I’m guessing it will happen.

The plan has some features I’m not sold on, such as matching up teams within conferences in the first two rounds of the playoffs. More often than not, this is likely to lead to the elimination of at least one of the best teams before the playoff semifinals through no fault of its own. Nonetheless, I admire the league’s effort to introduce geographic sense. And how about the cool map, above, depicting the conference alignments? (Hat tip: Stu Hackel in Sports Illustrated, who linked to it.)

The lone oddity is the placement of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. But the underlying problem is that there are hockey teams in Florida to begin with. I think I have a solution: move them to Québec and Hamilton. That would make for a wonderfully compact conference, wouldn’t it? Perhaps I should write Commissioner Bettman with my proposal.

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Categories: Geography, Sports
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