It's time to talk about the NFL getting bigger.
No, not bigger as in exposure. That simultaneously seems both impossible and inevitable. The NFL has grown by leaps and bounds over the past couple of decades, and nothing is going to stop that anytime soon. Because of that, it's time to talk about adding one or more teams to the most powerful league in sports.
Think about it: Nothing could make more sense.
With things in Los Angeles heating up for a potential NFL move back to the country's second-biggest TV market, a lot of people are speculating about which teams can move there. Because of various stadium deals, Pro Football Talk distilled the list to three possible teams: Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams.
Bleacher Report's own Jason Cole looked at the Raiders' potential relocation, even saying that a move to the NFC West could be possible to facilitate such a move alongside the Chargers.
My biggest question: Why move teams when we can just add them?
Now, the Raiders moving to L.A. makes a ton of sense, as they still have a large fanbase there from their days playing in the city previously. However, we've already opened Pandora's box of realignment, so why not consider adding to the NFL's 32-strong number?
Remember, this is just L.A. we're talking about. There is also London and Toronto, each of which has actively sought (and hosted) NFL teams in the past, as well as cities like San Antonio, Portland, Oregon, and a number of other less-regarded places which could potentially host a franchise.
If the NFL is going to shuffle the deck anyway, why not go all-in?
Potential Hurdles to Expansion Need to Be Cleared Anyway
Look, I understand there's a general reluctance to change when it comes to the NFL. It makes sense because so many people love the NFL and don't want to see the thing they love look any different. It's natural. Change is scary...blah blah blah.
However, when did 32 become a magic number?
In 1933—less than 100 years ago—the NFL had 10 teams. The NFL had only grown to 15 by the time the NFL/AFL merger happened in 1966. There are people reading this column who remember that day. After the merger, it took a whole year for the number to go from 24 to 25 and then to 26 a year later.
In general, since the merger, the NFL has seen one or two teams join its ranks every decade until the current setup was adopted in 2002 with the addition of the Houston Texans.
If anything, we're overdue.
With expansion, though, comes difficulties. Let's put aside—for the purposes of this column—the minutia of setting up the teams themselves (finding/vetting owners, stadium acquisition, etc.) and just talk about the NFL-wide impact of adding a team.
Scheduling is probably the biggest issue, as another team throws a sprocket into the works of the well-oiled machine that is the NFL schedule. Thirty-two (or, for the NFL's purposes, four times eight) is a tidy number. The current rotation between the divisions encourages competitive balance, and teams don't seem that upset about how things are working.
Or, are they?
The NFL schedule is actually an already-unmitigated mess for two pretty big reasons. First, trips to London create a need for bye weeks outside of the normal-schedule framework (more on this later). It's already a kink the league's looking to work out.
A much bigger problem, however, is Thursday Night Football. The game isn't going anywhere, as CBS purchasing the rights to a night of live sports means it is likely never going to die.
Yet, the players hate it, as Houston Texans running back Arian Foster said, via ESPN's Tania Ganguli. Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen laid out a litany of problems with consistently playing games in the middle of the NFL week.
Still, live NFL action on TV is a ratings and cash cow that the league and networks won't sacrifice on the altar of common sense. As long as there are Thursday nights, the NFL will have games lined up for them.
The answer is not removing Thursdays from the schedule; it's just about making them better.
Any teams that are added are going to blow up the four-by-eight divisional layout and the scheduling system that goes with it, but it's a system that needs to be blown up anyway if games in London or on Thursday nights are going to continue.
This means adding bye weeks and more weeks to the season.
Imagine a world where the NFL plans to add multiple teams over the course of the next decade or so, with the crown jewels being in Toronto and London. That gives the NFL plenty of time to figure out how to manage a team overseas (an encyclopedia's worth of columns could be written about the legal and labor ramifications).
Moreover, it sets the league on a crash course for what will surely be commissioner Roger Goodell's legacy when all is said and done.
A team in Los Angeles—to accompany the Raiders in the stadium deal—and a team in whichever city of your wildest desires (head says San Antonio to draw on the combined market with Austin) get the NFL ready to work out the whole schedule thing before the headaches of international expansion are an issue.
The biggest plus in this whole process is not ripping a team out of a city and away from its fanbase.
A common argument against expansion in any sports league is that it would dilute the talent pool. This, admittedly, is a big issue, but it is not something the NFL or its fans should fear. Turn your eyes from Sunday to Saturday, and there's a pretty good clue that the NCAA, with its 9,000 (or so) players, should be able to field a couple hundred more.
That's just the tip of the iceberg.
The NFL is tapping into international markets already and isn't stopping, with or without expansion. Eventually, we will start seeing even more high-level players from markets like Canada, Germany, England, Central and South America, as well as Africa and even the Far East.
What basketball has done over the past couple of decades internationally, the NFL has a unique opportunity to replicate.
Yet the NFL needs to take player development seriously. This, too, is something that needs to be done to foster the overall talent of the NFL anyway. Too many talented college players slip through the cracks of the NFL machine—not because they don't want it enough, but because the NFL isn't set up to develop players anymore.
For that matter, the NFL isn't set up to develop referees, either, and a developmental league for players would be a good opportunity to take aspiring refs from college and inundate them with NFL rules and procedures before they get to the big show.
Besides the obvious goal—development—an NFL developmental league (perhaps tied to the new FXFL) could serve two specific purposes. First, it would become a revenue stream as long as it is directly affiliated with the NFL. Fledgling networks, from NBC Sports to Fox Sports 1 or even the next ESPN addition, would buy high-level professional football if the factor of the NFL connection is present.
Second-tier TV markets would line up—Omaha, Portland, Orlando, Las Vegas, Birmingham, etc.—to host a crop of NFL-employed hopefuls. Issues with previous start-up leagues (i.e. Arena Football, XFL, UFL or the USFL) wouldn't exist because these aren't "castaway" players. These are minor leaguers.
Its other major objective would be to tap into new talent pools. NFL teams don't have the time or mandate to consistently hold open tryouts, take regional combines seriously, scout internationally or set up camps overseas.
A developmental league would have that mandate. It would make the time.
This is something that the NFL already needs. Expansion simply moves it to the top of the wish list.
Too Many Good Reasons Not to Expand
More football is good football.
Until the U.S. government just decides to let the NFL install a money printer at its Park Avenue offices, the owners aren't going to give up trying to open and broaden new revenue streams. To you and me, the NFL might be a game, but to owners, it's a business. Businesses are supposed to make money and are rarely content with the current profits they're raking in.
This alone should make NFL owners perk up their ears at the idea of adding four more teams.
Realize, yes, revenue sharing means that the overall NFL pie gets split into more pieces, but NFL teams are incredibly profitable. No NFL team is a drain on the overall economy of the league in the way that a small-market MLB or NHL team might be. If that were the case, we would be talking contraction, and rightfully so.
Instead, the NFL should strike while the iron is hot and create more revenue streams to deepen its pockets.
Are you looking for reasons why the NFL should create another team? New Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula have about one billion of them for you. Buffalo is such a small market with so many inherent problems that the Bills selling for over $1 billion means that these expansion teams (which will be heavily bid on) in much bigger markets would easily surpass that benchmark.
Another good reason is expansion would be a precursor to fixing many of the problems we outlined in the first section of this column. Instead of making the players play 18 games, an idea which Goodell has yet to abandon, simply add teams and get the extra football you want.
Keep the games on Thursday night—just do it in a way which doesn't put a strain on teams.
Don't stop there; put another game on Monday night in doubleheader fashion, as has already been done at times, and make the West Coast that much happier. Since you've made those fans happier on Mondays, tick them off on Sundays by instituting an earlier game at 10 a.m. (perfect for a London locale).
When college football lets up before bowl season, put a full slate on Saturdays to keep fans from ripping their hair out in the throes of withdrawal.
If you believe Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban's comments via Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com, oversaturation may be a concern, but the NFL isn't even close to that precipice. Arguably, the NFL is in a more viable spot for expansion now than it has ever been.
Think of how the league has grown into the national consciousness since adding the Texans, and especially the previous expansion which introduced the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers. The draft is now bigger than it's ever been. It's a TV event on par with championships in other leagues, and there are no signs of it slowing down, either.
NFL Network is a thing, and NFL Media has expanded into the mobile sphere with NFL Now, which means teams have a direct link to their fans in ways that never would've been possible when markets were dependent upon ESPN or weekly Sports Illustrated issues to generate buzz.
In today's NFL, holding an expansion draft would be a national holiday.
Look at the current NFL—where it is, the power and influence it wields. Look at the massive, 24/7 coverage, the fans who eat it up and the insatiable thirst for more.
See how NFL issues command top billing on national and cable news shows alongside wars and disasters. Remember the millions and millions of dollars poured into betting (something the NFL hates) and fantasy football (mildly different, but something the NFL loves).
The NFL is far more equipped for an expansion beyond 32 than it ever was in reaching that number.
Want to put a team in Los Angeles, London or anywhere else?
Go all-in. We're ready.
Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter.