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Rain Man 12-12-2012 11:56 PM

The NFL, the Talent Pool, and Long-Term Expansion: A Short Essay
 
In professional sports, one of the issues that we hear a lot regarding expansion is that "it dilutes the talent pool". We hear that Babe Ruth had to face the top pitchers every day, and that in the 1950s NFL, the 32nd best quarterback never made a team, much less started.

I've always thought this too, but tonight I started thinking about it, and I think that whole premise is wrong.

People always think about the number of teams and players when this discussion arises, but that's only half the equation. The other half of the equation is the talent pool from which the team draws. If we have 32 football teams being created from a population of 1 million people, those teams won't be as strong as if we have 32 team being created from a population of 100 million people.

So let's look at the number of teams that we've had over time, and the population from which they drew their rosters. Let's start on the two ends of the spectrum.

In the 1920 season, the league that became the NFL fielded 13 teams. (Actually, 14 teams are in the records, but one team only played one game so I'm excluding them.) The population of the United States at that time was about 106 million, so each team drew from a population of about 8.2 million people.

Now look at the year 2010. We had 32 teams, and they were drawn from a population of about 309 million. Therefore, each team drew from a population of about 9.6 million people. (Ignore the fact that this includes men and women and old people and stuff, just to keep it simple. Let's also ignore roster sizes, since we're really only talking about starters.)

This means that modern teams are pulling from a larger talent pool than their 1920 predecessors. In other words, it's harder to make an NFL roster as a starter now than it was in 1920 when we had only 13 teams. Ostensibly, this means that the talent level is a bit higher.

Let's look at these ratios by decade.

Code:

Year        Population        Teams        Population Per Team
1920        106,021,537        13        8,155,503
1930        123,202,624        11        11,200,239
1940        132,164,569        10        13,216,457
1950        151,325,798        13        11,640,446
1960        179,323,175        21        8,539,199
1970        203,302,031        26        7,819,309
1980        226,542,199        28        8,090,793
1990        248,709,873        28        8,882,495
2000        281,421,906        31        9,078,126
2010        308,745,538        32        9,648,298

What we see is that the most competitive time to become an NFL starter was in 1940, when each team drew from a talent pool of 13.2 million. The easiest time to become an NFL starter was in 1970, when each team drew from a talent pool of 7.8 million.

If we average the ratios over each decade, we end up with an average talent pool of 9.62 million people per team, which is almost exactly the current ratio. Therefore, the fact that we have 32 teams right now means that the league's expansion has merely kept pace with long-term growth. They aren't overexpanding and they aren't underexpanding.

So Conclusion #1 is: having 32 teams does not mean that we see watered-down talent compared to past decades. We're seeing exactly the same talent level that we've averaged over the past century.


But what does this mean for the future?

Well, let's look at population projections and see if the NFL should add new teams as the population grows.

Using an average talent pool of 9.627 million people per team to keep our on-field talent consistent, we see that new teams should be added each decade as the American population grows, as shown below.

Code:

Year        Population        Teams        Population Per Team
1920        106,021,537        13        8,155,503
1930        123,202,624        11        11,200,239
1940        132,164,569        10        13,216,457
1950        151,325,798        13        11,640,446
1960        179,323,175        21        8,539,199
1970        203,302,031        26        7,819,309
1980        226,542,199        28        8,090,793
1990        248,709,873        28        8,882,495
2000        281,421,906        31        9,078,126
2010        308,745,538        32        9,648,298

2020        341,387,000        35        9,627,086
2030        373,504,000        39        9,627,086
2040        405,655,000        42        9,627,086
2050        439,010,000        46        9,627,086



Conclusion #2: To keep the talent level consistent, we should add 3 teams by 2020, 7 teams by 2030, 10 teams by 2040, and 14 teams by 2050.


Now, where should those teams go?

No authoritative body develops state-level population projections for every state, so I cheated a little bit. I took the state populations in 2000 and 2010, and applied that growth rate to each subsequent decade. This allowed me to develop projections of the population of each state for the years 2020, 2030, 2040, and 2050.

I then lumped the states (and Puerto Rico) into 16 regions to better account for regional fan bases. This was kind of arbitrary, but I don't think I'd get much argument. For each of the sixteen regions, I then calculated the number of current teams and the number of teams that the region should have based on population, and added teams to the areas that were most underrepresented. This model therefore takes into account the number of teams already present, the current population, and population growth trends.

Conclusion #3. A proper expansion of the NFL should be as follows:

2020 - Add three teams, one each in:

California - Los Angeles (duh)

The Great Plains (OK, KS, NE, SD, ND) - Oklahoma City is the largest metro area in the region

Texas - San Antonio is up.


2030 - Add four teams, one each in:

Texas - It should be Fort Worth, but given their proximity to Dallas, I think Austin would be the next city in line.

The desert SW (NV, UT, AZ, NM) - Las Vegas is the largest city without a team

The Atlantic South (NC, SC, GA) - Raleigh is the largest city without a team.

The deep South (AR, AL, MS, LA) - Birmingham is the largest city with a team


2040 - Add three teams, one each in:

The Coastal Pacific (AK, HI, WA, OR) - Portland is an obvious one based on size.

California - Riverside is the largest metro area without a team.

The Atlantic South (NC, SC, GA) - Yep, another one. Columbia, SC, barely beats out Greensboro, NC for this coveted spot.


2050 - Add four more teams, one each in:

Texas - Yes, another one. Texas will have five teams, with the newest one in Fort Worth. If that's too close to Dallas, next up would be El Paso. However, I think Fort Worth gets it at this point.

The desert SW (NV, UT, AZ, NM) - It's time for the mighty Mormons of Salt Lake to get a team.

The Atlantic South (NC, SC, GA) - Believe it or not. This area is growing. Greensboro gets this team.

The Tropical South (FL, Puerto Rico) - San Juan, Puerto Rico, would be first in line. If you think the team must be in a state and not a territory, then it would go to Orlando, but I think San Juan gets it.

If you don't think that Puerto Rico's population should be included since it's not a state, the last team would go NOT to the Tropical South, but up north in New England, where it would likely be awarded to Providence, Rhode Island. But I think San Juan gets it.

So over the next 40 years, we would add 14 new teams in:

Los Angeles
Oklahoma City
San Antonio
Austin
Las Vegas
Raleigh
Birmingham
Portland
Riverside
Columbia, SC
Fort Worth
Salt Lake City
Greensboro
San Juan, PR


What do you think about this future?

something cooler 12-13-2012 12:01 AM

No shot at a team in Omaha?

something cooler 12-13-2012 12:01 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Argo (Post 9204061)
No shot at a team in Omaha Omaha?

Fixed my post

Bump 12-13-2012 12:02 AM

we dun gunna run outta resources before the world populates another 3 fold.

Rain Man 12-13-2012 12:04 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Argo (Post 9204061)
No shot at a team in Omaha?

In their region, they'd be in line behind both Oklahoma City and Tulsa, so their odds would be low on a pure demographic basis. Perhaps the p.r. value of having their city yelled 100 times per week would help their cause, though.

Discuss Thrower 12-13-2012 12:05 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Argo (Post 9204061)
No shot at a team in Omaha?

Too fat.

Baconeater 12-13-2012 12:05 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Rain Man (Post 9204065)
In their region, they'd be in line behind both Oklahoma City and Tulsa, so their odds would be low on a pure demographic basis. Perhaps the p.r. value of having their city yelled 100 times per week would help their cause, though.

Thanks for ruining my Christmas.

DeezNutz 12-13-2012 12:09 AM

Long way of saying that KC still won't draft a QB.

Buehler445 12-13-2012 12:09 AM

does that mean more boobs?

http://cdn.motinetwork.net/demotivat...1334889040.jpg

Rain Man 12-13-2012 12:12 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Buehler445 (Post 9204074)
does that mean more boobs?

I would hazard a guess that the San Juan cheerleader squad would be worth checking out. Probably Las Vegas, too.

Count Alex's Wins 12-13-2012 12:29 AM

Forth Worth can't support an NFL team. No one will go to the games. They're all Cowboys fans.

Your best bet is definitely El Paso.

I'm also curious to see the number of college football players divided by the number of NFL teams. This would give us a far better indicator of the talent pool. IMO.

Has that grown at the same rate as the general population? If not, isn't there a hole in your theory? The NFL isn't drawing players from the general population. It's drawing from the college players for the most part. DI and DII mostly if I'm not mistaken.

Count Alex's Wins 12-13-2012 12:32 AM

You are going to draw fans from Mexico, New Mexico and West Texas with a team in El Paso.

But is there a reason you haven't considered Albuquerque? Just population size?

AussieChiefsFan 12-13-2012 12:34 AM

Team from vegas/nevada would be interesting.

Rain Man 12-13-2012 12:36 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Cassel's Reckoning (Post 9204102)
Forth Worth can't support an NFL team. No one will go to the games. They're all Cowboys fans.

Your best bet is definitely El Paso.

I'm also curious to see the number of college football players divided by the number of NFL teams. This would give us a far better indicator of the talent pool. IMO.

Has that grown at the same rate as the general population? If not, isn't there a hole in your theory? The NFL isn't drawing players from the general population. It's drawing from the college players for the most part. DI and DII mostly if I'm not mistaken.

Interesting point.

The college players are drawn from the high school ranks, and I suspect that those expand with populations. New high schools are built all the time.

With colleges, you may be right in that the number of colleges doesn't expand as fast as the population. I'm not sure. But at the same time there are a lot of colleges out there, so it seems like there's capacity to increase the talent pool that's pretty thin at the DII and DIII levels, which would effectively proxy an increase in the number of college teams.

So yeah, it's a bottleneck, but I'm not sure that it's enough of one to materially affect the analysis. Feel free to refute, though.

Rain Man 12-13-2012 12:38 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Cassel's Reckoning (Post 9204107)
You are going to draw fans from Mexico, New Mexico and West Texas with a team in El Paso.

But is there a reason you haven't considered Albuquerque? Just population size?

Yeah, Albuquerque couldn't compete with Vegas or Salt Lake City or even Tucson. It's smaller than all of those.

I could defer on Fort Worth and go with El Paso. I wasn't sure if they would embrace their own team or just all stay Cowboys fans. I guess the stadium is between the two cities, isn't it?


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