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Old 12-12-2012, 11:56 PM  
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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?

Last edited by Rain Man; 12-13-2012 at 12:32 AM..
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Old 12-13-2012, 12:39 AM   #16
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Very interesting short essay. The idea that we are diluting the talent pool by allowing expansion is insane.
Besides the population numbers that you pointed out, people seem to forget that, unlike 1940, kids today are spending far more time perfecting the craft of sports. The average professional athlete today is infinitely better than the average athlete of the 40s and 50s in regards to the major sports (MLB, NFL, NBA). The time spent in preparation, training, and perfecting the craft is insane. Couple that with the evergrowing popularity of the sports and what you have, I believe, is a talent pool that is essentially bottomless.
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Old 12-13-2012, 01:11 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by tmw4h5 View Post
Besides the population numbers that you pointed out, people seem to forget that, unlike 1940, kids today are spending far more time perfecting the craft of sports. The average professional athlete today is infinitely better than the average athlete of the 40s and 50s in regards to the major sports (MLB, NFL, NBA). The time spent in preparation, training, and perfecting the craft is insane. Couple that with the evergrowing popularity of the sports and what you have, I believe, is a talent pool that is essentially bottomless.

And you have forgotten that today, 80% of kids spend their lives open-mouthed in front of a television or computer playing video games until their dilated eyes roll back in their heads, and never see a baseball diamond or football field.

Pure population numbers mean nothing.
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Old 12-13-2012, 01:22 AM   #18
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It's going global. London will probably be next. Canada is in. Germany has fans. Russia will feel the heat. Almost forgot Austrailia.
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Old 12-13-2012, 01:28 AM   #19
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Almost forgot Austrailia.
Don't be doing that now
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Old 12-13-2012, 01:34 AM   #20
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Don't be doing that now
Sorry bout that, I was thinking of you when I made the edit.
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Old 12-13-2012, 01:42 AM   #21
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And you have forgotten that today, 80% of kids spend their lives open-mouthed in front of a television or computer playing video games until their dilated eyes roll back in their heads, and never see a baseball diamond or football field.

Pure population numbers mean nothing.
Granted, there are a lot of children who spend their lives playing video games or mastering technology is some fashion, but the number of kids playing football, basketball, and baseball is constantly, and most importantly, consistently growing.


The athletes being produced today are far superior to those produced in the 40s and 50s. Athletes today are bigger, stronger, and faster. The majority of professional athletes have spent their entire lives developing their skills and honing their talent(s).
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Old 12-13-2012, 01:43 AM   #22
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Rainman, I'm on my iPad, so will address in detail tomorrow. But population aside, you're missing the "Divine Spark" and "unique" aspect.

In musical terms, there's been only one Elvis. One Johnny Cash. One Jimi Hendrix. One Brian Wilson. One Eric Clapton. One Chuck Berry. One Mick Jagger. So on and so forth.

There are more kids playing football today than in the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's combined.

Yet, where are the multiple Johnny Unitias clones, Joe Namath, Steve Young, John Elway, etc.?

You can add cities and players. But that doesn't mean that the talent level will remain consistent. Given the facts above, it'll be further watered down.
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Old 12-13-2012, 01:51 AM   #23
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Rainman, I'm on my iPad, so will address in detail tomorrow. But population aside, you're missing the "Divine Spark" and "unique" aspect.

In musical terms, there's been only one Elvis. One Johnny Cash. One Jimi Hendrix. One Brian Wilson. One Eric Clapton. One Chuck Berry. One Mick Jagger. So on and so forth.

There are more kids playing football today than in the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's combined.

Yet, where are the multiple Johnny Unitias clones, Joe Namath, Steve Young, John Elway, etc.?

You can add cities and players. But that doesn't mean that the talent level will remain consistent. Given the facts above, it'll be further watered down.
There are more kids playing today than ever before. Johnny U. looked remarkable because you have to compare what his talent level was in comparison to those he played against. It's the same as looking at college football. You have some guys who are absolutely dominant in college, but they might be simply mediocre in the NFL. The reason is that the talent level is so much better that the playing field is more equal. Johnny U. looked great because he was playing against lesser talents. Namath was actually just a mediocre QB.
There are, and have been, QBs every bit as good as Steve Young since Steve Young retired. The best QBs in the history of the game (arguably, of course) are currently in the league (Brady, Manning).
With a growing population and professional athletes being trained from the time that they can walk, the talent level has risen greatly, which will absolutely make it harder for individual athletes to be greatly ahead of others in the same game.
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Old 12-13-2012, 01:53 AM   #24
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I'd rather the NFL add a minor league football farm system than expand.
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Old 12-13-2012, 01:55 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by tmw4h5 View Post
There are more kids playing today than ever before. Johnny U. looked remarkable because you have to compare what his talent level was in comparison to those he played against. It's the same as looking at college football. You have some guys who are absolutely dominant in college, but they might be simply mediocre in the NFL. The reason is that the talent level is so much better that the playing field is more equal. Johnny U. looked great because he was playing against lesser talents. Namath was actually just a mediocre QB.
There are, and have been, QBs every bit as good as Steve Young since Steve Young retired. The best QBs in the history of the game (arguably, of course) are currently in the league (Brady, Manning).
With a growing population and professional athletes being trained from the time that they can walk, the talent level has risen greatly, which will absolutely make it harder for individual athletes to be greatly ahead of others in the same game.
You're smoking crack
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Old 12-13-2012, 02:05 AM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tmw4h5 View Post
There are more kids playing today than ever before. Johnny U. looked remarkable because you have to compare what his talent level was in comparison to those he played against. It's the same as looking at college football. You have some guys who are absolutely dominant in college, but they might be simply mediocre in the NFL. The reason is that the talent level is so much better that the playing field is more equal. Johnny U. looked great because he was playing against lesser talents. Namath was actually just a mediocre QB.
There are, and have been, QBs every bit as good as Steve Young since Steve Young retired. The best QBs in the history of the game (arguably, of course) are currently in the league (Brady, Manning).
With a growing population and professional athletes being trained from the time that they can walk, the talent level has risen greatly, which will absolutely make it harder for individual athletes to be greatly ahead of others in the same game.
Yes and they do a hell of a lot more film study as it is more available & technology to help them out.
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Old 12-13-2012, 02:05 AM   #27
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You're smoking crack
How so? It makes perfect sense.

Think about MLB for example. Do you honestly think that Babe Ruth would have been half of the hitter he was if he spent his career facing pitchers like Cici Sabathia, Randy Johnson, Clemens, or Maddux?

With growing popularity, the sport has seen a larger talent pool develop, with the talent getting better on both the high end and low end.

The players today are facing much stiffer competition than those in the past. It's pretty simple to me.
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Old 12-13-2012, 02:06 AM   #28
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Sorry bout that, I was thinking of you when I made the edit.
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Old 12-13-2012, 05:46 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by Touchdown Kansas City !!! View Post
It's going global. London will probably be next. Canada is in. Germany has fans. Russia will feel the heat. Almost forgot Austrailia.
This is what I was thinking. We will probably see an international broadening due to the fact that everyone in the US has set teams.

I am just curious how they are going to work out the schedule so that the 'London Hooligans' aren't a perpetual 8-8 team with their awesome home record and terrible road record. Not trying to hijack the thread, but you have me thinking NFL expansions and how they would work.

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Old 12-13-2012, 05:51 AM   #30
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I'd rather the NFL add a minor league football farm system than expand.
This would be cool. It could very well increase the competition in the NFL as well. Much like baseball, having that farm system ensures that the people at the top are legitimately the best at their position, meanwhile some one like Kurt Warner wouldn't be as few and far between (maybe it would be rare, but the shelf life in today's NFL is so short that if there are any late bloomers; they are ousted out before they are given ample time to find out).
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A new website that shows member-created construction site listings that need fill or have excess fill. Dirt Monkey @ https://DirtMonkey.net
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