Sunday, June 24, 2012

Shiny Trophies

It is the start of summer, so of course I am writing about the National Football League. In fact, this will be the fifth part of my now not-so-modest and seemly never-ending proposal for revamping the league. To quickly recap, the first part proposed combining the existing eight four-team divisions into four eight-team divisions. The second part discussed realignment and the possible relocation of teams. The third part covered the postseason tournament, and the fourth part suggested changing the Pro Bowl. This part will return to the topic of the postseason.

In current sports news, the Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the fifth game of the NBA Finals on Thursday night to win the championship of the National Basketball Association. The week before, the Los Angeles Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils in the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Finals to win the National Hockey League championship. I think the difference in the importance of the actual trophy related to these championships is significant. In fact, I would say the Stanley Cup is the most important trophy of the four major professional team sports. Hockey players do not just think about winning the NHL championship. They grow up specifically dreaming about lifting Lord Stanley's Cup. I would argue that the next most important championship trophy is the Vince Lombardi Trophy which is award to the winner of the Super Bowl and thus the NFL championship. Third on the list would be the NBA's Larry O'Brien Trophy, the image of which is seen on the court and as a patch on the players' jerseys during the Finals. This trophy has been made famous by basketball players trying to make out with it. Bringing up the rear would be Major League Baseball's championship trophy. I can not even remember the name of that trophy or exactly what it looks like. (Wikipedia tells me that is the Commissioner's Trophy and looks like this.)

The important of the championship trophy varies between leagues and sports. A few other trophies come to mind that are highly important to their leagues. Another playoff tournament that is primarily know by the name of the championship trophy is the Grey Cup. The Grey Cup is awarded to the champion of the Canadian Football League. Perhaps placing a ton of importance on physical trophies is a particularly Canadian phenomenon. The glass football that is awarded to the team winning the National Championship Game of the Bowl Championship Series has now almost moved into iconic status. Although, I had to search Wikipedia to find that it is named the AFCA National Championship Trophy which is not quite as catchy as the simply-named Stanley Cup. The tennis championship at Wimbledon starts this week, and I have always thought that the plate awarded to the women's champion is particularly notable as a championship trophy. Wikipedia tells me that the silver (and not gold, as I previously thought) dish is a salver which is a type of serving (a pun?) tray and is named the Venus Rosewater Dish. Of course, the most famous of championship trophies are probably the Olympic medals.

While championship trophies can be important to their sport, much less important are the trophies awarded to conference and division champions. In the NHL, the Prince of Wales Trophy is awarded to the Eastern Conference champion while the Clarence Campbell Bowl is awarded to the Western Conference champion. Teams that win these trophies generally avoid touching them because it is considered bad luck towards the team's ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

After continuing to ruminate about my proposal for the NFL postseason tournament, I came to see what I thought were two somewhat minor issues which could easily be solved with one solution. The first is the clunky monikers which I gave to the two games leading up to the Super Bowl. Going off the directional names of the four divisions, these games would be called something like the North/South and East/West Semifinals, and the names would switch annually based on that year's divisional match-up. While not as bad as the AFCA National Championship Trophy, those are definitely not attractive names. The second issue was that by eliminating the NFL's two conferences, I had also eliminated the trophies for the champions of those two conferences. The straightforward solution is to keep the two trophies, and name the two semifinal games after the trophies. Not so simple is how to implement this idea.

Losing the two trophies in question would also mean losing some of the game's history since those trophies are named in honor of two the greatest statesmen of the game. The Lamar Hunt Trophy is awarded to the winner of the AFC Championship Game and is named after Lamar Hunt who was the first owner of the Kansas City Chiefs. The George Halas Trophy is awarded to the winner of the NFC Championship Game and is named for George Halas who was the longtime coach and even longer-time owner of the Chicago Bears. As far as I know, NFL players have no qualms about touching those championship trophies. By the way, the NFL recently had the look of the two trophies overhauled.

Deciding to keep these two trophies presents a bit of a problem since there would no longer be conferences and thus no conference championships. Dubbing the two games the George Halas Semifinal Game and Lamar Hunt Semifinal Game seems simple enough. The associated brackets could become the Halas bracket and the Hunt bracket. However, which game and bracket should be the named for Halas and which for Hunt?

Here is where my proposal gets wonderfully complicated. Since Hunt is closely associated with the Chiefs and Halas with the Bears, it seems logical that those teams should be able to play for the appropriate trophy if reasonably possible. If only one of those two teams make the playoffs or if both teams make the playoffs but are in opposite brackets, then the solution is simple. The Bears play in the Halas bracket, and the Chiefs play in the Hunt bracket. If the teams are in the same bracket, the naming would follow the higher-seeded team. If the teams have the same seed or if neither team makes the playoffs, then another rule is needed. In these cases, I would take the two top seeds from each bracket and evaluate the number of times those teams have won each trophy. I would apply a bit of redaction since the trophies have only been awarded since 1984. For instance, if the Dallas Cowboys who have won the NFC championship eight times and the San Francisco 49ers who have won the NFC five times are the top seeds in the same bracket, that would be the Halas bracket. If the Pittsburgh Steelers who have won eight AFC championships and the New England Patriots who have seven AFC championships are in the same bracket, then that would be the Hunt bracket. If there are ties in the championship counts, then the rule would move down to the second-seeded teams and so on.

This ends the fifth part of my proposal for revamping the NFL. There is however still one more part to be written which deals with the giant contracts between the NFL and the television networks. It will also cover when and on which network games are broadcast.

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