A history of laughable geographical blips in divisional misplacement; aka, the 'Arizona in the NFC East' problem

A history of laughable geographical blips in divisional misplacement; aka, the 'Arizona in the NFC East' problem

Illustration for article titled A history of laughable geographical blips in divisional misplacement; aka, the Arizona in the NFC East problem
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The NHL realigned its divisions for the 2021 season, a move necessitated by teams’ inability to cross the Canadian border in the time of COVID-19. Generally, it wouldn’t make a ton of sense for Vancouver and Ottawa to be in the same division, but they’re both in Canada, so, fine, they’re in the North.

But, there’s also some zany stuff going on. The Florida Panthers, for instance, are in the Central Division, despite being a short drive from the Atlantic Ocean. Ditto the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning. Meanwhile, Dallas is west of both St. Louis and St. Paul, but the Stars are in the Central while the Blues and Wild are in the West.

This is hardly the first time that geographic divisions in sports haven’t aligned with real world geography. Here’s a look at some other teams whose divisional placements didn’t fit the atlas.

Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.

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Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers

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No team has traveled as much without going anywhere as the Brewers, who arrived in Milwaukee in 1970 after one year as the Seattle Pilots, and remained in the American League West. In 1972, when the Washington Senators moved to Texas, the Brewers shifted to the American League East, where they remained until joining the newly-formed American League Central in 1994. In 1998, the Brewers jumped to the National League, staying in the Central, where they’ve been ever since.

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys

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Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, Dallas, a city in Texas, has been in the NFC East along with New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. These are all historical rivals, but when the division was made, the division had two teams west of the Mississippi River, while Chicago, Detroit, and Green Bay all were in the Central along with Minnesota. Meanwhile, somehow, Atlanta and New Orleans were assigned to the NFC West.

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The National League

The National League

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In 1969, the National League expanded to include Montreal and San Diego, and split from a single league into two divisions. Nobody at MLB headquarters had access to a map or even a list of what cities are in what time zones, because Chicago and St. Louis went to the East, while Atlanta and Cincinnati landed in the West. Three of those four eventually went to the Central, while Atlanta finally made it to the East when MLB went to three divisions per league in 1994.

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The NBA’s Midwest Division

The NBA’s Midwest Division

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The Midwest is a geographically nebulous area, but we should all be able to agree that it doesn’t stretch from Miami to Vancouver. Still, those are two of the 18 cities that at one time or another were part of the NBA’s catch-all division, which lasted from 1970-2004. Some were actually in the Midwest, like Chicago and Milwaukee… which, naturally, moved to the Central Division in 1980. Incredibly, no team was in the Midwest for its entire quarter-century of existence. Charlotte was in the Midwest for one year. So were Miami and Orlando. Sacramento spent three seasons in the Midwest after the Kings moved from Kansas City. Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indiana, Memphis, Minnesota, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Utah all also were part of the Midwest, some more realistically than others.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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When the Bucs entered the NFL in 1976, they were put into the AFC West with Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, and San Diego. Could they have gone into the NFC West with Atlanta and New Orleans? Sure, but that would have made too much sense within a realm of nonsense. The Seattle Seahawks went to the NFC West instead. One year later, the Seahawks got moved to the AFC West, while the Bucs went to… the NFC Central with the teams of the upper Midwest.

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NHL Expansion

NHL Expansion

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You can give the NHL a pass for 1967, when the league doubled in size and the six expansion teams — Los Angeles, Minnesota, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis — went into the “West,” while the Original Six, including Chicago, played in the “East.” But in 1970, when Buffalo and Vancouver joined the league, both went into the East. That’s right, the Canucks were in the East while the Flyers and Penguins were in the West. In 1972, the Islanders joined the East and the Atlanta Flames went to the West. Again, Vancouver and the Pennsylvania teams remained misaligned. This lasted until 1974, when the NHL split into four divisions… including the California Golden Seals in the Adams Division with Boston, Buffalo, and Toronto, and Los Angeles in the Norris with Detroit, Montreal, Pittsburgh, and Washington. Since the NHL returned to geographic naming in 1993, things have mostly made sense… except for those two years that the Winnipeg Jets played in the Southeast after the franchise’s relocation from Atlanta.

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Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals

Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals

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When the Cardinals moved from St. Louis to Phoenix in 1988, there were four teams in the NFC West — Atlanta, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Could the Cardinals have joined that division, leaving the NFC East with four teams instead? Sure. Did they? Of course not. So, when the Carolina Panthers entered the NFL in 1995, they went to the NFC West… while the Rams moved to St. Louis, leaving the 49ers as the only team in the NFC West that was actually in the West, while the Cardinals remained in the NFC East through 2001.

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‘American’ Dreams

‘American’ Dreams

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For their entire existence, the Toronto Blue Jays have been in the American League, despite being, you know, Canadian — although they did play the 2020 season in Buffalo, which is in America, while maintaining their Canadian name. The Blue Jays played their COVID season in Buffalo because that’s where their Triple-A affiliate plays in the International League, a league that has been completely domestic since the Ottawa Lynx moved to Pennsylvania in 2008 and became the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. It goes both ways with our neighbors to the north: from 1926-38, the New York Americans played in the NHL’s Canadian Division. In 1941, the New York Americans became the Brooklyn Americans, even though they continued to play at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. They folded after one season as “Brooklyn.”

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Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.