What if the NFL expanded to 100 teams? Barnwell picks ideal cities

ByBill Barnwell ESPN logo
Monday, June 24, 2024

Sometimes, the best ideas come from inside the ESPN offices. Last week in Bristol, Connecticut, I was talking to an editor about the long-departed Hartford Whalers and how they originally found their place in the NHL. "If you were starting the NHL today, you probably wouldn't put a team in Hartford," the editor said offhand.

That got me thinking about an idea I've kicked around for a long time. In England, a country roughly the size of Ohio, there are 92 professional clubs across the first five divisions of their soccer pyramid. (A couple of those teams are Welsh, to be fair.) This past season alone, seven of 20 teams in the top-flight Premier League were in London. Two play in Liverpool, with massive stadiums a 20-minute walk away from each other. By the bottom of the professional pyramid, stadium capacities drop down to a couple of thousand, but you get the idea: There are a lot of teams in a very small area.

In America, things have evolved differently. While minor league baseball has spread out across the country, those teams aren't independent. There's no promotion and relegation. Teams leave their local fans and move to another city or even another coast without repercussions. Franchises have been granted the rights to their cities and push back if anyone moves into their territory. Leagues expanded and contracted during much of the 20th century, but as they have become multibillion-dollar industries, the four major American men's sports have turned into closed shops, with the NFL as the most prominent example. The league hasn't admitted a new member since the Houston Texans in 2002, leaving dozens of football-loving cities out of professional football.

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We can't fix all of that, but we can imagine something better. Let's say a lawsuit opened up the league for business and prevented the NFL from limiting itself to 32 teams. If England can support 92 professional soccer teams, America can do better. In a universe in which the league didn't retain the right to keep new members out, how many professional teams could the U.S. support? Could it be 100? And if so, where would those teams go?

I'm going to explore that universe and find homes for 100 professional football teams across America. I'm not going to focus on promotion and relegation, how the schedule would work or how the play on the field might evolve, but I'll instead focus strictly on where these teams would play. Let's lay out some ground rules and the logic I used in trying to make this work:

No NFL teams are disappearing as part of this exercise. The 32 existing franchises are sticking around. As part of the new 100-team league, though, several will need to make decisions about where they play versus where they represent. Teams that have stadiums outside the area they purport to represent will either need to move to where they're supposed to be or change their name and let someone else move in to take their place.

No team holds any territorial rights. If someone wants to finance a professional team in Fort Worth, Texas, and compete for the hearts of Dallas-area fans, Cowboysowner Jerry Jones can't do anything about it.

New cities and franchises were selected on a variety of factors. New teams are going to want as many fans as possible, so my first priority was finding places that had large population centers. I also considered whether each city had access to an existing football stadium and/or had a history of supporting football.

Fans aren't going to change their allegiances overnight. At the same time, while there might be some fans in Fort Worth who would become fans of a new franchise, most people who have spent their life rooting for the Cowboys aren't suddenly about to change their mind. I tried to be realistic about how adding a team to each area might impact fandom, and how saturated a market is with fans for each team. I was more aggressive putting new franchises next to each other as opposed to putting a new franchise next to an already-successful team.

As an example, Milwaukee obviously has more than enough of a population to support its own NFL team, given that the city has more than 560,000 people who already root for the NBA's Bucks. Would it make sense to put a team there as part of this top-100 group? With the Packers having already put down roots just over 100 miles away and establishing themselves as Milwaukee's team, it would be incredibly difficult for a Milwaukee-based franchise to establish itself. In New York, on the other hand, there are simply so many people that the Giants and Jets might not be enough.

There's some crossover happening between college and pro football. In real life, the lines between college and pro football have been blurred by the impact of NIL money. Perhaps the lines are blurred further in this 100-team league. I'm not suggesting Alabama, Notre Dameand Penn State are going to field NFL teams, but putting pro teams in their respective locales might make some sense, especially because they have existing stadiums.

I've included a number of college cities as potential landing spots for teams here, although I've left others out if there's a notable NFL team nearby. Do they exist as a hybrid team with professional status and the history of the college football team? Are they a smaller franchise that relies upon the existing fan base of the school and probably focuses on signing alumni of that college in free agency? I'll let you decide.

In the end, I found 68 new teams to join the existing 32 to make 100 professional football franchises. Regions can overlap and have murky definitions, so don't get too attached to where each team lands, but I've separated the country into a handful of sections and will address our new additions spot by spot. Let's begin in the football hotbed of America: Texas is way too big for just two teams, but how many more could we add?

Jump to a region:

California | Florida | Mid-Atlantic

Mid-South | Midwest | New York/New Jersey

Noncontiguous states | Northeast | Pac. Northwest

Southeast | Southwest | Texas | West

See the 100-team map

Texas (9 total teams)

NFL teams that already exist: Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans

We'll throw Jerry Jones' family a bone here. While they're going to be prevented from suing to try to keep most of Texas for themselves, we won't put another team in Fort Worth or Arlington to try to compete with the Cowboys. Likewise, the Texans will retain Houston, America's fourth-most populous city, entirely for itself. Instead, we're placing six new teams around different parts of the state, many of which are several hours away from any of the others.

San Antonio: Already the most populous city in the country without an NFL team, San Antonio is 200 miles from Houston and 285 miles from Dallas, leaving a large area of potential fans to try to add. The city already rabidly supports its Spurs, and it already used the Alamodome to house teams in various spring football leagues, most recently the Brahmas of the UFL. Among cities that haven't housed NFL teams in the past, San Antonio is easily the best expansion candidate.

Austin: The capital city has rapidly grown in recent years with an influx of tech workers from out of state, leaving the potential for a new team to win the hearts and minds of Austinites. The city recently landed its first professional men's team,Austin FCin Major League Soccer, and already has a 100,000-plus seat stadium in place for the University of Texas.

Waco: Between Austin and Dallas on I-35, Waco might be just far enough from either city to justify another team in this football-obsessed state. There's already a significant stadium on site for Baylor in McLane Stadium. I struggled to pick between Waco and College Station as a potential option here; Waco being a larger metro area helped it make the 100. College Station will be on our list for expansion when we make this the 150.

Corpus Christi: In trying to spread teams around the state, identifying Corpus Christi as a potential franchise for south Texas makes sense. San Antonio also qualifies as southern Texas, but Corpus Christi is more than two hours south of its neighbor and has a population of more than 300,000 people in its own right. It already supports a minor league team for the Astros.

Lubbock: Moving further west in this sprawling state, there's a window for a team once we get several hundred miles outside of Dallas. Amarillo might have been a viable choice, but Lubbock is farther away from some of the other cities we're adding to the 100; it has a population of more than 200,000, and there's already an existing stadium for Texas Tech.

Odessa: It seems only fitting to give Lubbock a local rival in Odessa, about 140 miles to the south down US-87. Odessa might be more famously remembered as the town depicted in "Friday Night Lights," and its stadium houses both the Odessa and Permian high school teams. While Odessa would be one of the smallest markets in our top 100 by population, I'm counting on the area's passion for football shining through.

El Paso: Our final addition from Texas, the border city would be closer to some new rivals in other Southwest states than to its other rivals in the Lone Star state. As the league courts fans in Mexico by playing games in Mexico City and having teams visit Monterrey, a worldwide expansion would likely include at least one team in Mexico, if not more. With our goal to place 100 teams in the United States, though, El Paso is as close as this project comes to landing a team in Mexico itself.

Southwest (5)

NFL teams that already exist: Arizona Cardinals, Las Vegas Raiders

Phoenix was the only city with an NFL team in this rapidly growing part of the country before the Raiders moved to Vegas in 2020. I'd argue Vegas might be able to support a second team given how new the Raiders are to town, but there's no shortage of potential candidates in the Southwest for professional football teams. You could add Oklahoma in here if you consider it part of the Southwest, and its teams would have natural rivalries with Texas, but I'm sticking them in the Mid-South area instead.

Reno, Nevada: More than 400 miles northwest of Vegas, Reno might have more of a rivalry with the Northern California teams in our 100 than its in-state competitors. The University of Nevada already has a stadium, and Reno has supported a Triple-A baseball team, so there's sporting infrastructure in town. The lure of Vegas has helped its various teams add free agents, but what about Tahoe?

Albuquerque, New Mexico: A natural rival for the teams in West Texas, Albuquerque is one of the larger metros in the Western United States without a professional sports team, although the Triple-A Isotopes led the Pacific Coast League in average attendance last year. Playing more than 5,000 feet above sea level would give Albuquerque a built-in competitive advantage, something that has helped the Broncos during their time in the NFL.

Tucson, Arizona: A local derby with Phoenix? Tucson is closer than most of our other new additions around already-existing NFL teams, as you can make the 113-mile trip between the two cities in less than two hours if traffic's right. With more than 500,000 people, though, it has a large enough base to support its own team. The indoor team is called the Sugar Skulls, which is a name that probably wouldn't fly with the NFL and absolutely would stick around in our league.

Mid-South (7)

NFL teams that already exist: New Orleans Saints

On one hand, this is a tough area to address. It's tough to imagine anybody in Louisiana not rooting for the Saints, and if you go much farther west, you end up in Texans country. Get out of the Bayou and go farther north, though, and there are a handful of cities that could produce rivals for the Saints, including a race for the rights to I-55:

Memphis, Tennessee: A popular pick for spring leagues over the past 25 years, Memphis is far enough away from Nashville and has an entirely different identity as a city. The Titans will certainly have picked up some fans in Tennessee after moving from Houston in 1997, but if you've seen the way Memphis supports the Grizzlies, you can imagine what that would look like in football form. An entire stadium of fans chanting "Whoop that trick?" A stadium in the shadows of the Bass Pro Shops pyramid? I'm excited. There's another new Tennessee team on the way as well, although it's in a different section.

Jackson, Mississippi: Between Memphis and New Orleans, there's a window for Mississippi to get its first major professional sports team. There's enough of a football interest statewide to support multiple SEC teams and Jackson State on Saturdays, so would a professional football team unite Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans for three hours on Sundays? Probably not, but there's enough of a population base for a fun three-way rivalry with Memphis and New Orleans.

Shreveport, Louisiana: While I did say I can't imagine anyone in Louisiana not rooting for the Saints, the exception among major cities there would be in the northwest, where Shreveport is closer to Dallas and more commonly associated with the Cowboys. In some places, a rivalry between two popular NFL teams might allow a new team to capitalize off of already-existing passions. This could be Texarkana's team.

Little Rock, Arkansas: Arkansas is another state getting its first major professional team, as the capital would form a box of potential local opponents alongside Memphis, Jackson and Shreveport. You could argue Fayetteville is the focal point of football in the state and should get the state's new team instead, but we're also going to add another team about 100 miles to the west that could steal away some of its support (Tulsa).

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: OKC might be on the shortlist for potential NFL expansion sites in the real world given the city's population, affinity for football and support for the Thunder once they arrived in town in 2008. It's an easy pick, regardless of which division it ends up participating in.

Tulsa, Oklahoma: Yes, our league can support two new Oklahoma teams just over 100 miles apart. There's a 30,000-seat stadium in town for the Golden Hurricane, and the natural rivalry with Oklahoma City would produce an instantly exciting matchup for Oklahomans. Tulsa could also pick up some fans in Northwest Arkansas and Southern Missouri, although it might be tough to convince the latter to give up rooting for the Chiefs until Patrick Mahomes retires.

Midwest (17)

NFL teams that already exist: Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings

The Midwest is the cradle of the NFL and has been a hotbed for professional football ever since. While it draws from Milwaukee and other areas, the success of the Packers into the 21st century proves a city with a modest population can support a successful football team at the highest level. The deep roots these teams have instilled in their communities will make it difficult for new franchises to compete, but there are a few landing spots that might add fun new rivalries to already-historic battles.

Rockford, Illinois: Given the sheer number of people in the area, there's room for a third football team in Illinois and Wisconsin outside of Chicago and Green Bay. I mentioned the issues with Milwaukee, and Madison is still going to be Packers country. Rockford might be suburban enough to attract some separate fanbase, plus whichever Bears fans have been worn down by nearly 40 years of heartbreak and bad quarterback play.

Fort Wayne, Indiana: Going east of Chicago and north of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne is far enough removed from either city to have a case for forming its own football identity. The city supported a professional football team in the past, although the Fort Wayne Friars faded out of existence after the 1920 season. There are five different current NFL cities that could potentially consider Fort Wayne part of their catchment area, which would make it a fun landing spot for its own team.

Columbus, Ohio: Add a sixth team surrounding Fort Wayne to that list in Columbus, which has been in love with college football for generations. A Columbus team would find it tough to compete with the already-existing affinity for the Buckeyes, but we've seen the Crew thrive in MLS after efforts to move the franchise were thwarted. Steelers and Browns fans might stick with their prior affinities, but there should be enough of a Columbus-specific fanbase to build matchups with those juggernauts if they end up competing together.

Louisville, Kentucky: Kentucky is another state seeing its professional football team count jumping from zero to two. Northern Kentucky is Bengals country, but Louisville is 100 miles southwest of Cincinnati and has its own built-in interest in football (and a stadium) with the Cardinals. Indoor teams haven't fared well in Louisville, but maybe an outdoor team would resonate more consistently.

Lexington, Kentucky: Louisville would also have a built-in rivalry with another college town in Kentucky that is about to land a professional team. With two teams about 80 miles away, there's a chance the two potential fanbases could cannibalize one another and be too small to support either team. With nearly a million people between the two cities, though, Kentucky has enough people to support two professional football teams, even if some fans decide to stick with Joe Burrow& Co.

Wichita, Kansas: With Kansas in the news as it attempts to convince the Chiefs to leave Kansas City, a more realistic solution might be to leave the Chiefs in Missouri and get Kansas its own team. Putting a team just over the border as a local rival to the Chiefs might be fun, but going 200 miles southwest to Wichita would provide a larger population base in a relatively isolated area. The Chiefs might still be Wichita's closest rivals, with our new team in Tulsa also coming into play.

Des Moines, Iowa: If Iowa can support multiple high-level college football teams, it should be able to support one professional football team. This could also be a spot for Cedar Rapids, but having this team in Des Moines creates a I-35 rivalry with two existing teams: the Chiefs and Vikings. If it wants to go with history, the Des Moines franchise could pull out the Warriors nickname, owed to a team that played in the little-remembered Professional Football League of America for three years in the 1960s.

Omaha, Nebraska: While Lincoln is the historic center of football in Nebraska because of the Cornhuskers, Omaha is a larger population and feels more likely to support a professional team. Omaha is more commonly associated with baseball by virtue of its Triple-A team and the College World Series, but it hosted a UFL team in the prior version of the league from 2009 to 2012.

St. Louis, Missouri: Duh. St. Louis never should have lost its team to begin with. At the very least, with the Rams leaving to return to Los Angelesin 2016, St. Louis should have been put in position to land an expansion team. With the UFL's Battlehawks getting more than 40,000 people to attend their home opener in April, it's clear St. Louis has both the appetite and fanbase for pro football. This would be a long overdue righting of a wrong.

West (8)

NFL teams that already exist: Denver Broncos

With sparsely populated states such as Montana and the Dakotas gaining population after the pandemic, there are a few natural landing spots for potential cities. Do they have the sheer number of people to sell 80,000 tickets to most home games? Probably not. In a country with 100 professional football teams, could they passionately support teams in smaller stadiums? Absolutely.

Salt Lake City, Utah: One obvious choice, given that SLC already has the Jazz and just added the former Arizona Coyotes to its roster. With more than a million people in its metro area, Salt Lake City would be the one city we're adding in the West that wouldn't have much trouble at all filling an NFL-sized stadium with fans.

Boise, Idaho: Would this team play on the blue turf? The capital city has come out in droves to support Boise State, and it would be able to draw on both its own population, the rest of Idaho and potentially Eastern Oregon. Its closest rivals might be in Salt Lake City, more than 300 miles away. There are going to be lots of flights between teams in the West.

Laramie, Wyoming: Nearly 700 miles to the east, Wyoming's lone team in the 100 will be in Laramie for two reasons. One is the presence of a stadium, thanks to the University of Wyoming. I don't believe there are any other major football stadiums across Wyoming, which doesn't have the population to support many large facilities. The other benefit is that Laramie is 130 miles away from Denver, which sets up a natural rivalry with the Broncos. By the standards of teams in this part of the country, a two-hour drive might as well be walking distance.

Bozeman, Montana: Another new state for professional football! While Billings is the biggest city in Montana by a considerable margin, Bozeman is rapidly growing and already has a 20,000-seat football stadium for Montana State. With the popularity of the "Yellowstone" TV show growing the city, Bozeman might only be a couple more spin-offs away from requiring a larger park for its new team.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota: South Dakota gets its team. One option would be to put it in Vermillion with the University of South Dakota, but we're going 65 miles to the north for a larger population and an airport. Our new team will need to win the hearts and minds of South Dakotans who have otherwise adopted the Vikings, but Minneapolis is more than 230 miles away. We can make this work, especially given that there's going to be some competition in North Dakota.

Bismarck, North Dakota: Bismarck is one of North Dakota's two teams in the 100. Who suspected that? Bismarck doesn't have a significant outdoor football presence, but it has had various indoor teams throughout the years, and the University of Maryis planning to build a new football stadium in town.

Fargo, North Dakota: If North Dakota State can send two quarterbacks into the top three picks of the NFL draft, why not cut out the middleman and just get a pro team in Fargo? The Fargodome holds 19,000, which would be a perfect size for a city of just over 130,000 people. About three hours between both Bismarck and Minneapolis, Fargo would probably have a tougher time shedding its purple and yellow jerseys. Bringing Carson Wentz and Trey Lance back to throw passes for the new team might help.

Pacific Northwest (3)

NFL team that already exists: Seattle Seahawks

While the Seahawks enjoy enormous popularity in the Seattle area, there's enough of a population here to support multiple teams. Across the border, the BC Lions just announced an attendance of nearly 54,000 fans for their CFL home opener earlier this month. Leaving Vancouver aside, I can see room for two more teams to rival the Seahawks:

Portland, Oregon: While there are certainly people in Portland who root for the Seahawks by default, that would change quickly if Oregon's largest city landed a football team. Think about the rivalry between the Trail Blazers and Sonics in the NBA or, in more recent years, between the Sounders and Timbers in MLS. This would instantly become one of the most entertaining local fistfights in the league.

Spokane, Washington: Again, by default, the people of Spokane have little choice but to be Seahawks fans if they want to support a "local" NFL team. With the city nearly 300 miles east of Seattle, they could just as easily have their own team and draw fans from the nearby area. This team could also be in Pullman, where Washington State has a huge stadium, about 75 miles south of Spokane. If the state can support a legendary rivalry between two college football teams, why not a pro rivalry, too?

California (11)

NFL teams that already exist: Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers

With Los Angeles already supporting two teams and the Bay Area hosting two of their own before the Raiders moved to Las Vegas, it's clear the state's biggest population centers have little trouble mustering up fans for multiple pro teams. If anything, while there are two imported teams playing in Inglewood, I wonder if a truly homegrown team might be able to surpass them both. We're adding a handful of teams to both Northern and Southern California, including one that shouldn't have lost a franchise to begin with:

San Diego: Give it the Chargers identity back and let the team that moved to Los Angeles find its own. San Diego State University's Snapdragon Stadium now sits on the land that was once the Chargers' home, and while it's about half of the prior venue's size, having a smaller, more intimate stadium isn't the worst thing in the world. Ask the current Chargers about playing in front of a huge stadium filled with the other team's fans on a weekly basis.

Anaheim: While Orange County might only be about 40 miles south of Inglewood and the two current Los Angeles teams, anyone who has driven in Southern California knows the pain of trying to get to and from Los Angeles if you're outside the area. With a team in Anaheim attracting fans from Irvine and Santa Ana, football obsessives wouldn't need to make the trek into Los Angeles. The Rams played at Angel Stadium for 15 years before their move to St. Louis; the nearly 60-year-old stadium could be the home of another team if given the opportunity.

SanBernardino: Yes, the Inland Empire is getting its own team. There's a Single-A stadium for the Inland Empire 66ers in San Bernardino, which gives it the tiniest of nods over the more densely populated Riverside for the home of our team. In the same metro area, the San Bernardino franchise could call on a base of nearly 600,000 fans between itself and Riverside alone. That population base hasn't landed much more than minor league baseball in years past, but here's an opportunity to sink its teeth into football.

Bakersfield: Likewise, Bakersfield is expanding beyond minor league baseball to land its first major professional sports team in our 100. Bakersfield College has a stadium that holds just under 20,000 people on its campus, which is probably the appropriate size for a city that hasn't necessarily shown itself to be a football-loving town. As with other cities in California, though, it's tough to see the population -- more than 400,000 -- and not dream that a local team would draw crowds.

Fresno: Going further north, Fresno would give Central California a long overdue team at the highest level. There's college football and minor league baseball here, but outside of a couple forays in the Arena League, there hasn't been a significant professional outdoor team. Fresno State's stadium has expanded over the years to seat more than 40,000 people; if a Fresno team plays well, the city should be able to serve as serious competition for other teams in the state.

San Jose/San Francisco: This is a complicated one. The 49ers are obviously the toast of San Francisco and have been for decades, but they play their games in Santa Clara, 40 miles south of where Candlestick Park once stood. While that's not an impossible trek for dedicated 49ers fans, it's essentially occupying two valuable metros in one fell swoop, as Santa Clara is next to San Jose.

In this universe, we're forcing the 49ers to make a choice. If they want to stay in Santa Clara, that's fine! They're going to become the San Jose franchise, and a team with the 49ers logos and history will sprout up in San Francisco. If the 49ers are willing to move back and actually play in the San Francisco area, we'll build a new franchise for San Jose. I wonder where they could play.

Sacramento: The state capital is far away enough from both San Francisco and San Jose to justify its own team. The existence of the Kings doesn't infringe on the Warriors in the NBA. The Sacramento Mountain Lions lasted four years in the original UFL before it folded, but they bounced around stadiums in San Francisco and San Jose before taking turns in different spots in Sacramento. The last of those destinations was the Sacramento River Cats' stadium, a building which is now destined to host MLB's Athletics before their move to Vegas. A pro football team would be a more dignified guest than the A's.

Oakland: Speaking of the Athletics, we're going to stop the outflux of teams from the East Bay. The Warriors built a building across the Bay in San Francisco, the Raiders moved to Vegas and the Athletics are eventually going to follow them out of town. Let them leave. A new franchise won't have the history or cachet of the Raiders -- and some fans will stick with the Vegas edition -- but there has to be something in a team that actually plans on sticking around and laying down roots in the East Bay.

Outside the 48contiguous states (3)

While they're not conventional destinations for professional sports teams, the biggest cities outside the lower 48 should have both the population and passion to support football franchises. While they would endure some arduous trips to road games, these teams would also have significant home-field advantages when they hosted opponents.

Honolulu, Hawaii: On the other hand, while the various New York teams would endure a flight of nearly 11 hours to land in Honolulu, nobody ever gets mad about ending up in Hawaii. Anyone who stays up too late on Saturday nights has seen how the local area supports the Rainbow Warriors, and there has been a steady stream of Hawaiian high school talent out to the mainland, with quarterbacksMarcus Mariota and Tua Tagovailoa as notable examples. Could our Hawaiian team convince a majority of those exports to return and play at home?

San Juan, Puerto Rico: Baseball has always been the most popular sport in Puerto Rico, but the island supported a semi-pro league in the past. This would be an "if they build it" scenario for a franchise; not many teams will be able to reach a larger untapped audience than San Juan, which has more than 340,000 residents. Building the first major league team in an untested location can lead to spectacular results, even if it's not an area known for a particular sport; while it's a much larger landing spot, ask the Golden Knights whether they regret taking a shot on hockey in Vegas.

Anchorage, Alaska: This is the toughest of the three potential fits outside the lower 48. The cultural home of football in Alaska might be Fairbanks, which had a minor indoor team as recently as 2011, but that's six hours away from the population base in Anchorage, where there's about seven times as many people. It feels right to have a team in Alaska, although Floridian teams won't love flying 10 hours to make it to Anchorage.

Florida (7)

NFL teams that already exist: Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Speaking of Florida, let's head all the way southeast across America and add some competition in the Sunshine State. The Dolphins dominate the state outside the pockets around Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, but there are plenty of cities that could easily justify having a team to call their own.

Fort Lauderdale: We'll start by building a derby. If you've ever been in Fort Lauderdale and thought the traffic was too awful to drive the 30 miles or so to Miami, this team is for you! As adjoining cities with differing identities, a Fort Lauderdale team could try to carve out a very different sort of existence from its neighbor in Miami. Fewer crypto sponsorships, maybe. With so much talent coming out of the Miami area, there should be enough in the way of homecomings to support two teams.

Fort Myers: Across Alligator Alley, there's enough of a burgeoning city in Fort Myers to justify its own team. Fans there could theoretically drive across the state to Miami or 130 miles north to get to Tampa, but between Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Naples, there are plenty of fans who could support a team in Southwestern Florida. With some expansion work, the new franchise could make use of the spring training facilities in town from September to January.

Orlando: Central Florida's biggest city still only has one team across the four traditional men's sports in the Magic, which seems surprising. The since-renamed Citrus Bowl hosted AAF and XFL teams without much success, but local fans have gotten behind UCF football in their 45,000-seat stadium. If you give them a competitive product, Orlando will get behind a team. The ample tourism to the area will also help.

Tallahassee: With nearly 80,000 people packing Doak S. Campbell Stadium for Florida State home games during the fall, there's no shortage of football history in Tallahassee. There's also enough of a gap between it and the rest of Florida's teams to help build up an audience beyond FSU students; Jacksonville, 165 miles away, would be its closest opponent.

You could make a case for Gainesville or even West Palm Beach, but Tallahassee's location in Northwest Florida completes the state's enrollment of seven teams into our 100.

Southeast (10)

NFL teams that already exist: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans

There's no doubting the passion for football in the Southeast, but much of that passion is reserved for the longstanding rivalries of the SEC. In this universe, some of those cities have been drafted into our 100-team league, both for their history and for their adjacency to nearby major population centers.

Auburn, Alabama: Take Auburn. The Tigers don't require much of an introduction. Jordan-Hare Stadium is a readymade base for our new franchise. About 35 miles away over the border with Georgia, Columbus is the home of one of the most successful indoor football teams of the past two decades in the Columbus Lions. Adding a team here to the border fills in the area between Atlanta, Birmingham and Tallahassee. Given the presence of Fort Moore nearby, a military tie-in for this franchise's branding makes sense.

Mobile, Alabama: Let's also add a team from the Gulf Coast. Mobile already has a football tradition as the annual host of the Senior Bowl, where the host stadium holds just over 25,000 people. Mobile would be another team in our Battle for I-10, starting with San Antonio in the west and making its way through Houston, New Orleans, Mobile and Tallahassee before ending up more than 1,000 miles to the east in Jacksonville. Call it the Battle for Buc-ee's.

Columbia, South Carolina: While Augusta also would have been an option, we're bypassing the home of the Masters for one of our teams in South Carolina. The Gamecocks already have a stadium that holds more than 77,000 people on campus, so there wouldn't be much of a need to add infrastructure for our new team. With two other new teams just over 100 miles away in different directions, Columbia could remain the centerpiece of football in the Palmetto State or lose some of its market share to other major cities.

Knoxville, Tennessee: It would seem foolish to not include the home of the Volunteers as an option. Knoxville is a big enough city in its own right for a franchise, and Nashville is far enough away to avoid infringing on its fanbase. Would Titans fans who went to Tennessee abandon their pro team for the opportunity to root for a Knoxville franchise? My guess is they would.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama: You probably saw this one coming, as well. Most minor and/or spring football leagues have tried placing a football team in Birmingham, which makes sense; there's a large population base and a huge passion for football in Alabama. That usually hasn't led to the expected results. Here, the team's playing 55 miles away on the Alabama campus. Maybe the muscle memory will kick in and get more fans to attend.

Charleston, South Carolina: Moving back to the Atlantic coastline, it makes sense to put a team in either Charleston or Savannah. Charleston's steadily growing population made it a logical pick. The Citadel also has an 11,500-seat stadium in town, although I'd imagine a successful pro team could command larger crowds. Wilmington feels like a natural rival, but there's not enough sports infrastructure in the town; it could be another expansion team if we were stretching this out to 125 or 150.

Raleigh, North Carolina: On the other hand, Raleigh was one of the first cities on the list for our 100. I'm not sure the Panthers would be thrilled by the idea of adding a team 150 miles or so away to the Northeast, but their feelings don't matter in this exercise. Raleigh has 1.5 million people in its metro area and already supports one professional sports team in the NHL's Hurricanes. The Triangle already has a significant football presence on the Duke and North Carolina campuses, but Carter-Finley Stadium at NC State can comfortably support enough fans within the Raleigh city limits.

Mid-Atlantic (6)

NFL teams that already exist: Washington Commanders, Baltimore Ravens

Let's work our way up the coast and add more teams in the mid-Atlantic area. Baltimore and Washington could be considered part of the Northeast, but several of the teams joining the 100 here are going to be local rivals from the population bases that have sprouted up around Washington. The Commanders would have had a stranglehold on these areas in decades past, but after the Daniel Snyder era, there's room for challengers to arise.

Alexandria, Virginia: There are a number of places west of the Potomac that would make sense for a potential new franchise, especially if the Commanders end up staying where they are or move back into D.C. Take Woodbridge, which isn't exactly a major city, but it's where the Commanders were reportedly buying land as part of a potential plan for a new stadium in the Virginia suburbs. Alexandria has a much more significant population base, is on the D.C. Metro and recently flirted with getting the Capitals and Wizards to move to a new development.

Richmond, Virginia: The state capital, on the other hand, is far enough south to support its own team without considering the shadow of the Ravens or Commanders. There would still be ties to the Commanders given they were the only team in town for a long time, but Richmond already has a modest stadium in town that could be expanded with the appropriate level of demand.

Norfolk, Virginia: Yes, a third new team in Virginia! Ninety miles to the Southeast, Norfolk could call on a variety of cities in the nearby area to help build demand, including Newport News, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. There are more than 1.1 million people between those four cities. Norfolk gets the nod by virtue of having the largest football stadium in the area, with Old Dominion's S.B. Ballard Stadium holding 21,000-plus people.

Charleston, West Virginia: We're also adding a new team to the Mountain State. Charleston fills in a large gap without teams, and because of its isolation, there might not be many other opponents within a comfortable driving distance. Its closest rival would probably be Lexington, 175 miles to the west, although there would be a natural capital city battle between Charleston and Richmond.

Northeast (6)

NFL teams that already exist: New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers

We're leaving New York and New Jersey aside for our final section. Here's where two states, unfortunately, miss out on their own franchises. Delaware's small size and proximity to Philadelphia make it Eagles country. The Patriots play in Foxborough, Massachusetts, which is closer to Providence (22 miles) than the city the team nominally represents in Boston (30 miles). It ends up occupying both states in our scenario, so while Rhode Island technically doesn't have a team, it's really getting the Patriots.

The Patriots are New England's team, which means they'd either have to change their name or occupy much of the rest of the region. Let's make them the Massachusetts Patriots. In the end, I felt like the best place for a team in Vermont was just outside of the state. I'll get to that team in the New York section, but let's touch on the teams that will challenge Drake Maye& Co. for prominence in New England.

Portland, Maine: With Durham just over the New Hampshire border and Portland 45 minutes away from the state line, this could be something closer to a shared team between the two states. (We'll get a Manchester team in the leap to 125 teams after the first 100 are so successful.) The East Coast's Portland is thriving as a tourist destination, and with the city already supporting a successful Red Sox farm team in the Sea Dogs, there's some proof Portland will come out for sports. Fitzpatrick Stadium is going to support a USL team, but with 6,000 seats, it's probably going to need to grow if the new football franchise gains prominence.

Durham, New Hampshire: New Hampshire was one of the toughest decisions on the list. Do you put the team in Manchester, which has the largest population of any city in the state, but is also just 50 miles from Boston and likely still to be Patriots country even after we expand to 100 teams? Or do you put it in Durham, which only has a population of about 17,000 people, but a recently renovated stadium on the UNH campus and 20 miles of further distance from Boston? I went with the stadium in the hopes they could draw on potential fans from the west and even southern parts of Maine, although Manchester might end up being the better choice.

Hartford, Connecticut: After the conversation that spurred this debate, it only seems fair for Hartford to also land a team. Connecticut has been shut out of major professional sports since the Whalers left for Carolinain 1997, but there are a number of minor league teams and 1.2 million people in the Hartford metro area alone. Connecticut ends up often becoming a middle ground for sports fans who pick between the teams from Boston and New York; here, it would finally get its own team to adopt once again.

New York/New Jersey (8)

NFL teams that already exist: Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, New York Jets

We'll finish by fixing something ridiculous that has existed for decades. The Bills have understandably carved out Western New York for themselves. The Giants and Jets have spent nearly a half-century playing in New Jersey, even though many of their fans live in New York and all the way further north in Connecticut. Fans who live in New Jersey have to root for teams in New York, a rival state. Nets fans didn't love it when the team moved to Brooklyn. There's no reason we should tolerate this any longer.

So, we're giving the Giants and Jets a choice. They can move back to New York or lose their names. In this scenario, they're staying put to stay in their stadium, and we're sprinkling new teams around New York. Fans can decide if they want to keep commuting to North Jersey or support a local team that is a short hop away.

Downtown Manhattan, New York: The biggest city in America has zero professional teams playing the country's most popular sport within its city limits. That needs to change. The attempt to build a stadium on the west side of Manhattan failed for myriad reasons and is no longer viable. This stadium would eventually be on reclaimed land south of Battery Park, potentially if that land joins up with Governors Island.

Bronx, New York: I believe New York City could support a half-dozen high-level teams if there was space for their stadiums, but with a recently built stadium already in place for the Yankees, the next logical landing place for a team north of Central Park would be in the Bronx. With easy access and already-existing infrastructure, the biggest issue here would be keeping the grass in good shape.

Brooklyn, New York: With more than 2.6 million people in Brooklyn, the borough clearly had the population to support sports teams for decades between the departure of the Dodgersin 1957 and the arrival of the Nets (and briefly the Islanders) in 2012. The Brooklyn Navy Yard would be one potential landing spot for a stadium, although options further south or west might have better public transportation links and create more differentiation from the teams in Manhattan. The Cyclones have thrived with a baseball stadium in Coney Island; could a football team follow?

Queens/Long Island, New York: Jets fans abound east of Manhattan, but after decades of misery, are you really enjoying taking two trains and a shuttle (or leaving four hours before the game in a car) to get to a stadium named after your local rivals? I'd love to see the Jets be the ones to move to Queens or Long Island to serve their fanbase appropriately, either by moving back in with the Mets or building a stadium that's accessible via LIRR. If the Jets stay in New Jersey, well, there are 10 million people between Long Island and Queens. A few of them will choose to support a team that doesn't play in another state.

Albany, New York: And finally, after all that, our 100th team is competition for the Bills. The New York state capital is in somewhat of a no-man's land. Buffalo is nearly 300 miles away. Boston is 170 miles to the east. Hartford is closer, but you're still looking at a significant drive to get to a local team if Albany doesn't have one. Syracuse has more football infrastructure, but it's also close enough to Buffalo to remain faithful to the Bills. Albany is 35 miles or so from the Vermont border and could also draw fans from Western Massachusetts. A team that fills in gaps among three different states feels like the appropriate final team for our 100.

The full map: All 100 potential franchises in the U.S.