Kudos to Sports Illustrated, which included Fresno among its list of Top 10 “untapped areas for new franchises” in its most recent issue. Fresno has a long history of supporting minor league teams — from baseball’s Fresno Grizzlies to hockey’s Fresno Falcons/Monsters — but the closest we usually get to the major leagues is the occasional NBA expansion game.
Sports Illustrated suggests that should change. “Last week, baseball’s Rob Manfred joined the chorus of commissioners who have discussed the possibility of expanding internationally when he spoke of his desire to have MLB put another team in Canada, or one in Mexico, or both. That is in keeping with previous forays by the NBA (Mexico) and NFL (England) to grow beyond America’s borders. But while any such move would certainly generate bigger headlines, there are still fresh options remaining in the U.S. of A.”
The magazine then lists the 10 most populous cities without a team in MLB, the NBA, NFL or NHL. First on the list is Austin with 912,791 residents. But really, doesn’t Texas have enough pro teams at this point. The NBA already has three teams in the Lone Star State (Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs). Enough already.
No. 2 is Las Vegas, which could have the Raiders before long. This is actually a move we can support since it makes a lot of sense. The Raiders need to get out of Oakland and leave rickety O.co Coliseum behind, and Las Vegas is overdue for a pro franchise.
Then we have Louisville, which basically already has a pro team in the University of Louisville Cardinals (insert NCAA/Rick Pitino joke here). Next up is Albuquerque and Tucson, and then Fresno.
For Fresno, the magazine states, “Even without expansion, a new home for Oakland’s Raiders or A’s?”
Interestingly enough, Fresno broadcaster Paul Loeffler made a convincing case for the Raiders move to Fresno on Feb. 1 in a Fresno Bee commentary. Loeffler proposed a shared stadium concept with the Fresno State football team, but even he knows the money can’t compare to what owner Mark Davis will find in Las Vegas. It’s a nice thought and we’re all for thinking outside the box, but that’s all it is. The Raiders will be somewhere other than Oakland in four years, but it won’t be Fresno.
The A’s have been stuck in a terrible stadium situation for years but will never get approval to (a) move to the South Bay or (b) have a new stadium built in Oakland. Their owners are also unlikely to view Fresno as an option, even though the Central Valley and its large attendance base would make a lot of sense. That said, we’d feel a little guilty about stealing the A’s from Oakland, where the few loyal fans who support the team are among the best in the majors. We don’t have a clue about what’ll happen to the A’s, but they’re more likely to end up in Montreal than Fresno five years from now.
That leaves the NHL (sorry, but any West Coast expansion is not happening) or the NBA. We’d love to see the NBA come to Fresno, but Seattle would appear to be next in line, and justifiably so. As much as we’d like to be optimistic, we don’t see any scenario where the NBA would expand to Fresno.
The moral of the story, then, is to be thankful for what we have: An NCAA Division I athletic program in Fresno State with an enterprising AD at the helm, two great intercollegiate athletic departments at Fresno City College and Fresno Pacific, and two entertaining minor league teams in the Grizzlies and Monsters. (And don’t forget soccer’s up-and-coming Fuego.)
So as much as we appreciate Sports Illustrated’s mention, we’re going to focus on supporting our existing programs. Pro teams can offer great benefits, but they also come with a lot of drama. Just ask any Chargers’ fans in San Diego.