With the prospect of the Bulls becoming a favorite bandwagon team once again after they select the #1 pick in the NBA Draft later this month and coming across this Jim Caple column about the overexpansion of Red Sox Nation, I’ve decided to re-visit this post from a couple of years ago where I listed the top ten teams that people should not be allowed to root for unless they have a direct and concrete geographic (as in the location where people spent their formative childhood years), alumni (for college teams), or family (fandom that is passed down from a parent that qualifies under the two previous reasons) connection. Since then, I feel that I have become even more hardened in terms enforcing these standards and am much more suspect of those that cheer for teams outside of the aforementioned legitimate connections. (On the off-chance that I have a new reader out there, I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, so I’ve been a diehard Bears, Bulls, and White Sox fan since the moment I could comprehend what was on the television, while I went to college at Illinois, so I live and die with the Illini. I feel more than confident in stating that my fandom is pure without any shenanigans.) Much of this is based on the general d-baggery of Red Sox fans over the past few years that Caple refers to (Minneapolis Red Sox excluded, even though he is an admitted baseball bigamist, which is another matter) and the increasing focus that ESPN and other media outlets have on a select number of teams at the expense of others.
In re-reading my old post, I’m actually disappointed by how lenient I was on Dan Shanoff’s adoption of the Florida Gators, particularly in the wake of the fact that he wrote an expanded post regarding this subject on his own blog a few months ago. If anything, the fact that he disposed of his alma mater Northwestern, which is a Big Ten school, in favor of an SEC school that happens to be very successful in both football and basketball as a result of his wife is unconscionable on several levels. It might have been somewhat plausible if Shanoff hadn’t attended a non-BCS school (as bad as Northwestern might be outside of women’s lacrosse) so that he could have a rooting interest on football Saturdays, but that wasn’t the case here. At the same time, I’m fairly certain that he wouldn’t have adopted, say, fellow SEC member Vanderbilt with quite the same fervor if his wife was a member of the Commodore community. Shanoff’s piece is written well enough, but the substance behind it is opportunistic and shallow. Unfortunately, there seems to be a whole lot of other people out there that take the Shanoff approach to picking teams.
As I noted in my old post from a couple of years ago, what the sports world ought to have is a list of teams that a fan can’t cheer for unless he or she can unequivocally prove a geographic, alumni, or family connection. While the claim of fandom of any team anywhere without such a connection is a punishable offense, an illegitimate fan of a team on this particular list would have an enhanced penalty, such the suspension of his Man Card in the case of a male. To amend the approach that I previously took, this list should be set up in the same manner as the UN Security Council, with permanent members that will always be off-limits and other members that rotate on and off depending upon their success. The permanent members ought to include the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Cowboys, Lakers, Knicks, Notre Dame football, and Duke basketball. No matter how good or bad these teams might be in a given year, they carry such inordinate power and sway over sports and television executives that you need extra proof to avoid the bandwagon tag for any of these clubs at all times.
The Patriots are the perfect example of a non-permanent member – a decade ago, they were the NFL equivalent of the Clippers and weren’t anywhere on that national sports radar, but have since become such a dominant franchise that anyone who has started cheering for them outside of the Boston area since Tom Brady arrived should be cut off immediately. However, once they are no longer an upper-tier team, they will likely be removed from the list because the interest in that franchise doesn’t carry the same widespread bandwagon inelasticity of, say, the Red Sox or Cowboys. On a related point, the Bulls were at the top of the list back in the 1990s as probably having the most bandwagon fans of any team in sports history, but they receded out of the national sports consciousness quickly after Michael Jordan retired for the second time. If likely draft pick Derrick Rose becomes as good as I believe he will be, then the Bulls will get right back onto the non-permanent member list with all of the national television appearances that go along with it. Anyway, the current non-permanent members outside of the Patriots include the Celtics (this year’s NBA Finals will have the largest concentration of bandwagon fans in any sport since MJ and Magic faced off in the ’91 Bulls-Lakers series), Cavaliers (simply for the presence of LeBron James), Colts, New York Giants, USC football, UCLA basketball, Florida football and basketball, and Ohio State football and basketball. (While a number of these teams might seem like possible permanent members and the reason why they’re listed here is that there’s a bit extra blowhardedness from the media about these teams in contrast to others, I’ve observed in recent years that when these teams did not perform well, the national news coverage of them declined in commiserate fashion. In contrast, look at the ridiculous volume of ink that was spilled on the horrid Notre Dame football team last season and the drama that surrounded the Lakers before they turned it around this year. That’s the difference between permanent members and non-permanent members – it’s how much you hear about them when they’re terrible.)
Please feel free to add your own suggestions to the permanent and non-permanent lists, along with any defenses that you may have if you cheer for a team that falls outside of a geographic, alumni, or family connection (although such defenses will likely fall on deaf ears on this end unless you fall into the “I grew up in a metro area without an MLB/NFL/NBA/NHL team”, “I didn’t go to a BCS school”, “I grew up in a place like Nebraska or Kentucky where everyone cheers for the flagship university regardless of whether they or their parents went to school there”, “I was an Army/Navy/Air Force/Shawn Kemp brat that moved every couple of years”, or “my formerly favorite team moved cities so I picked a different one” exceptions).