Despite MASN’s best efforts—and I’ll leave the jokes to you on how good its “best” actually is—to market the Battle of the Beltway between the Orioles and Nationals, the matchup is no more a rivalry than any other team the Orioles play this season.
Regardless of their close proximity and the background story of Peter Angelos’ effort to keep baseball out of D.C. and his subsequent ownership of MASN, it’s tough to get excited about two of baseball’s worst teams facing off six times every year.
Perhaps one day the Orioles-Nationals will bring the same flare as Yankees-Mets or Cubs-White Sox, but that idea seems to be little more than a pipedream here in 2009.
This brings us to another potential geographic rivalry that has failed to take off due to the sheer lack of games they’re able to play. The Ravens and Redskins both have rabid fan bases and would figure to form a special rivalry, if not for the fact that they play only once every four years under the current structure of the NFL.
Since 1996, the Ravens have played Washington only four times, winning games in 1997, 2004, and 2008 and losing in their 2000 Super Bowl season. The franchises have a similar backlog to the Orioles and Nationals with the Redskins’ late owner Jack Kent Cooke’s efforts to market his franchise in Baltimore and block the NFL’s return during its 12-year absence in the Charm City.
Though it has more juice than Orioles-Nationals, it’s tough for Ravens fans to invest in a rivalry with the Redskins in the same way they do with the Pittsburgh Steelers, simply because the encounters are so few and far between.
With the well-publicized desire of commissioner Roger Goodell to expand the NFL season to a 17- or 18-game schedule, is there a way for the Ravens-Redskins game to become an annual event?
Football fans have long fantasized about the interconference rivalries they would like to see on a yearly basis rather than once every four years. If the NFL wants to expand revenue by adding two games to the regular season, why not go a step further and make one of those games a geographic interconference game? Though scheduling might be a challenge, the league could even attempt to hold many of these games the same week and market it as Rivalry Sunday, much like you see during the college football season.
Here is a sampling of what you could possibly see on Rivalry Sunday:
Ravens vs. Redskins (The Battle of the Beltway)
Jets vs. Giants (The Big Apple Bash)
Steelers vs. Eagles (The Commonwealth Clash)
Chiefs vs. Rams (Missouri Mayhem)
Raiders vs. 49ers (The Bay Area Battle)
Cowboys vs. Texans (The Battle for Texas)
Dolphins vs. Buccaneers (The Florida Fight — you could also rotate the Jaguars in there)
The obvious problem under this proposal would be what to do with the teams lacking a geographic interconference rival, teams like the Bills or Seahawks. Short of moving teams to new cities, the best you could do would be to simply rotate other interconference matchups with the remaining teams.
The issue of competitive balance would also come into question, but this seems to be an afterthought to the league anyway if it plans on going to a 17-game schedule with an uneven number of home and away games. Sure, it might seem unfair for the Redskins to have to play the Ravens every year while the Cowboys play the Texans, but with the ever-changing nature of the NFL, would this really be a problem in the long run?
Ultimately, full competitive balance can never be achieved short of using computers to rank the teams—but wait…we don’t like that in college football either!
The potential excitement and revenue created through these yearly geographic matchups would far outweigh the potential drawback of competitive imbalance. You’re never going to achieve full competitive balance, but the best teams will ultimately rise to the top, regardless of the slight differences in a full schedule.
If the league is truly concerned about the overall competition between its teams, the idea of expanding the 16-game regular season should probably be reconsidered wholly. But since we know it’s really about expanding the league’s revenue, it should go one step further and give these geographic rivalries a real chance to grow.
Who knows? It might provide the Ravens with another game approaching the intensity of their two annual encounters with the Steelers.
At worst, it’s an opportunity to crush Washington every season—something all Baltimoreans can enjoy.