Weekly Sports League and Franchise Report
by Dan Krieger
December 14, 2020 - NBA G League (G League)
Minor League Baseball: The restructuring of MiLB from 160 teams to 120 teams for the 2021 season moved forward this week with Major League Baseball (MLB) officially sending affiliation offers to 120 teams, which still have to agree to the terms of the MLB agreements before final alignment of teams among participating leagues is complete. MiLB will actually lose a total of 43 affiliated teams across leagues at all levels since 3 former independent teams will be moving up to the affiliated ranks. The restructuring eliminated the short-season Class-A New York-Penn League and the Northwest League, which was elevated to full-season high Class-A status. The restructuring made changes to the two short-season advanced Rookie-level leagues with the Pioneer League becoming an independent MLB Partner League and the Appalachian League becoming a summer-collegiate league in the MLB Prospect Development Pipeline. The Florida State League and the California League will be switched from high Class-A to low Class-A designations, while the Midwest League moves from low Class-A to high Class-A. A new Mid-Atlantic League has been proposed as a fourth high Class-A League. Each of the 30 MLB teams will have one affiliated team at the Triple-A, Double-A, high Class-A and low Class-A designation. New York-Penn League: With the elimination of the short-season Class-A NYPL, affiliation offers were not made to seven teams: the Batavia Muckdogs, Lowell Spinners, Vermont Lake Monsters, Tri-City Valley Cats (Troy, NY), Auburn Doubledays, Norwich (CT) Sea Unicorns and Staten Island Yankees. As of now, the NYPL's Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, OH), State College Spikes, West Virginia Black Bears (Morgantown) and Williamsport (PA) Crosscutters will join the new MLB Draft League, while the NYPL's Aberdeen (MD) Ironbirds, Brooklyn Cyclones and Hudson Valley Renegades were offered full-season Class-A affiliations.
Northwest League: With the planned move of the eight-team Northwest League to a new six-team high Class-A designation, two of the league's teams called the Salem-Keizer (OR) Volcanoes and the Boise Hawks were not offered affiliations. The Boise Hawks announced they will become the eighth team in the new independent Pioneer League for the 2021 season. Boise will replace the former Pioneer League team called the Orem (UT) Owlz that relocated to become the Northern Colorado Owlz (Windsor, CO) for 2021, but the Owlz will now sit out the 2021 Pioneer League season to wait for completion of its home complex.
California League: The Cal League will remain at eight teams with the switch from high Class-A to low Class-A, but the Lancaster JetHawks were not offered an affiliation and will be replaced by the Fresno Grizzlies, which lost its Triple-A Pacific Coast League affiliation.
Southern League: The ten-team Double-A Southern League will likely have eight teams in 2021 with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp moving to Triple-A and the Jackson (TN) Generals not offered an affiliation.
Texas League: The eight-team Double-A Texas League will likely have ten teams in 2021 with the demotion of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League's Wichita Wind Surge and San Antonio Missions to a Double-A designation.
Midwest League: As the Midwest League moves from low Class-A to high Class-A, three of the league's teams called the Burlington (IA) Bees, Kane County (IL) Cougars and Clinton (IA) LumberKings were not offered affiliations for the 2021 season.
Florida State League: As the FSL moves from high Class-A to low Class-A, the league's Charlotte Stone Crabs and Florida Firedogs (North Port/Sarasota) were not offered affiliations for the 2021 season.
South Atlantic League (SALLY): The SALLY league's Hagerstown (MD) Suns, Lexington (KY) Legends and West Virginia Power were not offered affiliations for 2021, while the Rome (GA) Braves, Greenville (SC) Drive and the renamed Jersey Shore BlueClaws (Lakewood, NJ) will move to a high Class-A designation for 2021.
Carolina League: The Frederick (MD) Keys of the high Class-A Carolina League were not offered an affiliation, so the team will join the new short-season MLB Draft League for the 2021 season. Several other Carolina League teams will be moving to a low Class-A designation for the 2021 season.
National Basketball Association Gatorade League (G-League): Although the NBA G-League has yet to officially announce plans for a shortened 2020-21 season rumored to be played at one location in Atlanta, several teams have indicated they will not be part of this season. The G-League has 28 affiliated teams, the unaffiliated Capitanes de Ciudad de México and the Ignite elite prospects team. The NBA's New Orleans Pelicans, whose G-League affiliate is currently the Erie (PA) BayHawks, announced it is seeking names for its G-League affiliate when it moves to a new arena in Birmingham (AL) for the 2021-22 season.
American Basketball Association: The semi-pro ABA announced it will return to Worcester (MA) with a yet-to-be-named expansion team for the 2021-20 season. An ABA travel team called the New England Anchors played some games in the 2016-17 season and settled in Worcester as the Worcester 78s, which lasted two seasons (2017-19) in the ABA.
East Coast Basketball League: The semi-pro ECBL has made some changes to its 2021 Mid-Atlantic Conference, which had ten teams in five-team Northern and Southern divisions. The Spa City Gamblers (Saratoga, NY) will sit out due to coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions in the area, while the Binghamton (NY) Bulldogs and West Chester (PA) Wildcats have been removed from the league. For now, the remaining seven Mid-Atlantic Conference teams are grouped in one Mid-Atlantic Division.
National Arena League: The ownership of the Baltimore Lightning, which failed in an attempt this past summer to join the NAL for the 2021 season, is trying to purchase the league's Wheeling-based West Virginia Roughriders team. The Lightning ownership would keep the NAL team in Wheeling and use the Lightning to develop players for the Roughriders. The Baltimore Lightning is a member of the outdoor semi-pro East Coast Football Association and ownership is trying to build an indoor football facility for the team in the Baltimore area. The Roughriders joined the NAL for the 2020 season that was cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the team decided to sit out the 2021 season also due to the restrictions of the coronavirus.
ECHL: The minor professional ECHL started its 2020-21 season this week with only 13 of its 26 teams participating. All teams are aligned in one table for the season standings. Eight of the league's 13 other teams had already announced a voluntary suspension of play for the 2020-21 season and this week three other ECHL teamsâthe Kalamazoo Wings, Cincinnati Cyclones and Idaho Steelheadsâannounced they will voluntarily sit out the 2020-21 season. The remaining Fort Wayne Komets and Toledo Walleye teams were given permission to try to start play in February 2021.
National Hockey League: Due to potential travel restrictions between the United States and Canada related to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the NHL is expected to place all seven Canadian teams in one division for the upcoming shortened 2020-21 season. The 24 teams based in the United States would be aligned in 3 eight-team regional divisions. The NHL was considering allowing each team to have a reserve of minor league players on taxi squads for the 2020-21 season.
National Women's Soccer League: A new ownership group in Kansas City has been awarded an NWSL expansion franchise and the new Kansas City team will assume all player rights of the league's Utah Royals FC. The new Kansas City team will start play in 2021 with a name still to be determined. The owner of the Royals is also selling off men's teams in Major League Soccer and in the Division-II USL Championship. An NWSL team called FC Kansas City played five seasons (2013-17) in the league before folding with all player rights transferring to the expansion Utah Royals FC for the 2018 season. If new ownership can be found in Salt Lake City, the league would re-establish the Utah Royals FC name in 2023.
Canadian Premier League: The York 9 FC (Ontario) of the eight-team professional CPL announced a name change to the York United FC. The York 9 FC was a charter member of the CPL starting with the 2019 season and was named for the nine communities that make up the York Region north of Toronto.
USL League One (United Soccer League): The professional Division-III USL League One announced a new Fresno-based team called the Central Valley Fuego will join the league for the 2022 season. The city was recently home to the Fresno FC Foxes team for two seasons (2018-19) in the Division-II USL Championship league. Prior to that the city had an amateur team called the Fresno Fuego for five seasons (2013-17) in the USL's Premier Development League, now the USL League Two.
United Women's Soccer: The pro-am UWS announced its reserve-level UWS League Two has formed a new Mid-Atlantic Conference with four teams called the Annapolis United FC (Maryland), Keystone FC (Mechanicsburg, PA), Lancaster (PA) Inferno and Maryland Elite SC (Prince Frederick). The UWS League Two's previously announced six-team Great Lakes Conference has also added a seventh team called the Grand Haven (MI) Admirals.
Major League Rugby: The men's professional MLR announced its fourth season will start on March 20, 2021 with 13 teams aligned in a six-team Eastern Conference and a seven-team Western Conference. Each team will play a 16-game schedule through July 18, 2021. The MLR operated with 12 teams in a 2020 season that was cancelled after only a few games due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Since then, the Glendale-based Colorado Raptors of the Western Conference withdrew from the league and two new Western Conference teams called the Dallas Jackals and Los Angeles Giltinis were added.
Dan Krieger is the creator of the Weekly Sports League & Franchise Report, which has been tracking changes in the sports world's leagues, teams and nicknames since April 2007.
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