So it looks like the internet first exploded about the Los Angeles Chargers moving back to San Diego midway through their first season in their new home (not that they’d move midway, but the internet exploded midway — you get what I mean) came on Thursday, when longtime NFL reporter Don Banks went on the radio in San Diego to discuss this article in which he wrote that “sources privy to the league’s thinking” have indicated that “the NFL is shocked at how far south things have gone already for the relocated Chargers.” And then on the air, Banks upped the ante:
“There are people in the league, including the commissioner, they did not want to see San Diego forsaken. They would rather there be a team in San Diego. If there’s anything viable they can find to put the league back into San Diego, I think they will be in that camp strongly…
“I think a lot of people are in retrospect looking back and saying this was not a smart move, and how do we get ourselves out of it. But I don’t know that there’s a good option short of pressure on trying to force a sale.”
Because this is 2017, the news media first went crazy reporting that Banks was saying the NFL was about to move the Chargers back to San Diego, then went crazy debunking that notion that Banks didn’t even actually say. By the time of the Chargers game on Sunday — they lost again, and once again they sold out their 27,000-seat soccer stadium but lots of seats were either empty or occupied by fans of the visiting team, so many that the Chargers dispensed with team introductions for fear their players would get booed — things seemed to have largely calmed down. But now that it’s out there in the zeitgeist, is there anything at all to the idea of the NFL forcing the Chargers to throw in the towel on L.A.?
“Forcing,” almost certainly not: While the league can block a proposed move, it can’t undo one that’s already taken place. The most the other NFL owners could do, as Banks noted, would be to lean on Chargers owner Dean Spanos to sell the team, perhaps to an owner interested in moving back to San Diego. But that would mean 1) giving a team back to a city that spurned demands for a new publicly funded stadium, 2) undoing the lease that Spanos signed with Rams owner Stan Kroenke on a new stadium opening in Inglewood in 2020, which Kroenke is counting on to help pay his stadium construction costs, and 3) potentially angering Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis, who was denied a chance to move to L.A. because the Chargers had been granted dibs (though given that Davis is getting $750 million in tax money toward a new stadium in Las Vegas, maybe he doesn’t care about L.A. anymore, no matter how convenient it would make his haircuts).
The most reasonable conclusion, then, is what Banks actually said: The NFL is concerned by low levels of support for the Chargers, but doesn’t have any good options. The best bet is probably to wait until 2020 and hope that people want to go see the team once it’s in a new stadium; I guess Plan B would be to try to get San Diego to lure them back with a stadium offer of its own, and somehow use the proceeds to pay off Kroenke for his lost revenue? This is a huge mess, as one might have predicted from a process that was determined partly by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones challenging his fellow owners to move to L.A. to show they had “big balls.” The only question now is if NFL owners finally find an agreement to unravel their L.A. misstep, what kind of ink they’ll dip their balls in to sign it.