Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Got Parity?

Common wisdom is that the NFL has parity and Baseball does not. As a fan of a small market with teams in both leagues I certainly endorse that view with my gut.

However, I read an interesting column a while back that argued against this established belief.

(I have no idea where and I'm too lazy to look). This particular author's argument was that the more, different teams who have won a championship, the better a league's parity. By this rationale he argued that perfect parity in a 32 team league would mean that each team would win a single championship over that 32 year period. By this definition he found that baseball had much greater parity then football becuase over the last 32 years many fewer different football teams had raised the hardware at the end of the season.

While an interesting argument, I was not completly swayed at the time. Initially, I simply disagreed with a core assumption in his premise -- that parity can be judged by actual results. Sure, the text-book definition of parity would seem to agree with our mystery author. But the reason anyone is ever concerned with parity is not that we think all teams should finish with .500 records and we all shake hands at the end and declare everyone a winner.

Parity is about every team and (more importantly) every fan believing at the beginning of a season that they have a shot. If not this year, next year. Despite his numbers assuring me that I only had to wait 32 more years for another Pirate World Series, I began another season knowing we had no shot and seeing no end in sight to the madness.

Still I felt unsettled by the idea that impressions aside, baseball actually had more parity then football. I certainly could not argue with the facts as they had been presented to me.Then I read a lovely little tidbit this morning that provided clarity.

In discussing why Buffalo GM Charlie Casserly could be looking for new work in a couple of weeks, A Pro Football Weekly writer noted that by the end of this season, Buffalo would likely be 1 of only 2 AFC teams to have missed the playoffs over the last 5 seasons.

After a little bit of research, here's the results. The last 5 seasons (assuming NFL playoff picture does not change from now till end of season) 16 of the 30 MLB teams have made the playoffs. Over that same span in the NFL, 27 of the 32 teams have made the playoffs.

And isn't that what's important? Not the actual winning of championships. I think we all feel like you have to earn that and it shouldn't be easy. But the chance to win one. And what better defines that chance then making it to the playoffs?

If I had a choice between

  1. a guaranteed championship every 32 years scattered around a couple 7 year stretches of competly futility OR
  2. a guaranteed championship every 50 years punctuating 40 years of getting close and working hard
who knows what I'd pick. But there are no guaranteed championships and 32 years is a long time to wait and 7 years of crappy baseball makes you glad they build pretty stadiums.

[Reply]

1) Charley Casserly is GM of Houston, not Buffalo.

2) In the last few years, the football playoffs have changed to incorporate 4 more teams than baseball does; 12 for football compared to 8 for baseball. Should that be factored into the equation? It would seem on initial inspection and without any research harder to make the baseball playoffs, even though there are 2 fewer teanms.

Comment by steve (12/15/2006 15:55)

Playoff System no Excuse [Reply]

I almost said something in my original post about Steve's comment on the differing playoff systems. In my mind that was MLB's and NFL's choice. Competatively you can make a great argument for either. But a definate negative of MLB's lower number of playoff teams is that it hurts parity (by my definition). I do beleive that there is a limit to that line of thinking. For instance in the NBA and NHL so many teams get into the playoffs that you might have to redefine parity when discussing those leagues.

Comment by Doug (12/15/2006 15:55)

[Reply]

The NBA is weird in that you often see VERY strong teams, but not necssairly in big markets. There are great teams in smallish markets (Detroit, SA, Phoenix), and dreadful teams in big markets (NY, LAL).

Comment by steve (12/15/2006 15:55)

[Reply]

Me thinks demand for new sports teams is soley based on Nielson rating and metropolitan disposable income. Would anyone on the planet know where Green Bay is if it were not for the Packers? What has Jacksonville and Charlotte added to the NFL? Answer: more advertising revenue. It is sad to think new teams could not possible be created in such micro-markets in the modern era because frankly you have to be a really dedicated fan to sit outside in Green bay to watch football. Victory is not sweet without suffering. As a fan yes it is essential your team wins at least once in your lifetime (or maybe not as some Red Socks fans would atest). Performing well drives the attendance and other lucrative revenue streams. The World Series this year featured two teams who have not been to the dance for awhile and correspondingly the TV ratings were way down. Maybe it had been simply too long for either team to have been there for anyone to remember or maybe the other factor is the "rivally" factor. Nobody likes better then crushing the representative atheletes from that other city-state-fiefdom who claims to be better than us. It is the perception of "the chance" that your team might win the lottery this year that plugs right into the American psyche. It is also the notion of the underdog has a chance to win the Revolution and almost every conflict since then.

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