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A Quick Parity Check

So I was thinking about something after the Super Bowl … the Seattle Mariners have never been to the World Series. They have had the occasional excellent team beginning, of course, with the 116-win Mariners of 2001. The 1995 team was also quite good, so were the 1997 and 2000 teams. But they could not quite take that final step. The World Series, for Seattle fans, must feel a million miles away.

So, I was thinking how in Seattle people must think the NFL is a much fairer league since the Seahawks have now been to two Super Bowls, one which they believe the refs stole, and the other where they dominated the game like no team in decades. This NFL thing is pretty easy – get the right coach, the right quarterback, the 12th man and, voila, championships rain.

Then I was thinking about … my hometown, Cleveland.* The Browns have never been in a Super Bowl — that goes back to the very beginning. There is no way to even begin describing how much hope and prayer and money and dreaming we invested into those Browns. And, as of right now, the scoreboard still looks like this:

Times they’ve left town: 1
Times they’ve fired coaches: 13.
Times they’ve reached the Super Bowl: 0.

Meanwhile, the Indians have been to the World Series twice and got relatively close a couple of other times. This year, when we expected nothing out of them, they won 92 games and made the playoffs. So in Cleveland people tend to think that the World Series is accessible, possible, and it’s the Super Bowl that’s a million miles away. It’s all a matter of perspective.

*This is also true for Detroit.

We spend a lot of time in America worrying about the fairness of our sport leagues. This does not seem to be as true in some other places. In the English Premier League, for instance, there are a handful of teams that make more, spend more, win more … and more or less everyone seems to accept this as the way of big-time sports. I have a buddy in London who more than once has said to me, “The difference between here and the United States is that we like our leagues unequal and our health care equal, and you apparently prefer the opposite.”

You can leave any and all political rejoinders to this in the comments and I’m sure he will see them.

But, the sports part at least is true. Formula One racing is an extraordinary bit of capitalism — there seem almost no limits to what teams can spend, what engineering breakthroughs they can achieve, what speeds and handling advances they can reach. This is why Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel basically wins every championship and, at this point, every race.

Meanwhile our NASCAR is so concerned about achieving equality that they actually put RESTRICTOR PLATES on cars at certain tracks so that nobody can go too fast.

The Premier League’s results are self evident. The Premier League as it’s now configured began in 1992 — so there have been 21 championships. They have been won by five teams.

Manchester United — 13
Arsenal — 3
Chelsea — 3
Manchester City 1
Blackburn Rovers — 1

But here’s where it gets even more remarkable. Only three other teams — Newcastle, Liverpool and Aston Villa — have even finished runner up. It’s just understood: If you are not rooting for one of the five or six biggest teams, your team has pretty much no chance to win the Premier League and not much of a chance to come especially close. The excitement in England for these other teams comes from other things besides championship races — from the many other tournaments going on, from the games against your biggest rival, from the occasional thrilling upset and, paradoxically perhaps, from the triumph or disappointment of a relegation battle.

Here, that just doesn’t fly. Our leagues don’t have relegation — you’re stuck in the league no matter how badly you do. The thrill of upsets doesn’t last more than a few hours. The rivals games at the professional level don’t have the bite they once did. We don’t have any other tournaments to distract our attentions.

And so we worry about fairness. Equality. Parity. We obsess over it. The leagues institute salary caps and luxury taxes, reverse-order drafts and compensation picks, franchise player tags and shared revenue, all in a concerted effort to give every team a somewhat even chance and every city a somewhat reasonable hope for something good to happen.

So … where do the sports stand? There are a million ways to look at (of course) but I pulled out the simplest way I could think: I went back 30 seasons in each sport. I chose 30 because that is roughly the number of teams in each league (MLB, NHL, NBA all have 30; the NFL has 32). Also, this allows me to include the 1985 Kansas City Royals.

Here’s what we’ve got:

Won the Super Bowl: 14 teams
Made the Super Bowl: 25 teams
Most wins: Giants and 49ers 4; Cowboys and Patriots 3; Broncos, Packers, Washington, Steelers and Ravens 2 each.
Most appearances: Patriots 7, Broncos 6, Giants and 49ers 5.

Comment: The NFL prides itself on parity, and the results here are pretty good. It is interesting that for all all the big market, small market talk in baseball, the NFL’s big markets (New York, New England, San Francisco in particular) have certainly done better than smaller markets like Cleveland, Kansas City, Jacksonville and Cincinnati. Of course Green Bay is usually brought up as an example of how small markets can thrive in the NFL. I do wonder, though, if Green Bay is still a small market — it’s kind of a national team in many ways.

* * *


Won the World Series: 18 teams
Made the World Series: 25 teams
Most wins: Yankees 5; Red Sox 3; Giants, Cardinals, Twins, Blue Jays and Marlins 2.
Most appearances: Yankees 7; Cardinals 6; Braves 5; Red Sox, Giants and Phillies 4.

Comment: When it comes to the big game, at least for the last 30 years, baseball is looking awfully competitive with the NFL on the parity front. We appear to be entering into another baseball spending spree with all the regional television money that is about to be dumped on teams like Los Angeles. And with that comes the usual worriers, of which I’m often one. But so far there’s something about baseball structure that eludes the big spenders.

* * *

Won the NBA Championship: 8 teams
Made the NBA Finals: 19 teams
Most wins: Lakers 8; Bulls 6; Spurs 4; Heat, Celtics and Pistons 3.
Most appearances: Lakers 13; Bulls and Celtics 6; Spurs and Pistons 5.

Comment: Well, here is the least competitive league in American sports — which might be why the NBA appeals to so many around the world. There’s a baffling salary cap in place and there are countless baffling rules about player movement. But in the end, this is the only league in America where someone like LeBron James can call up a couple of buddies, come meet in Miami and won championships.

* * *

Won the Stanley Cup: 16 teams
Made the Stanley Cup Finals: 23 teams
Most wins: Oilers 5; Red Wings 4, Devils and Penguins 3.
Most appearances: Oilers 7, Red Wins 6, Devils 5; Penguins, Bruins and Flyers 4.

Comment: A little bit more competitive than I realized — 16 different teams winning in 30 seasons is actually quite open ended. I guess the most interesting part is that 1980s powers — Edmonton, the Islanders and Montreal in particular — have not been in the Finals in two decades. It seems like the game took a very sudden shift in the mid-1990s. I’m sure some big hockey fans will be happy to explain below, between the anti-England political comments.

* * *

Obviously, you can draw your own conclusions. But I think baseball has probably been the most competitive sport in America the last 30 or so years, even with all the money spent by the Yankees and Red Sox and Angels and others. The NFL does let in a couple more playoff teams and I think (though I haven’t looked too closely) that it’s easier to make a quick turnaround in the NFL than it is in baseball.

But I think the way baseball is played, the way the salaries are structured (with the youngest players and often best players still making a lot less money than the older guys) and the crapshoot that is the baseball postseason, baseball is still your city’s best shot.

One thing is pretty clear: The NBA is NOT your city’s best shot. Unless LeBron happens to like it.

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77 Responses to A Quick Parity Check

  1. brian says:

    The problem is that lumping in the salary structure of 1984’s MLB with 2014’s MLB is like combining apples and oranges and comparing them to pears. You have the ’85 Royals, ’87 and ’91 Twins, ’89 A’s, ’90 Reds, and ’92-93 Blue Jays, all of whom are behind the 8-ball economically now (some have transcended that and others have not), and none of whom have been to the Series since the strike. Meanwhile the NFL and NHL have much more parity than they used to, caused to at least some degree by the combination of free agency and salary caps. The Patriots are the only team that can conceivably be called a dynasty since the end of the Cowboys’ era, and the NHL has opened up after it was the same-old same-old for a while.

    I’m not sure what the numbers would be if you went back 20 years instead of 30, but baseball wouldn’t look nearly as good, and that would be a reflection of the true parity of these leagues now.

    • Laurence says:

      If you define parity as “teams with below average payrolls having a chance to win” then, well, I still think you’re wrong but you might have some kind of a point. But I don’t think that’s a good definition of parity. I’d prefer “any team, competently run, is financially able to construct a roster which gives them a chance to win”. Under that definition, I think there’s no doubt that baseball has something close to parity.

      Is there a single team in MLB which genuinely cannot afford to compete (as is the situation in the EPL, for instance)? No, I don’t think there is. Some have to be very, very well run (the Rays) and of course with less money you have a longer cycle and probably have to get lucky. And there are teams whose ownership chooses not to compete (the Marlins).

      As a wider point, I actually think MLB has a better version of parity than the platonic ideal of “all teams have an equal chance to win”. I actually think bigger/more popular/historic teams probably *should* have some sort of natural advantage – just not one which means they win all the time (ie the EPL model). It’s clear that there’s a commercial advantage to having a small group of famous teams win all the time – you attract the frontrunning/international fan base that doesn’t want to change teams all the time but also wants to support a winner.

      So, yeah, I think if MLB could land at a point where, say, half its titles were shared around by about 10 teams and the other half around the other 20 that would probably be the best form of ‘parity’ for all concerned. If you’re a Brewers fan you *can* win, but probably won’t very much, and if you’re a Yankees fan you *will* win every so often, but probably not all the time.

      • says:

        The Marlins have 2 WS championships since 97 and they have only been around since 93. I’d think most fan bases would take that. Maybe the Cubs ownership should take the Marlins strategy and as you say, “choose not to compete.”

        • BeninDSM says:

          The Marlins franchise cannot be fairly compared to any other I’ve ever heard of. They probably should be struck from any study as an outlier. They’ve been huge spenders and engaged in the most legendary fire sales in baseball history. The Marlins cannot be understood.

          • Which hunt? says:

            Marlins baseball is an ponderous quantum soup. i.e. You can’t know simultaneously where they are and know where they are headed.

          • The Jeffrey Loria version of the Marlins will never win a championship. He has no clue….. Check that…. Even if he does have a clue, he doesn’t care at all if he wins.

    • Paul Zummo says:

      Going back 20 years, 10 different MLB teams have won the Series and 12 teams have won the Super Bowl. 12 teams in both sports have failed to even reach the championship, which leaves the NFL with a 2-team advantage again since it has 2 more teams.

      I’ve done what Joe’s done in the post many times, and no matter how you cut it – championships, playoff appearances, number of no luck teams (Bills, Redskins, Lions vs. Pirates, Royals, Brewers), etc, NFL and MLB are basically neck and neck when it comes to parity, with the NBA just being brutally bad.

  2. Craig from Az says:

    I think the reason we insist on fairness in our sports leagues is that we no longer recognize any accomplishment, except winning it all, as having any value. So if you don’t have a “fair” shot at the WS (or Superbowl, or BCS championship, etc.), you might as well not play. Not sure how that happened. I grew up in Kansas in the 70s and remember when winning the Big 8 (as it was known then) was a big deal. Sure, you still wanted to go to a big bowl, or NCAA tourney, but even if that went poorly you had a good year. That doesn’t seem to be true (even for me) anymore.

    • JB says:

      I agree completely that fans seem to have a mindset that winning the biggest championship possible is the only way to achieve success. I wish more stock was put into winning your conference/division.

    • Bottom line is that most fans won’t watch a team that has no chance. Parity at least gives the illusion that all teams have a chance, so fans will support the teams. Most teams anyway.

    • It’s weirder than that; the only good thing is winning a championship, and the worst thing is almost getting there, because it means you “choked”.

      • MCD says:

        This was discussed at length on “Mike and Mike” recently. The overwhelming consensus among fans was that going 3-0 in Super Bowls was better than going 3-2. I understand the concept of being “undefeated”, but the notion that if a team going 0-16 in each of those other two season was somehow better than coming with a win of the championship seems crazy to me.

  3. Ed says:

    NASCAR doesn’t use plates for parity. The restrictor plates were originally used to keep speeds down at Daytona and Talladega. Now plates are used to create big wrecks at those tracks.

  4. Robert Hay says:

    How are you getting 4 WS appearances by the Phillies? Are you counting 1983? If you’re going 30 years back, wouldn’t that start at 1984?

  5. bullman says:

    Including pre-strike baseball is like looking at pre-bikini swimsuits.

  6. brian says:

    And after running the numbers, I’ll take back what I said earlier. In the last 20 seasons, MLB and the NFL both have eleven teams that have not made the final round, and eight that have made it but not won it. The NFL’s two extra teams both going in the winners’ group are the only difference.

  7. Jake Bucsko says:

    It’s a difficult thing to quantify what “parity” really means. Does MLB really have parity because the Blue Jays won the Series 20 years ago? The Pirates and Royals were competitive this year, but does that erase decades of futility?

    I tend not to think of a league as having parity because a team is good once in a blue moon. For instance, the Detroit Lions made the playoffs in 2011, which is probably info used in one of those “X amount of teams have made the playoffs since 20xx, therefore the NFL has parity” stats that are tossed around.

    But, that is Detroit’s only winning season since 2000 and the Lions have seen exactly ONE playoff win since the Presidency of Dwight D Eisenhower.

    The 2002 Oakland Raiders made the Super Bowl, which is probably info used in one of those “X amount of teams have made the Super Bowl since 20xx, therefore the NFL has parity” stats that are tossed around.
    But, they are 53-123 since that Super Bowl, with 0 winning seasons.

    The Buffalo Bills made 4 straight Super Bowls from 90-93, an unmatched feat. Great, great team. In the 20 years since, the Bills have won ONE playoff game and haven’t even made the playoffs since 1999.

    Is that really parity?

    Also, as far as the Prem goes, I think the only fans who are happy with the inequality of the league are the ones that benefit from it. I highly doubt you’ll find an Aston Villa or Fulham fan talking about how great it is that teams who spend hundreds of millions are always great while the rest fight for their scraps. As an Everton supporter, its more than a little frustrating finishing 6th every year.

    • Joe says:

      Well, you can’t infer that what is true of the whole is true of its parts. Parity in a league won’t necessarily show up equally in each of its teams. That’s like inferring that large houses must have large rooms, then using the smallness of a pantry as evidence that the house isn’t really large after all.

    • Simon says:

      I think that my definition of “parity” is something like what is up above with the baseball Rays comparison: Can an organization that is well run compete for the championship regardless of their own spending constraints?

      In any sports league, anywhere, you need some luck – that the players you develop end up reaching or exceeding their potential. But for real parity to exist, the luck required can’t be lottery luck, it has to be or at least feel more realistic.

      In your examples above, the Lions and Raiders have been two of the worst run organizations in football over the last 10 years, and it shows in the standings. That’s okay with me – if you run your team poorly, you should lose, regardless of the money you throw at it. The Patriots and Packers (to name two) have been at or near the top of the standings with a great deal of stability, good succession planning, and a consistent and effective organizational strategy that works in their sport’s system.

      By this definition also, the NBA has the worst parity. I think it’s because of the huge impact that a single player can have. You either have a superstar (or two) players, or you don’t. And as a fan, you know that without at least one superstar (and I mean a top 8-10 player), you have zero chance. You don’t have a small chance, if everything goes right. You have zero chance.

      I think that the salary cap and max salary rules may even hurt NBA parity (may), because every team can only offer a superstar the same max amount. The players who have the opportunity are picking teams on factors other than money. For a lot of mid market and small market teams, that hurts more. Milwaukee vs. Chicago. Hmmm. Toronto vs. Miami, hmmmm. Sacramento vs. LA, hmmm. At least in the other three sports, if you want to pay a player dumb money, you can. It just isn’t as smart in those other sports.

      I’m a 30 year old baseball fan in Toronto, and it has been a pretty sad 20 years. As a mid-market team in a weird country, I know that we aren’t going to get a lot of free agents unless we overpay, which I’m not really into. I know that our chance is for our team to draft well, develop players, and have a group emerge into the big leagues as impact players at the same time. It’s going to take scouting, patience, timing, and a big dose of luck, but it’s not that close to impossible. Tampa Bay and Oakland have had luck (or are expert developers). Toronto and Kansas City have not (so far). Our day will come!

  8. Yup, the NFL’s parity talk has always been bullshit.

  9. brian says:

    Limiting it to the last 20 years gets the following (Winners/Losers/No Appearances)
    MLB: 11/8/11

    Hockey would seem to be the most competitive under that model. The fact that so few goals are scored, when contrasted with the high number of points scored in NBA games, seems to point to more randomness in the playoffs, which allows for a greater probability of upsets in general. Plus hockey is probably the least likely to depend on one player.

  10. Paul P says:

    There are 4 main reasons for the enhanced NHL parity in recent years as best as I can tell: salary cap, expansion, playoff system, shootout play.

    The 2004-05 lockout season that was lost in its entirety is one of the biggest reasons for bringing parity to the game. There has been a hard cap (tied to league revenues with both a cap and floor introduced) in place for 8 completed seasons since that lockout, producing 7 different Cup winners and 12 finalists featured out of a maximum of 16 in this period. The cap itself was rolled back and altered during the most recent (2012-13) lockout that cost fans another half season. Casual fans will probably say well Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston and Detroit have been competitive for nearly a decade now. This is true, but it has more to do with superstar cores from a lot of high draft picks (Pittsburgh, Chicago) and shrewd management and coaching (Boston, Detroit). The gap between the poorest and richest teams shrank considerably since the cap institution, which has yielded parity.

    Reason #2 is that the early part of your 30 year sample period, the NHL had fewer teams (in 1990-91 there were still only 21 teams vs. 30 teams today). Fewer teams, easier chance to win of course. There was less turnover on these teams as well because free agent dollars had yet to blow up, and many NHL players believed more in staying where they started and keeping a core together vs. chasing dollars. This produced the Edmonton, NY Islanders, Montreal and Detroit dominance of the 80’s and into the 90’s. This is not unlike all the other sports before the high profile free agency period in each sport emerged.

    Reason #3 is the playoff system itself. The NHL playoff format is known for being gruelling and demanding for its 4 best-of-7 series with minimal days off in between games. This produces more meaningful playoff series all the way through. Teams cruising through a round or two in the playoffs on skill alone like the Heat or Spurs have in recent years aren’t an option – the teams are too balanced and the play too exhausting. The first round matchups regularly produce upsets and top seeds making the conference finals are not a common occurrence. Hockey, like baseball, isn’t the kind of game where the better team wins 70+% of the time – top teams simply do not win as high a proportion of games as in the NFL and NBA.

    Reason #4 that you’d probably love to dissect is the “loser” point given for shootout and overtime losses that distorts the standings, and also allows for the randomness of shootout play to bring teams closer together in the standings. A good team winning 3-0 in regulation gets them 2 points, whereas a sloppily played game between two mediocre teams that goes to a shootout produces 2 points for the winner, 1 for a loser… you can see the immediate issues with the math on this in producing fair standings.

    The Penguins, for instance, with the flashy core led by Crosby and Malkin have not been to the Finals since 2009, and this in large part due to the fact that the gap between the Penguins and a low playoff seed isn’t THAT significant (as compared to Gretzky’s Oilers destroying the 16th seed in a 21 team league in round 1 of the 85’ playoffs). It is also due to the fact the Penguins cannot simply pursue top talent via free agency with the cap. Throw in the fact the shootout artificially keeps more teams in the mix and distorts which teams are actually good based on simply winning a 3-minute skills exhibition at the end of a tie game, there are a number of reasons for NHL parity. This results in top teams losing to lower seeds regularly in the NHL playoff format. It is not a star driven or dominated sport, despite how the American media promotes the stars to generate interest.

  11. Anon says:

    Had this same topic come up on another board that I freqent – to those saying it has changed recently, I assure you if you start with 2001 (1st year after the Yankee “dynasty”), the numbers are about the same – NFL, MLB, NHL are all reasonably equal in parity with the NBA lagging behind:
    MLB – 9 champs,14 teams playing for the champ
    NFL – 9 champs, 16 particiapants
    NHL – 10 champs, 16 participants
    NBA – 6 champs, 11 participants .

  12. Cathead says:

    I’m afraid I don’t have the time to do this today myself, but I can’t help but wonder what these numbers would look like using major college football and basketball. The first thing to note there is that there are 120 FBS (or whatever it is now) teams, and who knows how many basketball teams that are in play. But there is a very limited number of teams who have won or competed in championships. Percentage-wise, I bet US college sports looks a lot like UK soccer. To put it another way, parity is not the great priority in college sports, although we get some lip service about it.

    • DJ MC says:

      Just in terms of college basketball…

      Going back 20 years, of the 80 possible Final Four slots, 37 different programs have made it. Sixteen have made it at least twice, and there’s a nice even split going up from there: 12 made at least three (Lousiville, Ohio State, Arizona, Syracuse), eight made at least four (Kansas, UConn, Florida, UCLA), four made at least five (Kentucky, Duke), two made at least six (Michigan State) and one made it seven (North Carolina).

  13. Ross Holden says:

    I think that when many sports fans like myself say that we like parity, it’s as much about the process as the end-results. We want competency to rule, not cash and market size, and the process to be fair. The NFL hasn’t had better parity than baseball, but it’s because there are certain teams who consistently make good personnel decisions (GM on down), e.g. the Pats, Steelers, Niners, etc. and those who consistently make poor decisions, e.g. Browns, Lions, etc. When the NFL produces consistent winners and losers that way, fans are ok with it. The process is fair. But when the Yankees just out-spend everyone to make the playoffs almost every year, many of us don’t consider that especially fair.
    That being said, the recent success of the Pirates, Rays, and the continued success of the A’s make it more fun when they do well.

  14. Don_Rocko says:

    Just a quick correction – you mention that the Oilers haven’t been back to the Stanley Cup Finals in two decades. They actually made it all the way to game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes (!) in 2006, the first year after the lockout. They haven’t made the playoffs since… and don’t appear likely to do so any time soon, either. Just thought that’s worth mentioning. (The Islanders and Canadiens you’re spot-on)

  15. adam says:

    I’m a Seattle fan, though I don’t live there any more. I have to comment on Joe’s posit that Seattle fans must think a Superbowl is easier to get to or win than a World Series. I don’t believe that at all.

    Winning a championship is extraordinarily hard. If your chances at winning were completely random (say 1 in 30), there is an 18% chance you could go 50 years without winning [ (29/30)^50 =~ 18% ].

    I believe the most important thing is to build a championship quality team that puts you in position to win. It doesn’t mean you will win. For example, the 116-win Mariners team was championship quality. They didn’t get past the Yankees, but I believe they were clearly good enough to do so, and had things gone slightly differently they might well have. Conversely if the NFC championship this year had gone slightly differently, the 49ers might be celebrating right now. This does not mean that it’s easier or harder to win the WS or SB, or even that this year’s Seahawks are better than that 116-win Mariners team. It’s just what happened.

    On the NBA, I think there’s some clear reasons why there’s been less parity:
    -Upsets are rare, especially in the late playoff rounds. Almost all championships have been won by 1 or 2 seeds.
    -An NBA team is essentially a 9-man operation. One star NBA player makes a bigger difference than in any other sport.
    -Because of that, if you hit the draft equivalent of the power-ball a couple times, and you could be set for a decade, i.e. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
    -Salary cap makes it harder to move around.

    • SBMcManus says:

      I think Robinson/Duncan is closer to the “draft lottery miracle” than Jordan/Pippen. They didn’t even have to win the first pick to get Jordan, and Pippen wasn’t even drafted by Chicago (although maybe they had a pick-and-trade deal already established).

      • adam says:

        Sure – Duncan really was a miracle as Robinson was hurt and the normally excellent Spurs had a really bad year, won the lottery, and the rest was history.

        The point was more that if you really strike it rich in the draft a couple times in terms of the players you get, you can be set for several years of championship runs. That’s not true in any other sport discussed. It doesn’t matter so much whether you win the lottery twice and get to draft two obvious superstars, or you get there through well-made top ten picks that really pan out (Pippen was actually a draft day trade). Either way, you can secure several years of eliteness (is that a word?) very quickly if the right things happen.

  16. Damon Rutherford says:

    “The Browns have never been in a Super Bowl — that goes back to the very beginning. There is no way to even begin describing how much hope and prayer and money and dreaming we invested into those Browns. And, as of right now, the scoreboard still looks like this:

    Times they’ve left town: 1
    Times they’ve fired coaches: 13.
    Times they’ve reached the Super Bowl: 0.”

    Ah, but how convenient for Browns fans when they want to cry poor to start with the 1966 season and the first Super Bowl, all the while ignoring the EIGHT championship Browns teams from ’46-’64. Had the Super Bowl started two years earlier, then how would they feel!?

    And the “Super Bowl” truly started in 1960 when the AFL and NFL champs started to play each other at the end of the season.

    • Damon Rutherford says:

      I also would argue that perhaps Cleveland was given another franchise after the first Browns went to Baltimore *because* of their successful history prior to the age of the Super Bowl. Had the NFL only started in 1966, I doubt Cleveland with their awful history henceforth would have been given a second chance.

    • forsch31 says:

      >>>”Ah, but how convenient for Browns fans when they want to cry poor to start with the 1966 season and the first Super Bowl, all the while ignoring the EIGHT championship Browns teams from ’46-’64. Had the Super Bowl started two years earlier, then how would they feel!?”

      Probably about the same as Toronto Maple Leaf fans. The majority of whom who were not alive when the team last won a championship.

  17. Dave says:

    The Packers are going to wonder why they only get credit for 2 wins instead of 4, and aren’t included in the most appearances with their 5 when other teams with 5 are included. Which 2 of their 4 Superbowl wins do you feel they don’t deserve?

  18. AJK says:

    Isn’t money the reason that 3 of 4 sports leagues shoot for parity? Owners and players have figured out that they collectively make more money by keeping more fans interested more of the time. Hence, expanded playoffs and enough league rules to make most of the teams competitive once in a while, or at least to give the appearance of competitiveness. And the one league that is the most star-driven, the NBA, doesn’t care as much about parity because the owners and players are doing just fine riding the superstars.

    • Andrew says:

      I’m more cynical. I think leagues like the NHL just want to keep the newer, uber-rich owners happy so they don’t sell out or move.

      • AJK says:

        Interesting and similar. The teams that could exist like and prosper like the English football giants (Yankees, Dodgers, Flyers, Patriots, etc.) without salary caps or tons of profit sharing are better off when there is a team in Cleveland or Phoenix for them to play. That would be why they prop up new owners. It’s actually more cynical. They don’t care about the team moving or selling out necessarily. They care about making the most money. What all that says about Americans as sports fans I don’t know.

  19. Rick R says:

    Think about this for a moment: at one time, the Seattle Mariners had, on the same team, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez and Randy Johnson in their primes. You could make a very persuasive argument that they had the best infielder, the best outfielder, the best pitcher, and the best designated hitter all on the same team, and still they never even went to the World Series, much less won it.

    The reason was, that was basically all they had. The rest of the team was varieties of crap.

    This points to the real difference between the Yankees and the rest of the league. Not the stars. Other teams have had stars. The Cubs have had stars (they too have fielded a team with 4 Hall of Famers and no rings—Banks, Williams, Santo and Jenkins). What the Yankees can afford is depth. They could add a Johnny Mize to their bench in the 1950 or a David Justice to their bench in 2000, to complement their own stars, the Mantles and Jeters. It’s the third starters and the setup men and the pinch hitters that make it tough for teams with lower payrolls to compete with the Yankees.

    • Which hunt? says:

      Exactly! It’s the Raul Mondesis and Johnny Gomes and David Wells that back up Pedroia, Jeter and Clemens. Scott Broscious and Aaron Boone. Chuck freaking Knoblauch. Quality role players get expensive when you start adding them up.

    • Spencer says:

      @Rick R

      The reason is the randomness of a 7 game series, sometimes the best team doesn’t win.

      Or are you really trying to say a team that won 116 games needed better players?

    • Naliamegod says:

      The whole “Mariners had Griffey, Johnson and Alex together in their primes” is a myth. Rodriguez wasn’t a regular until 1996, when Johnson missed most of the year after his back broke from carrying the 1995 pitching staff. In 1997, they had all three players on that team and made the playoffs. Then in 1998, Johnson had a big fight with the ownership and was traded in midseason. A year later, Griffey followed suit then Alex the year later.

      Also, the idea that the Yankees can afford depth but others can’t is not true. The Yankees have some major holes despite their spending, while teams like the Athletics and Devil Rays have structured their team around depth. Spending money for depth generally means you are paying more for veterans, who are likely to collapse.

      • Rick R says:

        If the Mariners had the Big 4 for all of 1997 in their primes, that doesn’t seem like a myth. They were bounced out of the first round of the playoffs in 4 games because you could pitch around the Big 3 to get to the Dan Wilsons of the world. And having the Big 3 plus the Big Unit for part of the year in 1996 and 1998 is still a hell of a nucleus.

        There have been plenty of Yankees teams that have spent poorly and lost, but when they do spend wisely, they are hard to compete with, though not impossible as teams like the A’s and Rays have proven (though I don’t think the Rays have had quite the depth you think they have)

        • Ian R. says:

          Funky you mentioned Wilson. He was actually the ONLY hitter in that lineup who was below average, and with a 96 OPS+ he was only just barely so. Every other regular on the 1997 Mariners was significantly above average.

          There were no easy outs on that team. Their problem was a horrible bullpen and a weak back of the rotation.

        • Bill Caffrey says:

          Big 3?

          Jay Buhner in 1997: .243/383./506 132 OPS+ 40HR, 157 Games Played.

          • Ian R. says:

            In fact, that was a significantly better offensive year (albeit with a much lower average) than A-Rod had. Rodriguez was FIFTH on the team in OPS+, behind Griffey, Martinez, Buhner and Paul Sorrento.

            Hey, maybe the lineup had a Big Three. Rick was just referring to the wrong Big Three.

        • adam says:

          The Mariners of the late ’90s were very different than the early ’00s, though the results were similar. The late ’90’s teams had hall-of-fame talent at the top but little depth – especially after Jamie Moyer in the rotation, and the bullpen was just awful. The early ’00s team was far more well rounded, especially the 2001 team – but they didn’t have anyone like Griffey or A-Rod or a pitcher like Johnson.

    • Carl says:

      Mr. Buhner and Mr. Tino Martinez would like a word with you about only have 4 non-varieties of crap.

  20. DjangoZ says:

    As an American who prefers the EPL and universal healthcare I can only say that I think your friend and his country have good taste in those regards.

    Now if they could only deal with their unemployment, class system, alcoholism, difficulty moving on from a failed empire and take the collective stick out of their collective butts…well then they could compete with America in everything else. Till then I’ll watch the Premier League early in the morning from here while enjoying my Obamacare, which is pretty good.

  21. Michael Matic says:

    You can’t really compare the EPL to North American sports leagues due to the fact that there is not a playoff.The winner of the regular season is the winner. I wonder how many of those United teams would have been upset if there was, say, a four team playoffl

    • DJ MC says:

      This is a very good point.

      Just looking at baseball, over the last 30 years (including 1994, in this case) fourteen different teams finished with the best record. Actually, more than I expected before checking.

      Atlanta (4)
      New York Yankees (4)
      St. Louis (3)
      Oakland (3)
      Boston (2)
      Cleveland (2)
      Detroit (2)
      New York Mets (2)
      Philadelphia (2)
      Washington/Montreal (2)
      Los Angeles Angels
      San Francisco

      I would have guessed more from the Yankees, Braves and Athletics.

  22. Duke Marquis says:

    Really, Joe? You’re going to jump on the PC Bandwagon and call them “Washington” when you name every other team by their moniker? Really? Two thumbs down! Go Redskins!

    • Herb Smith says:

      I hate to clue you in on this, dude, but pretty much every national writer does this now. Has Snyder brainwashed the Washington locals into thinking he’s making some kind of courageous stand by refusing to face reality?

      I’m far from a politically-correct type of fellow, but sometimes you gotta go with the flow.

    • Spencer says:

      @Duke Marquis

      Yes he is. It’s 2014. You’re on the wrong side of history. Joe’s on the correct side.

    • Andrew W. says:

      I think its pretty great that Joe refuses to use a racist slur. And I think you should reexamine some things in your life.

  23. Stephen says:

    Jayson Stark of ESPN, baseball writer, writes a column or two about this very subject each year–most recently a few days ago:

    His conclusion, for those who wish to know without reading, is that baseball is generally slightly more paritous (if such is a word, which it is now) than football, salary caps be damned.

  24. Guilherme says:

    There’s another point to consider about hockey and baseball: they develop their own players.

    While NBA and NFL draft picks are mostly ready play in their first professional season, MLB and NHL franchises draft a teenager who most likely won’t see big game until they’re at least 20 or 21.

    This development stage allows for smart franchises to have better prospects than dumb, high-draft-picking teams (the Red Wings have done much better with their late picks than the Oilers with their stream of first-and-second-overall-picks).

    It also makes sure money is not the main component of team building (think recent Yankees or Rangers teams)

  25. Tony in Hitchin says:

    A huge difference between the four referenced sports and the Premier League, to pick one, is the holding of an annual draft. The Premier League has no draft, indeed I can’t think of a non-American sports that does hold a draft.

    In soccer, a team that finishes in the bottom three or four of a league gets punished by being relegated to a lower division which means, amongst other things, siginificantly less TV revenue in future (with this drop in revenue being a real killer). In American leagues, the teams that finish in the basement are rewarded, with the highest picks in the next draft. The difference between these two approaches is monumental, and affects the teams and the leagues for years to come.

    In the Premier League, as well as the rest of European Leagues, some kind of financial parity is being attempted by the introduction of Financial Fair Play, whereby teams will be forced – ahem – to maintain a level of balance between spending and income. (This “balance” means to incur a loss within defined parameters, to prevent wealthy oweners from simply piling in money, as we’ve seen in the cases of Chelsea and Manchester City in recent years.) It remains to be seen how strenuously Europe’s governing body will enforce these new rules.

  26. Jake Bucsko says:

    Also, I saw a comment up there about how the EPL cannot be compared to our sports leagues because there is no playoff. Here are a few reasons why that is not the case.

    1. The EPL, and indeed all of European soccer, is ALL ABOUT playoffs. They have more playoffs than we do! During the Prem season there is the Capitol One Cup/League Cup, and a massive playoff called the FA Cup that this year included 737 teams from various levels. Closest thing would be to imagine that during the MLB season, major league teams competed against all the minor league teams all the way down to rookie ball. And that’s before you get to the international level with the Confederations Cup, the Gold Cup, the Euro Cup, the World Cup…

    2. Manchester City is likely to win the Prem this year, but that’s not the highest honor that they, or Manchester United or Chelsea, can attain. The top 3 or 4 teams in the Prem earn the right to play in the Champions League, which collects the top teams from every major European league and pits them against each other in…a playoff. In the last decade, Chelsea, Man U, and Liverpool have all won the Champions League. Winning the Prem is a great honor, but here, after winning the World Series or Stanley Cup, the Red Sox and Blackhawks don’t enter into a tournament against other top baseball/hockey teams from Japan/Russia. This is also because with a few exceptions, the vast majority of the best players in baseball/basketball/hockey/football all play here, in America. Soccer is such a gigantic global game with so many incredible talents, that they cannot be confined to one nation.

    3. The Premier League itself does not need playoffs. In football, there is always a lot of talk about strength of schedule. In hockey this year, the common wisdom is that the Western Conference is much better than the East. In baseball, there is always a division with a lot of good teams, while there is always a division won by default because there is little to no competition. Et cetera. The schedule in the Prem is perfect. There are 20 teams. Each team plays the other 19 twice, once home, once away. 38 games. Without the disparity of a different schedule, there is no need for a playoff to prove which team is best. The winner is the winner.

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      First of all, nobody cares about the League Cup. All of the teams that compete for the League Cup also compete for the FA Cup. At the same time.

      More importantly, the point of the original comment that you were trying to refute is that you can’t compare EPL to American sports because there is no playoff. For purposes of league titles, this is true.

      The fact that there are other competitions to win is irrelevant to the comparison of United’s 13 titles to the Yankees’ 4 titles. If there were a 4 or 8 team playoff to determine the EPL title, surely United would have been upset a bunch of times (and perhaps they themselves would’ve upset someone else one of the years when they didn’t finish top). That’s all the commenter was pointing out. The existence of the Champions League or the FA Cup simply has no bearing on that comparison.

  27. MCD says:

    Joe seems to indicate that Americans like parity in their sports. I don’t know if that is necessarily true. Yes, the leagues themselves try to balance things out, and yes, people like *their* team to be competitive. But never do you hear as much griping and complaining as when non-traditional teams make the MLB or NFL championship games.

    When the Titans and the Rams played, I kept hearing how it was the “worst Super Bowl matchup ever” (the game itself turned out to be one of the best). In 2001, people acted like a Mariners-Marlins World Series would be the worst event in the history of mankind. Thank heavens the Yankees were able to upset Seattle. NOBODY wanted to see the record tying 116-win Mariners in the WS, that would have been AWFUL. I understand the TV network wanting that New York market. I understand Yankee fans rooting for the Yankees. But even people with no allegiance to the Yankees somehow saw a Mariner/Marlin match-up as *bad*. Why would fans with no other rooting interest so strongly prefer to see a familiar team at the expense of seeing a *better* team?. People just hate change even if it flies in the face of other more logical reasoning.

    Oddly enough, the least competitive league (the NBA) is the one most accepting of new teams. This is primarily because NBA is such a star driven league. The fact Kevin Durant plays for OKC automatically makes it a team people want to see.

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      I don’t think there was much talk in 2001 about how awful a Mariners/Marlins WS would be, since the Marlins went 76-86 that year. When the Yankees beat the Mariners they played Arizona in the World Series. It’s actually one of the most memorable WS of all-time, what with post 9/11 and the crazy game-tying and winning HRs in New York, the Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling heroics, and Mariano blowing the save in Game 7 with the Yankees on the verge of their 4th in a row.

      The Yankees-Marlins was 2003 (Could there have been talk about a Marlins/Mariners WS that year? I suppose. The Mariners did win 93 games. But such talk would have been very speculative, and ended early,,because Seattle didn’t make the playoffs.

      • MCD says:

        You are correct. I was thinking about the potential 2001 match-up between Mariners and Diamondbacks. (wrong modern expansion team beating NYY) The point remains… nobody wanted the Seattle/Arizona match-up.

        • Chris M says:

          As I recall, nobody wanted the Arizona-Seattle matchup because it was the one and only time in the history of the world where the majority of Americans were rooting for the Yankees, what with it being ONE MONTH after 9/11.

  28. AMusingFool says:

    On that Premiership note, remember, too, that Blackburn has since been relegated.

    But if you want to go back a bit further, you can see teams coming from second division up into Premiership and winning quickly (particularly look at Brian Clough’s record. And maybe take a look at The Damned United, which is very good).

  29. Brent says:

    Joe, I had to wonder whether your numbers are skewed by another topic talked about in your blog, the crapshoot that is the playoffs in MLB. In other words, does looking at WS teams only skew the results because to reach and win the WS is really a crapshoot.

    So a better judge of parity between the NFL and MLB would be to compare how often teams MADE the playoffs, because to be in the crapshoot you have to make the playoffs and maybe the inequality that is perceived in MLB compare to the NFL is about the difference in MAKING the playoffs in the two leagues.

    So I did the research (disclaimer, I tabulated and counted these by hand, so if there are minor or even major mistakes, I apologize):

    MLB (starting in 1995): Yankees:17; Braves: 14; Cardinals: 11; Red Sox: 10; Indians: 8; A’s: 7; Dodgers: 7; Rangers: 6; Angels: 6; Twins: 6; Giants: 5; Astros: 5; DBacks: 5; Phillies: 5; Rays: 5; Tigers: 4; Cubs: 4; Mariners: 4; Padres: 4; Reds: 4; Orioles: 3; Rockies: 3; Mets: 3; White Sox: 3; Marlins: 2; Nats: 1; Pirates: 1; Blue Jays: 0; Royals: 0. Out of a total 154 playoff appearances, the top quartile (7 teams) has 74 appearances or 48%. The bottom quartile has 9 appearances or 5.8%

    NFL (starting in 1995): NE: 16; GB: 14; Indy: 14; Pitt: 14; SF: 12; Phil: 12; Den: 10; Dall: 9; Balt: 9; SEA: 9; Mia: 9; Minn: 9; Atl: 8; NYG: 8; Tampa: 7; KC: 7; JAX: 6; NO: 6; TN: 6; NYJ: 6; DET: 5; CHI: 5; SD: 5; CAR: 5; STL: 5; Cincy: 5; Buff: 4; Wash: 4; AZ: 3; Oak: 3; CLE: 2; Hou: 2. (I think that adds up to 239, which is probably a wrong tabulation somewhere). Anyway, the top quartile in the NFL (8 teams) has 101 appearances (42%) while the bottom quartile has 28 appearances or 11.7%

    Just a different way to look at it.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      You have to sort this in some way that reflects the cause of lack of parity. Are large market teams over represented in the top quartile, and small markets over represented in the bottom quartile?

      I think there are always low and high performing organizations, the question is whether there is some inherently unfair cause for this.

  30. Justin Zeth says:

    The reason baseball comes out looking so “fair” is that baseball’s playoffs are almost entirely random. If you look at which teams win the most and second-most regular season games each year, baseball doesn’t look quite so “fair”–actually everyone except the NBA comes out looking about the same.

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