Sports are a source for something that is in human blood – competition. We feel the need for competition, just like I or Lebron James, Lonzo Ball or Joe Random. Today, we have four major North American pro sports leagues made up of 30-32 ultra competitive teams, all fighting tooth and nail to win.
As fans, we eat this up. We live, breathe and eat this insane superhero-like display of competition. What all of us fail to realize, is that it’s all a lie. We have always felt the need to best our peers. We see it today: the “alphamale” effect. People have always loved to watch this power struggle, dating all the way back to the days when tens of thousands of people would pack the Roman Colosseum to watch gladiators/prisoners fight to the bloody death. We have always liked to witness greatness as well, so before you think that I just ruined sports, realize it’s not always about witnessing nail-biters, because it’s special to watch athletes do what they do best, which is being magnificent and sometimes dominant.
Leagues are major corporations, businesses whose primary goal is to make money. If their product is engaging, entertaining and competitive, they will thrive. So of course, that’s how they will market their product. Like getting an e-mail from a prince in Nigeria, pro sport leagues are deceiving you into buying a product.
In the NFL, parity is a complete myth. Fans believe it’s a massively competitive league. When is the last time the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers or Green Bay Packers won a top pick? All these teams have reigned dominant for over 10 years. The Patriots alone have been to the playoffs 13 of the past 14 seasons, while in that one year out of the playoffs, they finished 11-5, which is usually a division winning record. This is only one end of the spectrum. The Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t been relevant for 10 years. The Cleveland Browns have been looking for a quarterback for at least that long. If you add those two together, you aren’t far off from the number of seasons that the Buffalo Bills have missed the playoffs! The Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all charismatic, young, fun teams. Yet, it doesn’t matter, because in the foreseeable future we’ll still see the Patriots, Steelers, and Packers reign supreme.
The NHL is praised for its parity, yet it’s deceptive. The Bettman point (a team that loses in overtime or shootout earns a point) creates a standings system that helps subpar teams like the 2016-2017 Toronto Maple Leafs, who finished with 40 wins and 42 losses, still made the playoffs. This happens too often. Is the Bettman point really worth it? Parity in the NHL is exaggerated.
Then there’s Major League Baseball. Do they even try? In a no-salary-cap league, small market teams like the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Cincinnati Reds stand little chance. This is especially true when competing against organizations like the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. The Milwaukee Brewers started the 2017 season with a player payroll of $63 million. The Los Angeles Dodgers were able to pay their opening day roster $242 million. Good luck, “Brew Crew.” MLB benefits heavily from the luck based game that baseball tends to be. You can see any team beat another on any given night. But, in the end, the Seattle Mariners haven’t been to the postseason in 15 years. They’re only halfway to the record, held by the Montreal Expos-Washington Nationals, who went a full 30 years without a taste of playoff ball. The Expos started their streak in Montreal and ended it a nine-hour drive south in Washington DC as the Nationals. The Yankees once went 13 straight seasons making the playoffs. The non-existing salary cap immediately creates a league where parity is not easy to come by.
The NBA is the worst. The Golden State Warriors will win the title again. It’s not a debate. The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers will tear through the East. The aforementioned Warriors, along with the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets are all great teams that have gotten stronger and will barely lose a game next year. The NBA has no parity. In all likelihood, your favourite team doesn’t stand a chance of winning. Sorry. So next time you see a commercial hyping up the Los Angeles Lakers or Philadelphia 76ers, don’t trust the process.
Next time you are reading about how competitive a league is, see through it. It’s false marketing to bring in viewers.
On the contrary, the lack of parity in sports allows us to witness something else far better than crazy competition. Something else that all humans strive for – greatness.
– Conner Toffan, Sports Co-Editor