SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

The MLB and NBA Should Hire Some of the NFL's Smart Guys

There is "virtual parity" in the NFL.  It's not just that on "any given Sunday" anything can happen.  It's also that the teams aren't that far apart in talent, and, more importantly, it's not all that difficult for a team to rebound from an awful season and contend within a few years.

In the NBA, a team can be mired in mediocrity forever.  True, they might not scout as well as other teams, might not bring in players from Europe, and might not draft great.  But, that said, it seems awfully difficult for teams to get from irrelevant to relevant quickly.  As troubling is that so many teams get eliminated so early that season ticket holders have little ability sell surplus tickets on StubHub without taking a financial bath.  And pity the poor fan base that has to watch, as Charles Barkley recent put it, "D League players at NBA prices."  Especially, too, when it's within the rules to jettison contracts, acquire expiring contracts and field lesser players to as to set yourself up well for the draft.  While Mike Greenberg might be casting aspersions on GM Sam Hinkie and the 76ers, the 76ers are doing absolutely the right thing within the construct that is the NBA -- fielding a lesser team and getting way under the salary cap so that they can transform the team in a hurry.  It's just that it's painful to watch and against everything you teach in sports -- that you do everything to win.  Well, all of the 76ers players are playing hard, it's just that they all don't belong on the same team and some don't belong in the NBA.

Without going into painful analysis on Major League Baseball, some seasons are better than others, but it took 20 years for the Pirates to return to their winning ways, and other teams get mired in losing slumps that can span at least one generation of fans.  Again, that makes it seem that the rest of the leagues seem to exist for the happiness of  the front-runners' fans.  After all, the front-runners have to play someone.  But what's in it for the average fan of a doormat?  People will watch a losing team in a cow pasture, and they won't go to a palace to watch an awful one.  So, despite promotions, dancing girls, food and merchandise vouchers, does it all matter when the hometown team cannot contend?  Or does it matter because the games have become entertainment and have moved away from the goal of being a competitive sport.  Could you imagine dressing up the Bill Russell Celtics with dancing girls?  #6, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, Jo-Jo White, Sam Jones and the entire group would have told them profanely to get off their floor.

We know that all leagues study numbers and predict outcomes in ways that would make the math department at MIT proud.  So why aren't they studying ways to maximize the competitiveness of their teams year in and year out?  And then why wouldn't they reform their recruitment and selection philosophy to enable teams to compete every year?   Sure, Americans like violent sports and sports that are easy to bet on, which might in some part explain the NFL's popularity.  And it may be the case that there are fewer variables to outcomes the fewer games a team plays in its regular-season schedule.  But American fans also like competitive situations, which is what the NFL offers and the other leagues don't, regardless of how many teams make the post-season.

At any rate, it hasn't been fun watching the 76ers and it will not be fun watching the Phillies, even if the wounds for both teams have been self-inflicted.  It's just that for years fans of certain teams might suffer, and it's probably time for all leagues to figure out the best ways for as many teams to compete as well as possible.

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