Parity Ate the NFL

Parity Ate the NFL

It consumed it, like a Clevelander tearing through beer sausage at a Browns tailgater (really the only reason to find oneself at a football stadium in Cleveland).

Just as video killed the radio star, the notion that football fans in places like the aforementioned Cleveland and the now mentioned Buffalo, Oakland, and other loci where Hope is just the name of the cheerleader who actually doesn’t see you waving at her or care one iota that you are, have a chance at making the playoffs is actually a league-instituted illusion.

How’s that for a run-on sentence, Mrs. Olsson, my grammar school teacher who said that I’d never amount to anything more than the lawyer I once was. Boom.

Competitive balance is an exceptionally fine thing when the football players involved are playing in a Saturday morning squirt league in suburban Wheeling, West Virginia. When it’s in the (cue the music) National Football League, it sucks. Professional sports are supposed to be the competitive equivalent of a Malthus and caffeine-infused free market. It is supposed to be the shark AND the nado. When the vast majority of teams have a clear run at 8-8 with four weeks left of the season, it’s a bonanza of pseudocheddar rice cakes, not searingly hot and gooey Johnsonville brats.

Enough hyperfluffyhyperbole. I’m about to get all statistic on your collective tenderloins. The following is a perfect graphic representation of the fact that on any given Sunday, the immensely predictable can and will happen. We don’t know to whom and by whom, but we know that it, like the tastiness of crispy bacon, is a certainty:

This is from the 2011 NFL season. Take a look at the graphic in a clockwise manner – EVERY team on the chart has beaten every team that comes after them. This is the very definition of parity in professional sports and you should hate it.

Why? Because it’s mediocrity. It creates insufficient and unsatisfactory standard deviations in wins and losses, as I stated above. It makes far too many teams too close in the quality of their execution, as demonstrated through their regular-season records. In other other words, it creates a league full of fair teams, with notably few superior and horrible ones.

The NFL is a league that was built upon the cult of personality of dominant teams, more so than dominant players. We still think of the behemoth 1972 Dolphins (now THAT was a Sharknado) much more than we think of their individual stars, though there were many, from Griese to Morris. The real mercury was the team itself.

Parity has killed the era of dominant teams. It has destroyed the fabric of a season by forsaking the requisite volume of the very good and the very bad for a burlap sack of the very just okay. You shouldn’t like this. No, not one bit.


Aron Solomon is a global strategist, planting things at the intersection of education and innovation. He likes ice-cold light American beer, catching foul balls in his Rawlings, and can be followed on Twitter @aronsolomon


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Aron Solomon

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