Even though our gaze has drifted back home after being fixed out in Sochi for so long, we still have Olympics on the brain. Yes, that means we're still making "Is Time For" jokes in bad Russian accents, but it also got us thinking: what would it look like if we awarded medals instead of trophies in team sports?
In some ways this is a better metric for team success than the current system. The focus on winning or losing a solitary game or series at the end of the year makes for drama-filled narratives, but doesn't necessarily tell the story of sustained dominance. It's the same "Super Bowl or bust" mindset that empowers dumb talk radio guys who say "You know, Belichick hasn't won the big one in a decade," conveniently forgetting that getting to the Super Bowl and losing is the second best thing an NFL team can do.
So what if we awarded a silver medal for the runners-up, and two bronzes for those who fell in the semi-finals? Does that paint a different picture of sporting success? Here is a table doing just that, awarding the number of "medals" each team has earned this century in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, and weighing those medals by giving 4 points for a gold, 2 for silver, and 1 for bronze:
A couple of things stand out. One is the remarkable consistency of results between the big four leagues. They all have a similar number of medalists (22 of the NFL and NBA teams, 23 in the NHL and MLB). The number of different finalists is also very close: In the NHL there have been 16 gold or silver medalists, 13 in the NBA, 17 in the NFL, and 15 in MLB. Despite the common perception that the NFL has the most parity, we see that all of these leagues have a similar number of teams getting deep into the playoffs, which is better proof of parity than mere playoff turnover.
In the biggest three leagues, there are also near-identical levels of dominance. Pro football, basketball, and baseball all have four teams who have amassed an outsized proportion of the medals. In the NFL, the four top medal-earners have 39 percent of the medals despite making up only 12.5 percent of the league. In the NBA the top four have 45% of the medals, and in MLB it's 43%. Parity truly reigns only in the NHL, where the top four only have 31 percent of the medals, and nine of the league's teams have either three or four medals.
How about individual success? Well, Peyton Manning has four medals with a weighted value of nine. LeBron has 5 medals with a value of 15. We'll leave the "legacy" talk for others to decide. Oh, those Patriots though? Still look pretty fucking dominant, don't they?
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