Why Dynasties are Important in Sports

*EDITOR’S NOTE*  This is in response to our first article, “Death of Dominance and the Rise of Parity in Professional Sports“.  In that article, we compared the seeding of championship winners from the 1980’s with those over the past 10 years.  Before reading this, I highly recommend you read yesterday’s article so you are familiar with the basic schools of thought, which will be discussed herein, as well as in tomorrow’s article, “Parity: Every Sportsfans’ Dream“.


As a fan of virtually every sport on the planet, I have always been intrigued by trends. We all compare sports to what they were like when we grew up.  Our heroes have changed, while the teams we support likely haven’t.  We see sports differently, and as such, get something different out of it every year. It is my belief that most sports were better when I was younger.  Not from a feeling of nostalgia, though I concede that would be tough to gauge, but rather because of the dominant teams of the 1980’s.

The purpose of this article is twofold.  First, I want to express why it is that I like teams that dominate, thereby creating dynasties.  Secondly, I want to express what I don’t like about parity, which I’m sure you will agree for the most part, is what is occurring in most sports.

Why I favour dynasties:

Think of how exciting basketball was in the 80’s with the Lakers-Celtics dynasties, and the Sixers just on the fringe.  Am I right?  How about the Islanders of the NHL in the early 80’s after the strong Canadiens teams of the 70’s, and how the Oilers seemed to be knocking on their door with Gretzky, Messier et al through the mid-80’s?  And, quick, name the best quarterback and receiver in the history of the game… Montana and Rice?  Okay, that’s debatable, but what is not is how exciting the 49ers were for the mid-late 80’s.  What I’m getting at is that no one remembers the team that pokes their head in for the odd championship, except for the fans of that particular team.  Fans remember dominant teams, who string a few trophies together to make a dynasty.

See, the 80’s were, for the most part, dominated by dynasties.  A look back even further and you will find that in almost every decade there were teams that were by far and away better than the rest.  In some cases, like the Lakers-Celtics-Sixers, there were two or three teams that appear year after year, after year, and so on.  Because I am addressing yesterday’s article directly, which compared the 80’s to the last ten years, I’ll avoid getting into the years before the 80’s too much, but many cases for dynasties can be made from the 60’s and 70’s.

For me, I want to see the best.  I want to watch the best teams possible and get wrapped-up in their next quest for the championship. I am not a fan of any of the teams aforementioned, but I loved watching each one of them.  Does that make me a fan of sports in general, and not one team in particular?  Perhaps.  Maybe that’s the difference between me and those who like watching teams dominate versus those who appreciate parity (such as Ben Kerr will argue in tomorrow’s instalment).

I don’t want to watch a team that was either A) complacent all year, or B) unworthy of the right to play for the title.  Conceivably the eighth place team, such as the Los Angeles Kings in this year’s NHL Playoffs, could win.  Even the team they are playing, the NJ Devils, came into the playoffs as sixth-seed. I don’t like it because I am not convinced they are the best.  The Kings are very good eighth-place team, but the fact remains that they are still the eight best in a conference of 15.

I know some will argue that the best teams shouldn’t have a problem with their lower-ranked rivals, but I have a rebuttal.  First, because of parity, the gap between top and bottom seeds is not nearly as wide as it was in the 80’s (and 60’s, 70’s, 90’s, etc).  Therefore, a top seed is not heads and tails better than the rest.  A team that wins the championship isn’t necessarily the best team; rather, they just happen to be better than the four teams they played against.  Compare that with the dynasties mentioned earlier.  Was there any doubt that in the 80’s when New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cups  Or when Lakers and Celtics dominated the NBA?  Would the thought even have crossed your mind whether or not they deserved it?  Likely not.

There are so many factors that might propel a much inferior team through the playoffs to the championship game, and for a top-seed to stumble.  Much depends on the draw, injuries, travel, etc.  Some teams just do very poorly against others.  When an upset happens in hockey or basketball in a match-up of fourth and fifth place teams I can accept it because the two were likely not far apart in their skill level.  But when it happens between a first and eighth seed, it’s a tough pill to swallow.  The thing is, as a result of parity, there are few really great teams, and therefore, we have 16 teams, all of whom have a decent-enough shot at winning.  Therefore, ironically enough, the playoff format actually suits these leagues because of parity, and the fact that the teams are so close in skill level.

Some sports are more successful than others because their post-seasons are shorter and allow fewer teams.  As such, you will be assured a team that was good all year will win because only the best teams are rewarded.  Baseball, for instance,  has a one-game wild-card playoff, followed by a best-of-five series and two best-of-seven series. You have the best from each division making the playoffs, with a couple wild card teams (one added for 2012 season).  Only 10 teams, as opposed to 16 in the NBA and NHL, make the playoffs. While baseball certainly has some teams that have had much more success than others as of late, you have to go back to the 90’s Yankees to find the last dynasty (1996, 1998-2000).  Certainly parity exists in baseball.

The NFL is somewhere in between.  It allowed for three division winners and three wildcards in the 80s and 90s, and then went to 4 division winners and 2 wildcards today.  I think the NFL is does it best because, while it allows for six teams from each conference to make the playoffs, it rewards the top two with a first-round bye.  The league makes it enticing for teams to want to finish in the top two, as opposed to other leagues where the only real reward (because of parity), is one extra home game in a five or seven-game series.  I think it’s safe to say that the closest we have from the NFL to a dynasty would be the New England Patriots – three trophies in four years certainly qualifies.  As a Bills fan, I hate the Patriots, but really appreciated their team.  I enjoyed watching Brady as an underdog against the Rams, and then as a favourite two and three years later.  I think it’s safe to say, as we enter the 2012 season we cannot say that there is one team that will dominate from start to finish.  Agree?  There are teams that are much better, but none are that dominant.  Watching Joe Montana in the 80’s, Aikman and co. in the 90’s, and Brady in the early 2000’s, were something special.

To wrap all this up, here are some parting notes:

  • We remember dynasties, and tend to forget the teams that are just a blip on the radar (ie. win only once)
  • We can be sure that when a dominant team wins the championship, they deserve it, as are undoubtedly the best
  • Eight-team playoff formats work if there is parity
  • The NFL’s structure is the best because it rewards the top teams with a first-round bye
  • You will remember the Lakers (80’s and 2000’s), Celtics, Bulls, Islanders, Oilers, 49ers, Patriots, Yankees because you watched their dynasties
  • You probably don’t remember too much about the Buccaneers win in 2003, the Lightning in 2004, the Pistons in 2004 or the White Sox in 2005…because they weren’t dominant!
I welcome comments below.  Are you pro-dynasty?  Or perhaps you are pro-parity?  If the latter, please read tomorrow’s article from Ben Kerr – “The Rise of Parity”.
…and that is the Last Word.