I, the Moderator, would like to welcome you back to the Ivory Tower for another week of highfalutin sports banter with guys with a bunch more degrees than I have. And while we’re on the topic of these two gentlemen… have you ever wondered about The Guru’s Take? Yeah, it’s about 33.5%! Anyway, this week, The Guru & Dr. Dropout tackle the age old question of which season is best…so by all means, let’s turn it over to the experts.
Well, Dr. Dropout, the weather appears fine up here in the ivory tower. I have always loved October as a sports month – the NFL is nearly halfway through the regular season, baseball has reached the postseason, college football is weeding out its undefeated teams, college basketball teams have their Midnight Madness openings to practices, the NBA preseason starts, and the NHL season drops the puck (assuming it’s not on the Sabbath season, where the periodic work stoppage mandates that everyone rest).
This leads to a question – which leagues have the best (or worst) regular seasons? In large part, I think this is determined by how meaningful the regular season is. Does it matter if I watch an early season or mid-season game that doesn’t involve a team leading a division/conference/poll? Does the regular season do a good job of weeding out pretenders and making sure the best teams have a shot at the title? Do more than half the teams in the league get to make the playoffs? And how many question marks can I fit into a short paragraph???
Here is my short list, with a short explanation for the regular season rankings:
1. NFL – Only 16 games, so each matters. Generally even in Week 14, more than 80% of the games involve a team with a shot at the playoffs (if not both). Not the most exclusive playoffs, but well below 50% of the teams are involved.
2. MLB – Most people would disagree, but I’m ranking college football based on the current (BCS) model. While one loss in a vacuum may not matter much in baseball, the wins and losses early in the season matter just as much as late. Individual performance (watching Kershaw pitch, a hitter with a 30-game hitting streak) can make a somewhat meaningless game more meaningful. Plus, I just like baseball. So there.
3. College football – “Best regular season in sports!” I disagree. Not only are there 20 completely meaningless games most weekends, that number increases as the season progresses. A couple of losses dooms a team’s chances of a BCS bowl. With the advent of the playoff next season, there is room to improve. But for now, it’s third.
4a. NBA – The NBA and NHL regular seasons are very similar. Over half the teams will make the playoffs, most games don’t matter early in the season, top players get “rested” in regular season games. The NBA would actually rank below the NHL except for one thing – TIES ARE ENCOURAGED IN THE NHL! Teams get points for playing to tie. So NHL – no soup for you! Next!
4b. NHL – see “kissing your cousin,” above.
6. College basketball – I love March Madness. I love that small schools have a shot at the big time, unlike college football. But the regular season simply doesn’t matter that much. Small conference? Regular season won’t matter unless you’re perfect (which won’t happen). Just win your conference tournament. Large school? Half your conference may get in the Big Dance. Just win enough. And if not? You don’t deserve the postseason anyway. December 2nd game against Southwest Arkarolina Presbyweslyan? Yeah, that’s a barnburner. Best postseason, worst regular season.
178. Duck season
179. Wabbit season
180. Duck season!
181. Wabbit season!
2153. Season of the Witch. There is nothing regular (or watchable) about this, other than the fact that it is one of about 40,000 Nic Cage money grab films. So in that respect, it’s regular for him.
I’m sure we’ll differ on a few, good Dr. I’m interested to see where.
A most excellent question, Guru, and I’ve thought so ever since I came up with it in the virtual offices of RTI yesterday.
We agree on the top and bottom of this list for the “Big 6” sports, but things get muddled in the middle. It might help for me to first point out some underlying criteria. First, we didn’t specify that we were normalizing these rankings to our enjoyment of the sports—I see you did not do this for baseball. Still, it seems like we should, so I will try to do this, although I can’t make promises that my preferences for certain sports won’t have an impact. Second—not to put words in your mouth—but while I cannot ignore the playoff format of these sports, I think I put less weight on the corresponding postseason format (for better or for worse) than you did.
(1) NFL: In addition to the points you raised, there is a lot to love about the NFL schedule. Without getting into the debate over the Thursday night game, the SNF/MNF combo provides a nice little cherry on the week’s slate, whether they are great or terrible. And we saw both extremes this past week. On top of this, fantasy football is the best fantasy sport in terms of being a companion to watching and following individual games.
(2) NBA: Your argument hinges on the early season not mattering (yet you argued for baseball?) and the number of playoff teams. But I would argue that the basketball equivalent of a no-hitter—some sort of heat check game—happens much more frequently. Nearly every NBA game contains multiple WOW plays or moments, even in a blowout. It has arguably the best All-Star break, if we’re going to count such things (and I am). And considering that home court may be more important in basketball than any other sport, it does make some sense to have a long regular season even if a large percentage of teams make the playoffs. Without a long regular season and an inclusive playoff field, we would not have had some of the great #1/#8 matchups that we’ve had in league history, as well as many other mid-level matchups (some of the #4/#5 matchups in the Eastern conference in the last 10 years come to mind).
(3) NHL: Any hockey game you have a vested interest in is an exciting hockey game. There is nothing like the rush that comes from a random goal or having your eye’s cones fried from looking at a Don Cherry suit. Any hoser who disagree can take off, eh? (Stereotyping Canada: ALWAYS CLASSY.)
(4) College Football: We agree here on the logic at least. The fact that College Football is an extended playoff hurts it, not helps it. Teams get eliminated after maybe one, definitely two losses in all but the wackiest seasons. Especially in the last several years, it all just feels like a death march toward the coronation of that year’s SEC champion. (For the record, I realize “death march” is kind of redundant when Nick Saban is involved.) There are so, so many terrible games, and even the “good” ones can be ruined by the BCS. Even if it’s a good matchup, why should I care about two top 20 teams with 2 losses early in November? This will not be fixed by the move to a four team playoff, either.
(5) MLB: The complete list of reasons to watch a regular season MLB game prior to the final week: (1) You are at the game, (2) a no-hitter is happening, (3) your child is on one of the teams, and that’s only assuming one of those teams isn’t the Astros. I have been to double-digit MLB regular season games in my life, and not a single one was meaningful.
(6) College Basketball: It’s hard not to factor in the postseason here. I think March Madness is great, but why watch 40 minutes of subpar basketball that could be rendered meaningless in Championship Week anyway?
(48) Fall—football, moderate temperatures, awesome holidays (Thanksgiving) and holiday anticipation (Christmas), WHERE DO I SIGN UP?
(49) Summer—seems right(50) Winter—jumps summer if it’s mostly mild but with intermittent epic snowstorms(51) Spring—windy, losing an hour to DST [Moderator’s Note: That’s Daylight Savings Time, not the financial services company], always feels colder than fall to me even when at the same temperature, no football, WHERE DO I OPT OUT? My birthday is in spring and I still feel this way.
(1047) Alias Season 4: calling it a “regular season” is pretty generous. People can complain about Lauren in Season 3 or the lack of Vaughn in Season 5 (1.5 of these is valid), but give me either over this snoozefest with a surprisingly high-level of gross-out episodes and no discernable plot other than “Now it’s Sydney AND Nadia—sister spies! Spies that are sisters!” In fact, I’m not sure it deserves the Rambaldian number of its ranking.
(2349) Curry powder, because seriously, what am I not getting that apparently a billion other people on the planet do? Wait, this might be the wrong list.
(234,093) WNBA. Okay, I couldn’t COMPLETELY do the normalizing thing.
I won’t argue the seasons with these guys, but let me make some suggestions on how to best enjoy each regular season:
1. NFL – Attend a Prime Time game between division opponents (Chiefs v. Chargers on Halloween night was a great example 2011)
2. MLB – Attend a September game between two teams fighting for playoff spots (In other words, avoid the Astros and if you can catch a walk-off, do it!)
3. College Football – Go to one of the great stadium atmospheres (e.g. Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, Tennessee, etc.), make sure you aren’t cheering for the opponent, and choose an important conference matchup (Nebraska vs. Michigan last year worked)
4. NBA – Sit as close to the floor as possible. The sights and sounds are completely different near the floor. When you can take in body language, facial reactions, and really grasp the athleticism and effort you see, it changes the experience. (Even T-Wolves v. Grizzlies was interesting). Or if you can’t do that, I highly recommend catching Stephen Curry dropping 54 on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
5. NHL – (still kissing cousins) – Sit as close to the ice as possible. The experience 3 rows from the glass is COMPLETELY different from the club level.
6. College Basketball – Attend a game between conference rivals in the top half of the conference standings. Or just attend a game at a school with one of the best atmospheres in the country (e.g. Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, etc.)
10 – Firefly (The complete series) – You should definitely watch with friends and at least one Firefly veteran who knows what order to watch the episodes in.
14 – The Big Bang Theory Seasons 1-6 – Watch with friends you’ve known for a long time and think of who each person reminds you of.
34 – Lost Season 1 – It’s the only season that really mattered.
Ok…back to the guys you actually want to read…
I’ll just do a short rebuttal (which will, I’m sure, be shortly rebutted) on the MLB v. NBA argument. Yes, the MLB regular season is long. But every game does count. Only 5 teams (33%) make the playoffs in each league. Ask the Indians if being swept by the Tigers in a 2-game series in the middle of May matters. If they had won one, they would have won the AL Central outright and not had to deal with a 1 game wild-card playoff that they lost (just using the one example so I don’t make this a huge paragraph with 6 straight sentences beginning with “Ask the…”). In the NBA, the Spurs can rest their starters in a game in January (by not playing them at all) without any care for whether it will affect their seeding in the playoffs.
And seriously, you’re choosing them as 2nd in part because they have the best All-Star break? First, it’s arguable whether it’s the NBA or MLB (no question they are the 2 best). But saying that having a break for an exhibition is part of the “regular season” is like saying that going to eat at On The Border after church on Sunday morning and before going to the Sunday evening service is part of the “regular” church services (hint: it’s not).
I do want to state on the record, though, that I fully agree with the Alias season 4 analysis (and nice Rambaldi-izing of the numbering).
We agree on more than we disagree, I’d say. Feel free to rebut my rebuttal, Dr. Dropout, so we can both get back to watching the NFL regular season.
Dr. Dropout, Ph.D
Throwing in the All-Star breaks was a minor point, but…shouldn’t they matter? They add to the overall drama and experience of the regular season. While baseball’s game technically affects the postseason, the actual experience of watching the game is just another game that happens to feature the best players. However, the NBA All-Star game is an all-you-can-eat buffet of highlights and ridiculous plays, and no, I don’t mind the lack of defense.
You keep trying to make the point of how MLB games all matter equally but somehow NBA/NHL games don’t. That is literally not how sports standings work. There are ebbs and flows to every season. In all sports, teams that get leads rest players at opportune times. And while this may seem more prevalent for the NBA based on the strategy of teams like the Spurs in recent years, those teams earned that right, and there is still plenty of scrambling for playoff berths seeding that happens into the season’s final week. And if we’re complaining about players randomly not playing in order to get rest, baseball shouldn’t throw stones, and that’s even before getting into the dumb injuries that have kept baseball players out of games. When was the last time a non-MLB player missed a regular season game from carrying venison up a flight of stairs, stabbing himself trying to open a DVD, or sneezing? The answer rhymes with “never.”
Ranking Alias seasons and inauthentic Mexican restaurants (two of my favorite things to rank!) sounds like a topic for another time, but you’re right, I need to get back to work so I can fully enjoy the Chiefs’ attempt to go 8-0 this weekend.
Dr. Dropout Ph.D’s P.S. I declare a competition for us to include the most bizarre links possible in these columns. I further declare my Adam Eaton link above the leader to date.
Moderator’s P.P.S – One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war!!
Stay tuned to this station for more takes from the Ivory Tower!
Categories: Sports General