Monday, February 05, 2007

Why Does One Conference Always Dominate and One Conference Always Suck?

Of the three professional sports that currently matter right now, all three have one dominant conference and one...ah, less than dominant conference. All right, one conference is incredibly deep and talented and the other is borderline painful to watch with a few exceptions.

In the NBA, the Western Conference is head and shoulders above the Eastern Conference. The Leastern conference will almost surely put at least one team into the playoffs with a losing record. In Major League Baseball, the American is considered far superior to the National League with the Sawx and Yanks' absured payrolls serving as a nice microcosm of the difference between the two leagues. And in the NFL, the winner of the AFC was a seven-point favorite over the NFC champ no matter who made it from either conference.

And it seems every time a trade is made or a free agent is signed, the better conference only gets deeper. Recent examples include AI getting shipped to Denver or, on a smaller scale, JD Drew inking a high-paying deal with the Sawx.

Why, though? Why is there such a disparity between the two in all three major sports? It really doesn't seem to make sense; it's not like one side of the league plays with different rules (well, besides the DH) or are given any type of favorable treatment, like better draft positions or more a higher salary cap. I guess in the NBA you could say the nicer weather may play a factor (who the hell wants to willingly sign to play in New Jersey or Toronto?), althought the Clippers sucked for the longest time, and LA seems to be a prime locale. The location thing doesn't really work for the NFL or MLB, though, so I think that's out.

What it comes down to, I think, is strategy. I have not had the good fortune of running my own franchise, but I would imagine the strategy is something along the lines of "let's build a team that can win our conference and then get into The Finals/World Series/Super Bowl where anything can happen and we only have to beat one team." This is why one conference is always dominant and the other always seems light years behind. Teams from the crappy side of the league are only concerned about the other crappy teams they have to beat to get to their championship round, and in just the past sports year, it's proven to be a pretty sound strategy.

The Cardinals came out of the National League, which was dubbed AAAA for the entire season, but they still won the World Series. If they were in the AL all season, they wouldn't have even made the playoffs. The Heat would never have made it out of the Western Conference playoffs - they needed an easy Eastern Conference schedule to let Shaq coast for the entire regular season and chunks of the playoffs, too. But once they got to the Finals, Shaq could ramp it up (and the refs could begin their undying love affair with D. Wade) and they pulled off the upset. And the Bears nearly beat the Colts; a break or two here or there and they easily could have left Miami with the Lombardi Trophy.

(This is why I think conferences in professional sports are so stupid. Everyone can play eachother. Why can't we just take the best teams? Its so dumb when a team with a good record is left out over a team with a worse record just because they play in a crappier conference. OK, maybe this doesnt make sense for football, necessarily, but it definitely holds up for the NBA and MLB.)

So why is conference dominance so cyclical then? Like in the NFL, the AFC has won 8 out of the last 10 Super Bowls, but before that, the NFC was kicking their ass up and down the field for a decade. Why does it change?

I can't be positive, but I think it is when a team from the crappy conference catches lighting in a bottle. One team, for whatever reason - the draft, free agency, whatever - suddenly becomes the best team in the entire league. Now the whole conference has to rethink how they can get to the championship, and the power shifts.

I could easily see this happening with the Saints, as soon as next year. They have a young, talented offense and possibly the most versatile weapon in the league. They could easily shift things. LeBron could do this in Cleveland, too, if they would surround him with any semblance of talent at all (actually, screw a supporting "cast" - just get him one other good player, please). I don't know how this could happen in baseball...maybe the Cubs $300 million dollar spending spree will payoff and Kerry Wood and Mark Prior will miraculously heal and turn in 20-win performances.

I have no idea if this is right or wrong or even close to making sense, but I really wanted to know why one conference always sucks and why one is always great and I sat down and thought for ten minutes and this is what I came up with. Thoughts?

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XLI: Some Lingering Questions.

First Barbaro, now the Colts. Finally, all beaten-into-the-ground equine-related stories that no one wanted to hear about anyways are finally over. (Although the Colts did fair a little better than Bobby.)

Congrats to the Colts are in order. So: congrats. Now that that's out of the way, there's a few lingering questions, I think.

First up: Does anyone really care that Peyton won? There have been some notable choke artists finally getting off the snide of late: the Red Sox broke the Curse, Mickelson won a major, Roy Williams got a national title an I' sure there are a few I'm forgetting. After the Sawx won, the nation went collectively ballistic and people were positively geeked for Mickelson, even if those two completely annoyed the hell out of everyone in the ensuing aftermath. People were even happy for ol' Roy, even though he basically left Kansas flapping in the wind.

But with Peyton - and consider me firmly entrenched in this camp - I think people are just glad it is over and done with. No one really cared one way or the other, they are just happy it has been eliminated as a point of conversation. Really, do you know anyone who was just thrilled for Manning? Were you? I'm happy for him, I guess, but if he would have lost, I wouldn't have gotten any less sleep.

You know who has to be the most distraught? A-Rod. Now it is just him, fair or not, chilling atop Choke Artist Mountain all by himself. He's got no one for company. Maybe when LeBron gets bounced from the conference finals for the next few seasons, he'll join him. But if you need a punchline for a choke job joke, A-Rod is your go-t0 go, and I can't really think of anyone else.

Next: What if Tony Dungy was an absolute asshole? What if he was more sarcastic and condescending that Bill Parcells, more of a liar than Nick Saban, more arrogant than Brian Billick, more of a winer and complainer than Tom Coughlin, more of an emotionless recluse than Bill Belichik?

Aside from the fact that a coach like that probably never would have gotten his team this far (and would be the worst human being outside of Rae Carruth) it would have set up a pretty interesting situation, I think. By all accounts, Dungy is nothing but class, but what if he wasn't? Large chunks of America (basically everyone outside of Indianapolis) would have been cheering against Tony Dungy becoming for the first black head coach ever to win a Super Bowl, and they would have been absolutely pissed this morning when he actually did become the first black coach ever to do so.

I really don't know what would happen (I'm sure Jay Mariotti's head would explode), but I think it would make for some epic arguments. Is America really still racist? Who knows, but eventually that older black guy with the white beard who appears every single time a race issue is raised would have set us all straight and told us what we should be thinking. Thank goodness we still have that guy. (If you said his name, I'd know it, but I am not Googling him to find out. Frankly, I don't even know what my search would be - "smart black guy white beard race issues"?) When he dies, it is going to be like when the Giver dies.

Finally: Should the Bears bring Grossman back? Well, I think they are going to have to. I mean, Jeff Garcia is the best free agent out there. Unless they make some trade for a veteran (a la Baltimore; but that didn't work out and Kyle Boller's confidence has to be shot) there really aren't any options. Garcia played under the greatest offensive coach in the NFL (seriously, do you know who the Eagles WRs are? And they are always, always in contention. Reid's a genius, I think).

The Bears should stick with Grossman. He got them to a Super Bowl in his first full season. Not too bad, eh? From what I can discern, his biggest weakness seems to be his decision-making; he decides where he is going to throw it before he snaps the ball (incidentally, I do this exact thing on NCAA and Madden, to about the same results). Well, that can be worked on, can't it? If I played more Madden, I would get better at that. If Grossman works more (just try to avoid any New Year's Eve film sessions), he should improve to. And it isn't like he has to be Manning or Brady, he just has to not throw dagger interceptions all game.

The Bears will be better next season. Their D will get two studs back - Tommie Harris, maybe the best at his position in the NFL and Mike Brown, who's really good and always seems to make those "I can't believe that just happened" type plays. Their running game will be better - Benson will improve, so will Thomas Jones. If Grossman just fights his inner-Favre off, there's no reason they can't be back in XLII next year, especially playing in the clearly inferior NFC.

At the very least, Grossman has to be treated like a hot girlfriend who is regularly driving you nuts. Hang on to her just because there are no better options out there, but of a better option does present itself, drop the old one in a hurry and get with little miss new thing ASAP.

And for everyone sayng how boring the Super Bowl was...well, the first quarter was awesome. So there was that.

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