Those NFL-MLB Comparisons

It happens every year around this time: someone will point to the NFL’s mounting chaos in the standings and argue that Major League Baseball needs to do a better job of aping the structure of professional football. Never mind that MLB has caught up to the NFL in terms of fan loyalty, MLB Network will soon be in more homes than the NFL Network, and MLB’s digital-media presence outstrips the NFL’s to the point of embarrassment. Most of all, never mind that you simply can’t compare the two leagues.

Consider a few points:

    – In terms of competitive parity (real or imagined), the NFL plays roughly one-tenth as many regular-season games as MLB does (ergo, small sample size; ergo, more fluke-ish outcomes), gives teams a week or so between games to scout and game-plan the opposition, allows a larger percentage of teams into the playoffs, has a one-and-done postseason format, and generally rigs the schedule to benefit weaker teams.

    – The NFL equally shares local revenues, whereas MLB does not.

    – The MLBPA is one of the strongest unions around. The NFLPA, until very recently, has largely functioned as an accommodating valet to ownership.

    – NFL franchises are tasked with selling tickets to eight home games per season. MLB teams are tasked with selling tickets to 10 times as many home games per season.

    – NFL owners and the league’s commissioner did not, for year after year in an attempt to turn the public against the union, indulge in an anti-marketing campaign that highlighted imagined weaknesses. MLB and Bud Selig, of course, did exactly that.

Notice that none of those distinctions involves the salary cap, which sportswriter populism tells us is the driving force behind the NFL’s reputed competitive balance and something baseball desperately needs. Of course, the NFL is functioning without a salary cap this season, and the contending fray is no more or less muddled than usual and spending is holding steady.

As ever, the facile comparisons do not hold. The structural differences between the NFL (and its football-related product) and MLB are simply too great. Baseball would do well to realize this.

We hoped you liked reading Those NFL-MLB Comparisons by Dayn Perry!

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Handsome Dayn Perry can be found making love to the reader at CBSSports.com's Eye on Baseball. He is available for all your Twitter needs.

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oh dear
Guest
oh dear

All you have to do is look at the list of playoff teams over the last 15 years to understand there is no parity in football. No more than any other sport.

SF 55 for life
Member
SF 55 for life

i think its a lot easier for bad teams to turn things around in football than it is in baseball. i think a portion off that has to do with the salary cap

oh dear
Guest
oh dear

I think it is also easier to mask a bad team “turning it around” under the auspices of small sample size 16 games). in baseball you need real effective change to improve your club, bandaids don’t hide problems over a full season.

DonCoburleone
Guest
DonCoburleone

SF55 that is a myth. The reason it’s easier for bad teams to turn things around in the NFL is because of the high attrition rate in the NFL for position players and the second reason, and the most important, is that 1 player (a QB) can single-handedly win games and get a team into the playoffs. Baseball has no such thing. 1 player, no matter how good he is, can’t get a baseball team to the playoffs on his own. In the NFL you’ve had franchises do complete 180’s and 99 times out of 100 its because they acquired an elite QB (Peyton and the Colts, Brees and the Saints/Chargers, Brady and the Pats, McNabb and the Eagles, Favre and GB, Matt Ryan and the Falcons, etc..). The list is endless. And until team’s like the 49er’s and the Bills and the Lions acquire an elite QB they will continue to suck year in and year out…

gnick55
Member
gnick55

I think it’s because a lesser proportion of top picks bust in the NFL. They also help their teams much quicker than baseball prospects, just look at Sam Bradford vs. Bryce Harper.

SF 55 for life
Member
SF 55 for life

@Don
But isn’t it easier to keep those elite talents for many years in the NFL? Many teams trade away elite talents because they won’t be able to afford them once they hit the free agent market.

Let’s say the Chiefs originally drafted Peyton Manning, and he was as great for them as he has been for the Colts. Let’s also say there is no salary cap. Would the Chiefs be able to keep Peyton Manning? Would they be forced to trade him or even lose him to the richer teams? Its entirely probable. I will agree that baseball and football are entirely different but I just don’t believe the salary cap doesn’t help parity.

The Ancient Mariner
Guest
The Ancient Mariner

A lot of those “turnarounds” are the result of fifth-place schedules; the number of teams that keep winning the following year when they have to play a contender’s schedule is a lot lower.

Jason
Guest
Jason

It’s not just the short 16 game season, it’s also the way the NFL does scheduling. They essentially make it so it’s easier for teams to turn it around. If a team has a good record one year, they’ll have a tougher schedule next year and vice versa. This last year’s performance based scheduling only affects 2 games (I think), but that’s a large chunk of their season.

Dwight S.
Guest
Dwight S.

Also it’s easier to turn things around because they play such few games. Since there are fewer games played it takes fewer breaks for a team to go from say 4 wins to 9 wins. Since I’m a Lions fan(unfortunately) I’ll use them as an example. This year they are 3-10 but they have lost by 1 possession or less in 7 of those games. So essentially in 7 of those games they were 1 play or drive away or turnover away from possibly winning the game, so even if they came through in 4 of those games they would be sitting at 7-6 right now.

sean
Guest
sean

Mariner only two games are affected by the previous year’s schedule. the real reason for the “turnarounds” is the year to year change in the divisions played. we know what teams play each other years in advance, we just don’t know the alignment. whatever teams play the NFC west or AFC west over the past few years have gotten the “bump” in wins

Dwight S.
Guest
Dwight S.

I just like to add I often hear about the schedule differences for last place teams but as a Lions fan I never seem to see that. We’ve been the laughing stock of the league for years and this year are non divisional opponents include the Eagles, Cowboys(were expected to be good), Giants, Dolphins, Redskins(another team some thought would contend), Patriots, Jets, rams, bucs and Bills. So out of those 10 teams 5 of them were considered legit Superbowl contenders coming into the year, the Redskins who some considered sleepers and even the Dolphins were atleast a .500 team and have a winning record thus far. Only the Rams, Bucs and Bills were considered sub par teams. On top of that they have to play 4 games against playoff teams from last year in their division and 2 against arguably the most improved team in football the Bears.(Judging by what they did in the offseason) So if this is considered a last place schedule I hate to see what a 1st place schedule looks like.

Dwight S.
Guest
Dwight S.

Oops didn’t see Sean’s response ahead of mine, which essentially answered what I was asking in my post. Sorry

Bill
Guest
Bill

I think we are missing the point by arguing about the reality of NFL team turnarounds. Yes, a bad team may win more games because of a weaker schedule. But as a fan, I don’t care if the reason my team is winning because they are good or because their opponent is lousy. The NFL wants to have as many people in as many cities excited about their teams. They would rather maintain excitement throughout the league than have the 12 best teams make the playoffs each year. The NFL put’s the league first whereas MLB is a conglomeration of teams that put themselves first.

johng
Guest
johng

Are you guys seriously making the “strength of schedule” argument? Take the Packers and Lions. The only difference in their schedules is that the Packers play the 49ers and Falcons, while the Lions get the Rams and Bucs. 2 teams. Was the Lions’ schedule noticibly easier by those 2 games, the 2 games are supplanted by the Packers getting to play the easy Lions twice, and the Lions getting the difficult Packers twice.

philkid3
Member

Masking bad teams under small sample size or legitimate turnarounds is irrelevant. The bottom line is hope being easier to possess in the NFL.

I’m on FanGraphs, obviously I love baseball, but it is much easier to feel hopeless in baseball if you’re a fan of most teams than it is in the NFL.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

Simply because the draft in the NFL and NBA has a much higher chance of making an impact in the upcoming season or two.

If a player is drafted in the top 5, he’s likely a starter for the upcoming season, without spending 1-4 years in the minor leagues.

Alex Remington
Member
Member

“Is there parity? IS THERE PARITY?? There’s no parity! THERE’S NO PARITY IN FOOTBALL!”