World Cup or NBA championship: Which is easier to predict?
The World cup is dominated by Brazil, Germany, and Italy; the NBA championship, by Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Who's more dominant?
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Baseball has resisted a salary cap and instituted instead a luxury tax on teams that spend more than a certain amount on players. Since it took effect only in 2003, it's too soon to judge its effect using this measure. But don't hold your breath.
"Some people say [Baseball Commissioner] Bud Selig's worst nightware is that the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers would be in the World Series every year," says Mr. Sanderson. "I think his worst nightmare would be the Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds in the World Series every year. Deep down, they need the major markets."
Is it just talent?
Of course, there are many ways to measure dominance. Using championships won by the top three teams makes it easy to draw comparisons among sports. One explanation for this unusual dominance is pure talent.
Maybe these teams have stumbled on a player or combination of players and coaches who find a way to win year after year.
If it is all due to talent, then individual sports like tennis should produce champions with equal dominance.
Indeed, the three top men's singles players in terms of Grand Slam titles (Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, and Roy Emerson), have won 21 percent of all the slam tournaments played since 1919. That's very good but lower than even US football. And even top tennis pros get a built-in advantage.
Tennis versus golf
Because of pro tennis's seeding system, top players don't face the toughest opponents until the latter rounds of a tournament, Sanderson points out. Pro golf is one of the few major sports where champions have to beat the entire field.
How well to the top golfers do?
The three top men's players in terms of wins at the majors (Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Walter Hagen) have won a combined 43 titles since 1914, when Mr. Hagen won his first major tournament. That's 13 percent of all the titles, which is impressive.
But it's nowhere near as dominating as the top teams have been in major league sports or the World Cup.
Maybe competitive balance isn't so important to sports leagues after all.