One of the biggest stories of the 2013 NLL season was the parity in the league. The best regular season record was only 4 games better than the worst and as was stated many times during the year, any team can beat any other team on any given night. But is that really what we want?
Certainly there are advantages to this level of parity. The bit about any team can beat any other team ensures that the majority of games are meaningful and exciting. If you look at the IL Indoor staff picks every week, there were a few times where every person chose the same winner in a game, but that was pretty rare. But how many games were there last season where you were truly shocked by the outcome? I’m not talking about lopsided wins or high- or low-scoring games here, just being shocked by who won the game.
In 2004, the Rochester Knighthawks (coming off three straight 10-win seasons – one of them in only 14 games) travelled west to meet the Anaheim Storm, who were in their inaugural season. The Storm defeated the Knighthawks 13-10 for their only win that season. The fact that the Storm pulled off that win was a complete shock to everyone – to the point where I remember it happening nine years later. Were there any games last year that are that memorable strictly because of who won?
One of the advantages of parity is that every team has a chance to win the Championship. But one of the disadvantages is that every team has a chance to win the Championship. Were the Knighthawks the best team in the NLL in 2013? No. In 2012? No. But they have two Championships in two years. In both years they made the playoffs and then won three straight games, so you could argue that they deserved both titles and I wouldn’t argue against you. But the league Champion is supposed to represent the best team in the league that year, not the best in the final three games. If winning the Championship doesn’t mean you’re the best team, what does it mean? Doesn’t it kind of lose some significance if you have two teams with 11+ wins but the Champion is a team that’s only a single game over .500 including the playoffs, as the Knighthawks were in 2012?
Another disadvantage of parity is the legacy. People look back and remember the years when one team was dominant. Remember the Rock of the early 2000’s? What about the 1993-1994 Bandits? Or the 2007 Knighthawks? In other sports we have the Canadiens of the 70’s. The Islanders and Oilers of the 80’s. The Yankees of the 90’s and 2000’s. The Bulls of the 90’s. The Lakers of the 2000’s. Those teams were all dominant, and we all remember those years and those Championships.
Quick – who won the NLL Championship in 2006? Mammoth fans probably answered right away, but I had to look it up. Not the Mammoth didn’t deserve their championship, but they weren’t part of a dynasty and didn’t have nearly as dominant a season as the Knighthawks the next year (with their 12 game win streak to end the regular season) so it’s a little tougher to remember. In ten years, who’s going to look back on the 2012-2013 Knighthawks and say “remember when those mediocre Knighthawks won two straight Championships”? If they finish around .500 in 2014 but win their third straight Championship, would anyone consider them a dynasty, or even close to one?
But these arguments against parity are mainly from a purist point of view. For fans in general, parity is great. To answer my opening question: yes, this is really what we as fans want. The disadvantages I listed above are real, but are greatly outweighed by these advantages:
- You (generally) don’t have to watch your team struggle through a 3-13 season.
- You don’t have to go to a game and think “we have almost no chance of winning this”.
- When you watch a game, you know it’ll be a hard-fought game on both sides. You know that the players aren’t going to be mailing it in because “it’s only the Edmonton Rush and we can beat them easily”. Not anymore, you can’t. Not easily.
- Even if your team is below .500 with only a few games to play in the regular season, the games are likely still important.
There might be some lacrosse fans who consider the Knighthawks’ recent championships as less meaningful than previous years, but Knighthawks fans don’t.
The same rule that applies to goals applies to Championships as well: the ugly ones count just as much as the pretty ones.