Sunday, January 28, 2007

There are no more "Leagues of Their Own"

Anna writes... Dear father Jim,

Why do sports have leagues? What's the difference between national and american leagues? Who decides what teams play on what leagues? Do the "final" games (World Series or Super Bowl, etc) always have to have teams from both leagues? Has there always been 2 leagues? How deep is 20,000 leagues?

Two is just the number that seems to work out the best. The reason that sports teams have more than one league is if one league is profitable then someone else will start another league to compete with it.

In baseball, since the National League started in 1876, there have been many other leagues started. There was the American Association, the Federal League, the Union League, the Players League, and the American League. There are also dozens of minor leagues and independent leagues. These don’t even count the negro leagues and the women’s leagues that the movie “League of Their Own” was based on.

During times when there was only one league in existence, it never did as well as when two leagues were present. The champion of one league just does not hold the interest of the champion of one league playing the champion of another league.

Football also started with the National Football League. The American Football League started in the 1960. By 1970 the two leagues merged into one keeping the original leagues separate as conferences. There is nothing stopping anyone from creating competing leagues. In 2000, the people who run the WWF wrestling circuit decided to start their own “Extreme Football League”. They never survived as they put out an inferior product that neither had the quality football that the football fans wanted, nor the theatrics that the wrestling fans wanted. That’s not to say someone couldn’t make a go of a new sports league tomorrow. If they were successful, no doubt their best team would be included in the playoff system and the new league would probably merge with the older league.

I’m not familiar with hockey, soccer, and basketball, but time has proven that it is not enough to just win more games that other teams, fans want to see the best teams face off for a final showdown. By having two leagues or conferences, you can pit the best of one against the best of the other. Most sports divide their leagues into divisions and figure out a way to get more teams involved in the playoff system. There is much more fan interest in a team that has a chance to make the post season play off tournament. The more teams that are invited to that tournament, the more fans will be interested in their teams. The only problem comes when you invite so many teams to the tournament that the regular season has very little meaning. Hockey is close to that break even point right now where it is so hard to not make it to the post season that many fans pay little attention to the regular season. Their interest in the sport doesn’t peak until the start of the playoffs or “second season”.

There are also many sports with only one league or where different leagues do not compete against each other. Golf, tennis, and horse racing have circuits that all the best compete in. Auto racing has different leagues with different types of cars and different rules and one league does not compete with the other. Of course these sports are individual sports and not team sports so that may be the difference.

And finally, about the 20,000 leagues under the sea, that continent of Atlantis was sure one heck of a sports town!

NASA goes Metric

Brian writes...Hey Jim, so NASA recently decided to go metric. What do you think about this? Are units such as AU, parsec, and light-year considered metric or English?

I’m surprised to hear that NASA is going metric. I thought they had been for years. It’s about time that NASA and the rest of this country did it. Back in the ‘70s. the US had been legislated to go to the metric system over a 10 year period of time but it all fell through. The only business that went metric was the liquor industry that changed bottles from 1/5 gallons to 750 mls. That gave them the ability to give us less product for the same price. I never did understand the problem. If we went to the metric system overnight, where every place of business had to make all measurements meters, it would take us about 3 months for it all to sink in.

The metric system is such a much better system that it just does not make any sense to stick with the English system. Take for instance the millimeter. It can easily be measured and read with a metric rule where as a sixteenth of and inch, which is larger, therefore less accurate is cumbersome and unwieldy. Construction workers use measurements all day every day, but few use sixteenths. In trades where they have to be accurate to a sixteenth you will hear people to refer to “heavy” and “light” measurements. That is to say a “heavy half inch” is actually nine sixteenths inch. A “light three quarter inch” is actually eleven sixteenths.

The one exception to this is the metric measurement of temperature. One degree of Celsius is 1.8 degrees of Fahrenheit. Almost half as accurate. The temperature of water freezing and boiling are still arbitrary points on a scale. Two degrees is not twice as hot as one degree. One hundred degrees is not twice as hot as fifty degrees. Celsius was and is a bad idea. Do something that make sense and is practical like meters and then have everyone change to the third system.

As far as the AU, parsec or light-year, all three are unit neutral, they can be expressed in either metric or English measurements.