Ranking The “Team” In Team Sports
Originally posted to isportstimes.com on August 28, 2013
It’s a team game.
As clichés go, the one above is one of the most common ones you’ll here athletes and coaches say. Win or lose, everyone is always quick to point out that it’s a team game, one single person is not responsible for the win/loss, everyone played an important role, etc. Like any good sports cliché, there is a modicum of truth that gives rise to the cliché. Football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer; they are all by definition team sports. But not all team sports are created equally. Some team sports are more, um, “team” than others. That is, in some sports, a single player can have much more of an impact while other sports are designed to not allow one player to completely determine the outcome of a game or season.
So which sport is more “team” than the others? I’m glad you asked! Fortunately for you, I’ve taken on the responsibility of ranking the “team” in team sports (you can thank me later). What follows is a ranking of the “team” sports, starting from the sport in which one player can only have a minimal impact to the sport in which one player can completely dominate the proceedings. Please feel free to respectfully disagree with me in the comments section, unless I’m totally off base, in which case please eviscerate my lack of sports knowledge and writing ability with the fury that only an internet commenter can muster.
It wouldn’t seem as though baseball is the most “team” of all the sports. Baseball is mostly a game of individual battles like pitcher vs. hitter and hitter vs. fielder. But baseball is designed so that it is impossible to make the playoffs without a deep roster. Think about how the game is played. Hitters must bat in order, one at a time. Each player can only score one run at a time. Starters only pitch once every fifth day, and relievers can go several games without pitching. For proof that baseball is the most “team” sport, look no further than the AL West. The Angels have (some would say arguably, I wouldn’t) the best player in the game in Mike Trout. Having the best player in the game has lead the team all the way to fourth place in the division. The Athletics, on the other hand, don’t have any single player that could be considered a star, yet their 25-man roster is much deeper than that of the Angels, and that deep roster has lead the Athletics to the verge of the playoffs.
Now here’s where things begin to get a little bit murky. I admittedly don’t watch a lot of hockey outside of a handful of playoff games. But I do know that to score a goal in hockey requires a complete team effort from all five players. Rarely do you see on guy go coast-to-coast to get a goal. Not only that, but the way teams utilize several different lines of players means a team needs depth from top to bottom to have success. Like baseball, having the best player on the ice rarely guarantees a win. The reason it ranks below baseball is the concept of the “hot goalie”. Hockey teams that win championships often ride their goalie through the playoffs in a way that doesn’t exist in baseball, making hockey just a little less “team” than baseball.
Like hockey, soccer is a low scoring game, and it’s rare to see a single player go coast-to-coast to score a goal. The reason soccer ranks below hockey is the existence of dominant strikers. Some teams can get away with lumping long-balls or through balls forward in order to try and let their striker run onto them to get an easy goal. However, teams that utilize these strategies rarely finish near the top of their leagues. Rather, the teams that can provide the highest quality service to the forward or, in the case of Barcelona, have eleven guys that are all adept at passing and moving their way through defenses, tend to finish near the top, making soccer somewhat of a middle ground as a “team” sport.
This is the toughest sport to rank. Ostensibly, football is the most “team” sport there is, the old cliché being that all eleven men must do their jobs or a play will fail. This is no doubt true, but there is one caveat that makes football less of a “team” sport: The teams with elite quarterbacks have a huge advantage over those teams with even average quarterbacks. Having an elite quarterback can solidify nearly any crack in a team’s foundation. No other sport has a position as influential as quarterback. By definition of this ranking, the opportunity for a single player to have the biggest impact on a game, the presence of quarterbacks earns football this low ranking.
Along with baseball, basketball is the easiest sport to place in this ranking. No other sport offers the opportunity for a single player to completely dominate a game. For one thing, basketball has only five players per team playing at a time, a lot less than the other sports. Mathematically speaking, it’s is easier for one player to make an impact in basketball than in other sports. On top of that, there are many instances of one player being worth dozens of wins in a season. Cleveland Cavaliers fans can speak to this, as they went from winning 60-plus games season after season to the bottom of the league after LeBron James left. Only in football can a player have such an impact on a season. Lastly, it’s common knowledge that teams need superstars to win a championship. It’s the reason why teams were tripping over themselves to sign a possibly washed up Dwight Howard this offseason. In basketball, having at least one superstar is a prerequisite for being a title contender. All of these factors make basketball the least “team” of all team sports.