Tag Archives: Western Conference

What Do You Do When You’re THAT Much Better Than The Competition?

The Miami Heat have won the last two NBA championships and they’ve been to the finals for the last three years (losing in Game 7 of the finals before winning back-to-back championships). So far this year, they’re one of two teams in the Eastern Conference (as of this writing) to have a winning record. The other team being the Indiana Pacers, whom many think will challenge the Heat for the best team in the Eastern Conference this season. If we take a peek at the Western Conference, we see that there are quite a few more teams with winning records. In fact, there are five times as many winning teams in the West than in the East.

I’m not here to talk about the parity in the NBA conferences, even though it’s clear that there is, but instead, about the Heat and their competition. That is, they’ll play most of their games against the Eastern conference, of which there are only two teams with winning records. Given that the Heat have been an elite team for the last three years, it’s not surprising that a they’d have to resort to “games within games” to stay focused.

After reading that article on SB Nation, I thought to myself how difficult it must be for the Miami Heat coach (Erik Spoelstra) to keep his players focused, not only as each season wears on, but as each game wears on and each quarter wears on. The Heat have played 23 games so far this season and have won 17 of them. While they’re not in first place in the conference (that title belongs to the other winning team in the East, the Pacers), they’re well above the 3rd place team in the conference. For a team that plays that much better than its opponents on a nightly basis, one can see how it might be easy for the players to lose focus. Heck, it’s possible that a few of those six losses came as a result of the team losing focus after having outplayed the other team through the first few quarters of the game.

The reason I’ve raised this issue is because I was thinking about the success of a “games within games” strategy. For instance, let’s say that the “game inside the game” for today’s game is that we’re going to try to get the ball to the guy down low. That is, the strategy is to beat this team by using a certain player in a certain way. I wonder what happens when it gets down to near the end of the game and the score is close — do you abandon that strategy? And if you do, how do you get the players who hadn’t been as involved ready to go now that it’s the key time in the game?

A games within games strategy can be successful, but I worry at what cost.

This also reminds me of one of the chapters in Michael Sandel’s book that we reviewed about 6 months ago — the idea of fines and fees. In particular, the idea that parents pay their kids to read. By doing so, parents are incentivizing a certain behaviour. The worry, from some, is that by paying their kids to read, the kids will no longer derive the same joy out of reading if there’s no incentive involved. If we apply that to this situation, I wonder if the strategy of using the one player in that one game might pervert the incentives for the team. And not just in that game, but over the long haul. Maybe the players don’t then have the same incentives as before when there aren’t games within games.

Of course, I’m not an NBA basketball coach (or even a high school basketball coach), but I think it’s still an idea worth considering.

Colleges Switching Conferences: Markets in Sports

A few weeks ago, 7 teams in the Big East conference voted to remove their men’s basketball teams from the conference. That’s a lot of teams to leave a conference at one time! Truth be told, I’m not an “avid” fan of college basketball, but I do like to catch some games every now and then and like most people, I always keep an eye on March Madness.

When I first heard the news of this happening, the first thing that came to mind: economics.

I never had an economics professor tell me, ‘it’s simply economics!’ but I certainly imagined one telling me this right along with this piece of news. How is it economics? Well, it’s all about markets. Markets? Yes, markets!

In hearing about this, I suspect that the seven teams that voted to leave the conference were noticing all the other teams that were leaving their conferences (in different sports). Many of those teams were moving conferences because of the possibility of more money. There are certain teams that play in certain markets (think: Big Ten) that are able to make a great deal of money for the networks that carry their games (is there any other conference that has its own TV channel?) This is probably why Nebraska joined the Big Ten and probably why Maryland and Rutgers will be joining in 2014.

So, as 7 of the teams that helped to make up the Big East conference in basketball watched as teams like Nebraska, Boise State, and Rutgers moved conferences, I’m sure that this helped to “light a fire” in motivating the teams in the Big East to consider a move.


All that being said, I’m certainly sympathetic to those fans who hate to see these kinds of moves happen. Why? Rivalries are bound to die. In fact, I remember a time when this idea of a team switching conferences ended (or severely hampered!) one of the most famous rivalries in the sport! The Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Detroit Red Wings.

The Leafs were moved to the Eastern Conference in 1998 and when that happened, the number of times the Leafs and Red Wings played diminished — a lot. I remember being crushed as a kid because Leafs/Red Wings games were a delight to see. Of course, there’s talk of realignment now, which might see the Red Wings/Leafs back in the same conference (or division)!

In looking back at the history, the Leafs did quite a bit of moving around in the 1990s. This was, in part, because the NHL was going through a great deal of change. In fact, with the switch to Eastern and Western Conferences, the Leafs/Red Wings were relegated to the Western Conference, initially, with the understanding that they would (both!) eventually get moved to the Eastern Conference. This change happened in 1993 and five years later, the Leafs did get moved to the East. Although, The Red Wings remain in the Western Conference.

I don’t know if the moving around of teams in college sports is a perfect comparison to those teams being moved around in the NHL, but with rivalries likely to be greatly diminished, I can certainly empathize.