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In a recent article for Slate, soccer columnist Brian Phillips took an interesting look at the fine line that sports leagues must walk when determining the appropriate balance between greatness and parity. Phillips ironically juxtaposes the cut throat nature of soccer leagues in socialist-leaning Europe against the more egalitarian leagues in capitalistic America. According to Phillips, while Europe has opted for the “beautiful game”, the United States has gone down the path of “competitive balance”.

Would it be worth achieving greater parity in soccer if it meant breaking up Barcelona? (Is it OK if I answer no?) By the same token, imagine if American leagues had developed along the lines of European soccer. Would it have been more fun to watch the Lakers trample the Bucks by 40, back in the day, if the Lakers had a roster as stacked as the 1992 Dream Team? – Brian Phillips, Slate, March 3, 2011

Although Phillips raises many interest philosophical points, he misses a couple of big ones that help define the differences between the sports leagues on both sides of the pond: scheduling and playoffs. In Europe, the league champion is the team that finishes in first place, whereas in America, the regular season is simply a vehicle to making the playoffs. So, while Europe relies on the marathon to determine its champion, America uses it as the qualifier for a sprint. That is the single biggest difference between the sports leagues on both continents, and the most significant reason why one seems to favor greatness and the other gives a nod to balance.

Different League Champions, Since 1990

Due to labor disputes, there was no MLB champion in 1994 or NHL champion in 2005.
The English Premier League started in 1992; the Scottish Premier League started in 1998.
The Serie A’s 2004-2005 championship was rescinded from Juventus and left unassigned due to a match fixing scandal.

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