Once upon a time, a men’s college basketball team won consecutive NCAA titles. After a less successful season the next year, this team then proceeded to win seven consecutive titles. And then after losing in the tournament semifinals the next year, this team came back to win another title. Add it all together, and this men’s college basketball team won 10 titles in 12 years.
The team I am talking about is obviously the UCLA Bruins. From 1964 to 1975, the Bruins dominated men’s college basketball. And after all this dominance, men’s college basketball was over.
Of course not. Men’s college basketball was a popular sport in the 1960s and 1970s, and it is arguably even more popular today.
How about another story?
Once upon a time, a playoff was established in college football. In nine years — five under the previous postseason system and four with the playoff — one team won five titles. After such dominance, college football completely collapsed.
Of course not. That the University of Alabama has won year after year hasn’t impacted the popularity of college football. No writer said the college football was harmed when — in just the last two years — Alabama defeated:
- Ole Miss, 66-3, on Sept. 30, 2017
- Vanderbilt, 59-0, on Sept. 23, 2017
- Florida, 54-16, on Dec. 3, 2016
- Mississippi State, 51-3, on Nov. 12, 2016
- USC, 52-6, on Sept. 3, 2016
Again, this is all just in the last two years.
Alabama’s dominance in college football, as well as UCLA’s historic dominance in men’s college basketball, suggests that it is very unlikely women’s basketball is harmed by UConn’s dominance today.
The same lesson is learned when we consider the economics of sports.
Once upon a time, economists really believed that competitive balance was crucial to the survival of a sports league. Many academic articles were written making this argument. I personally have co-authored at least a half-dozen academic articles on the subject.
The empirical evidence, though, suggests this interest might have been misplaced. Competitive balance simply isn’t as important as we thought.
As I note in Sports Economics, competitive balance doesn’t seem to have that much of an impact on attendance. Studies of Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League and the English Premier League have failed to find evidence that attendance in a league is dramatically impacted by the level of competitive balance.
And then there is the story of the NBA. The NBA has never really had much competitive balance. You can see this easily with the empirical measures of balance, but it is also clear when you note that about 40% of current NBA teams have never won an NBA title. And when we look at contenders this year, it seems clear that once we get past the Golden State Warriors, the Houston Rockets, the Toronto Raptors, and maybe the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers, about 80% of NBA teams know they are not winning a title in 2018. We know this despite the fact that the playoffs haven’t even started.
What has this lack of balance done to the NBA? Clearly not much. FORBES recently estimated that every NBA team is now worth over $1 billion.
So is the University of Connecticut bad for women’s basketball? Whether we look at the historical or economic evidence, it seems very clear that the Huskies’ dominating their sport is really not a problem.
There is, though, something that is bad for women’s basketball.