The National Football League crowned a new champion Sunday night, the Rams winning their first Super Bowl in 22 years (when they still played in St. Louis), making this their first Lombardi Trophy while representing Los Angeles. And they did so by beating a Bengals franchise making its first Super Bowl appearance in 33 years, a franchise still seeking its first title after this heartbreaking loss.
The NFL, with its salary cap and even distribution of television money (something it can do because every game is on national TV), touts itself as a sport of parity. Everybody has a chance to win every season, and teams like the Bengals that were awful only two years ago can reach the Super Bowl in a snap (with a few sharp moves and a little luck in the draft).
But would you believe there's actually more parity in baseball?
It's true. When the Braves won the World Series last fall, they became the 15th different Major League Baseball franchise to win a title in the last 21 years. They also were the 21st different franchise to reach the World Series in that time.
That means exactly half of the sport's 30 franchises have won a championship since 2001, with more than two-thirds of them winning a pennant since then.
And that's more champions this century than any of the other major North American professional leagues.
The Rams on Sunday became the 13th NFL franchise to win a title since 2001, while the Bengals became the 20th franchise to reach the Super Bowl. Major League Soccer (13 champions, 21 championship participants), the National Hockey League (12 champions, 21 participants) and National Basketball Association (10 champions, 21 participants) all trail the rest.
This feels like pertinent information right now, because one of the hot topics amid negotiations between MLB and the MLB Players Association is the issue of competitive balance and tanking in the sport. Specifically, what changes (if any) should be made to encourage more of the former and less of the latter.
And that's not a bad thing. Competitive balance is good for any sports league. If the same handful of teams are winning titles year in and year out, it makes things stale and leaves too many fans feeling hopeless. And nobody wants to embrace the idea of a team intentionally losing in search of a No. 1 draft pick.
But the fact is, the situation in MLB isn't nearly as bad as many seem to believe. Again, 50 percent of the league's franchises have won the World Series in the last 21 years, 70 percent of them reaching the Fall Classic in that time.
And if you want to expand this even further, consider that 10 different clubs have won a division title in the last two years, with 15 different clubs winning their division in the last five years and a whopping 22 of them winning a division title in the last eight years.
Are there a handful of franchises that haven't been serious contenders in a long time, and are some of them guilty of spending considerably less money on payroll than their counterparts? Yes, there are a few. And that's an issue that should be addressed in the new CBA.
But aside from a couple of outliers, for the most part, every MLB franchise has been in a legitimate position to win at some point in the last eight years.
Included in that group, of course, are the Nationals, who from 2012-19 won four division titles and reached the postseason five times, finally reaching and winning the World Series at the end of that sustained run. After back-to-back disappointing seasons, the Nats now find themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum, embarking on a massive rebuilding project that may take several years to complete.
There will be some dark days in the near future for this organization, and many of them won't be particularly enjoyable to watch. But at this point, it felt like a necessary transition for a club that won a lot for nearly a decade but simply wasn't well-positioned to sustain that level of success anymore without hitting the reset button.
At the same time, though, several MLB clubs that haven't been contenders in a little while appear to be positioning themselves to jump back into the mix this season. The Rangers (last division title: 2016), Blue Jays (2015), Tigers (2014), Phillies (2011) and Padres (2006) all have spent aggressively in recent years and are attempting to contend again.
This is the cyclical nature of professional sports. Not every team can win every year. Unless you want a league full of 75- to 85-win clubs, there are always going to be a handful of elite clubs at the top of the standings and a handful of bottom feeders. As long as those teams don't remain stuck in those same positions for years and years, the league should be considered healthy.
Every professional sports league recognizes it, but these days MLB arguably does it better than the rest.