The Most Wonderful Time of the Sports Year?

What is the best month for sports?  Here is how I’d rank them, along with the major events happening during each month:

  1. September: NFL kickoff, MLB pennant races, NCAA football starts, US Open Finals (tennis)
  2. January: NFL playoffs, major college bowls, National Championship, NBA reg. season, NHL reg. season
  3. March: March Madness, MLB opening day, NCAA basketball championship week, NBA reg. season, NHL reg. season
  4. October: MLB playoffs/World Series, NFL reg. season, NBA begins, NHL begins
  5. April: Masters, NCAA championship, NBA playoffs begin, NHL playoffs begin, MLB reg. season, NBA Draft
  6. June: US Open (golf), NBA finals, NHL Stanley Cup, MLB reg. season, French Open finals
  7. December: NFL reg. season, NCAA football championships, NBA reg. season, NHL reg. season
  8. November: NFL reg. season, NCAA football championships, NBA reg. season, NHL reg. season
  9. February: Super Bowl, NBA reg. season, NHL reg. season
  10. May:  NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, MLB reg. season, NFL draft
  11. July: British Open, Wimbledon Finals, MLB reg. season
  12. August: PGA Championship, MLB reg. season

Some notes:

  • I avoided sporting events that don’t take place on a yearly basis for two primary reason: it is hard to quantify the value of an event like the Olympics or World Cup which happen only ever fourth year; and these events do not always happen at the exact same time every year
  • Every once in a while, some of these events will take place other than in the months listed (e.g., sometimes the NFL playoffs will hit the last week of December and sometimes all NCAA conference championships are wrapped up in November), but generally speaking, most of these events are pretty locked into the listed month
  • The listing of events in a given month are more-or-less how I’d rank those in value
  • I’ve only included men’s sporting events because that is all I really watch.  I watch women’s sports in the Olympics but nothing on a regular basis
  • You’ll notice no soccer on the list; I have gotten more into soccer recently but still primarily during the major international competitions (specifically the World Cup and UEFA Cup) which are not annual events

Some observations:

  • Moving the Super Bowl from January to February had a profound effect on the rankings.  January might have been #1 overall had it held on to the big game and February probably falls to last without it.
  • The NCAA basketball finals (and sometimes entire Final Four) happening in April takes a bit of the luster away from March.  I don’t know if that is always how its been or if that is a more recent invention.  MLB’s opening day taking place in March gets some of that back but detracts from April; I’m pretty sure this is a recent invention.
  • The tennis majors would have done me a big favor if they had happened all in one month.  As it is, I focused on the finals since that is generally the only time I watch.
  • Even the golf majors couldn’t rescue the summer months.  I do love baseball, but the regular season feels too long, especially now that I have so much else on my plate.

Agree?  Disagree?  Got a sporting event you would have included?

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51 thoughts on “The Most Wonderful Time of the Sports Year?

  1. You can pretty much put some form of soccer in every month, with MLS running from March through November (MLS has larger average crowds than the NBA and NHL, albeit with slightly less than half the games) and the European leagues from August through May. But if you’re not going to leave space for regular season soccer, you at the very minimum need to have the Champions League final on the list for late May. The quality of play in the Champions League knockout rounds is infinitely better than any international competition, even if the international competitions are always the most fun and passionate.

    It’s easy to forget that the players on international teams only play together sporadically at best, whereas the club teams play together for roughly 10 months out of the year.

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    • This is all correct — especially the bit about the quality of the national teams play being perhaps not as high as the pros.

      Champions League is becoming easier to find on the TV than in years past. Spanish and Italian knockout rounds are also quite good, although it can be a bit of a chore for someone in the USA to find them without an expanded sports package from your satellite or cable provider, and also a bit of insomnia or a willingness to watch the event after the fact on the DVR. This always takes the zest out of watching the game for me because I’m fighting the impulse to just turn on the internets and see the final score.

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    • This is a purely subjective list based wholly on my own personal preferences. Perhaps I should be watching the Champions League final but… I don’t. So it doesn’t impact my ranking. Your rankings would probably look different than my own. As they should.

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  2. When a non-annual event like the Olympics or the World Cup comes along, does that bump your rankings around? This year, February will include Olympics and mid-June through mid-July will include the World Cup. So I appreciate your rankings in a standard (generally odd-numbered) year, but it doesn’t seem like this would be your ranking for 2014.

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    • It probably wouldn’t be for a particular year. But generally speaking, this is where I’d have them.

      I’m not the biggest fan of the Olympics. I don’t know that Olympic hockey would move February any higher. The summer events may move July or August ahead of May. But, again, they don’t always happen at the same time each year so they can’t be given a general value.

      I’m much more interested in the major international soccer tournaments. I look forward to those in a way I don’t look forward to the Olympics. For the latter, it’s more of, “Oh yea… that’s happening… cool.” For the former, it’s, “Hey, the tournament is starting! Let’s figure out where we’ll watch the big games.” But, again, the every-four-year nature doesn’t lend itself to a general ranking. Do I divide their value by 4? I dunno. Hard to factor them in.

      Think of it this way… if you had to pick one month and one month only to follow sports, would you choose one that was super exciting once every four years but kind of dull the other three? I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t blame you if you did, but I wouldn’t. I place a certain value on consistency. That is also why NFL kickoff, NFL playoffs, and March Madness rank so high. I don’t know that those ever suck; there are just so many games that you’re guaranteed to enjoy them. But the Super Bowl? Well, the Super Bowl is always a great event, but not always a great game. And it is alone in the month of February. So it loses a couple of points on that account.

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      • I would probably pick September — NFL kickoff and MLB pennant races, similarly to you.

        Sounds as though you sort of dislike the irregularity of the four-year events — you’d like them better if they happened at about the same time every year. Me, I sort of like that they are more infrequent; it increases the specialness.

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      • I actually think certain events would be overkill if they were every year. I might prefer a 3-year cycle to a 4-year cycle, but I like that the Olympics and World Cup are rarer. My only point is that it is hard to say July is the best month for sports because something that only happens once every four years sometimes takes place that month.

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  3. MLB Opening Day got moved back into late March to try to improve the weather for the World Series, which had gotten pushed into November by the relentless addition of playoff games. But March Madness had already begun to encroach on baseball season.

    Also, July should include the MLB All-Star game, and the fact that the days before and after it are the only ones all year with no real sports.

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      • Honestly, I don’t get major championships. They feature pretty much the same golfers as every other weekend. It’s like if in baseball they took four days during the regular season and said that those are the ones that really matter, and the record books kept track of the teams that won the most games on April 17th, June 22nd, August 12th, and September 3rd.

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      • I’ve thought about that myself and will defend them thusly:

        1.) The caliber of players: Most tournaments don’t feature all the big name players; the majors do. Everyone shows up for the majors. Regular tournaments will have some big names but not all of them.
        2.) The caliber of play: Everyone gears up for the majors, which means you see spectacular play and/or spectacular blow ups. Both are riveting.
        3.) The courses: Majors are generally played on historic and very challenging courses. And as golf is a sport that is as much player-vs-course as it is player-vs-player, this adds something. I personally rank the tournaments in this order: Masters, British Open, US Open, PGA Championship. This directly reflects the typical interest and challenge the respective courses hold (Note: the Masters is always played at the same course while the other three rotate; also, I’m a sucker for links play, which you get with the British).

        Now, ironically, I almost wrote in response to ‘s Indy500 comment something to the effect of “Why does driving in this circle for 4 hours mean more than driving in all those other circles for 4 hours?” So, I think your criticism is fair. But to fans, there are subtle differences that matter.

        Think of baseball: To the uneducated, a Yanks/Sox game in Fenway or Giants/Dodgers game in Dodgers Stadium would seem no different than a Royals/Rockies game in whatever-Colorado’s-stadium-is-called. But you and I know that simply isn’t the case.

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      • I basically agree with on this, but would just add that the other difference is that the fields in the majors are in fact a bit different – you get the top players from the European and Asian tours (as well as a smattering of amateurs, the PGA excepted), whereas other weeks you only get the guys on the US tour. On top of that, usually some of the top US players don’t even bother to show up to any given non-major since they’re only required to play a certain number of tournaments a year. That said, I’m not at all certain that the casual fan really cares much about those differences (I surely don’t). It’s more about the courses. For the US Open and the British Open, there’s also a certain degree of pleasure to be derived from watching highly-paid professionals look like everyday hackers when they have to hit out of the rough.

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      • A fair critique of #1 and #2. As a fan, I’m responding to the powers that be. How it all came to be is another matter.

        And I am sometimes troubled by that. There are times when I’m watching the Masters where, unprovoked, I’ll think, “This is the place that only recently allowed blacks and women to join and barely so at that, right? And which used to require that all caddies be black, right?” And I get a bit frustrated that we’ve allowed a decades old structuring to continue to dominate.

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      • The Masters is what it is because Augusta National was founded and designed by Bobby Jones. I sympathize with that, because I hope Fenway and Wrigley are there forever, and despise the Yankees for tearing down The House That Ruth Built.

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      • [Golf] Majors are generally played on historic and very challenging courses.

        I played for years, but the only thing I’m up for watching on TV is the leaders going through Amen Corner at the Masters on Sunday. No other string of three holes offers such a consistently good chance of seeing someone hit the ball brilliantly and win the tournament, or throw it all away. Over the years, scores on the par-3 12th have ranged from 1 to 13.

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      • “They’re important because everyone takes them really seriously because they’re important.”

        That’s true of anything and everything, no? I mean, who wins the Stanley Cup or Word Series only matters because the players and fans think they matter.

        And so the upside logic applies, too. Golf majors matter because the players, fans, critics, historians, etc., think they matter. And they do matter. They’re the best golf you will ever see in any given year because the pressure on the players and challenges presented by the course test them as competitors at the highest levels possible.

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      • In most other sports you have to win a bunch of other games to get to the championship, so even playing in (for instance) the World Series is an accomplishment. In tennis and golf, certain tournaments, not otherwise distinguished from the rest, are designated the important ones, and ipso fact become that.

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      • I agree with greginak.
        To me, golf is a game to be played, not viewed; similar to volleyball and bowling.

        I’m up or a game of volleyball practically any time, but you would be hard-pressed to get me to watch that crap on tv.

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      • In tennis and golf, certain tournaments, not otherwise distinguished from the rest, are designated the important ones, and ipso fact become that.

        Not so. The field for those events is determined by rank and prior success, limiting the entrants to only the very best (by some standard of that term). That they matter is no different than any other construct of what matters: it’s determined by history, competition, difficulty in getting there, fans buying in, etc.

        You seem to be saying that there is no fact of the matter justifying why the Masters is viewed as more important than any other tournament, whereas the “fact” of the matter is pretty clear: every player who plays wants to win it. Just like every baseball player wants to win the WS.

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      • Here’s another way to say it: without individual players and fans believing that *this particular accomplishment matters*, one competition would be no different than another. It’s the added pressure of the externally imposed desires and expectations that makes our favorite competitive events what they are.

        For my part, I think the greatest expressions of competition-ness by individuals and teams are likely to be found in major tennis tournaments from the quarters (usually the semis) onward; hockey playoffs; soccer in a bunch of dimensions; and Sunday at a major golf tournament. Football and baseball are dramatic, but I’m not sure they rise to the level of Pure Competitionosity. The NBA playoffs ranks a lot higher. (Pretty damn high, lately.)

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      • Why do the Olympics matter? There are world championships in many of those sports each year. Why does the World Cup matter more than Olympic soccer? Why do you care more about MLB’s championship than NPB’s?

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      • Last year there were 156 golfers in the US Open, and all the top ones played in the majority of that year’s PGA tournaments. If they won that Sunday they’d won a major. If they won a different Sunday at the same course, playing the same 72 holes against roughly the same competition, they hadn’t. And I’m pretty sure they all try to win at every tournament they’re in.

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      • And I’m pretty sure they all try to win at every tournament they’re in.

        Isn’t it true that all baseball players try to win every *game* they’re playing in?

        What differentiates the games such that winning *that particular one* means something more than any other game?

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      • Six months of regular season and two previous rounds of playoffs to earn your way in, making the Series the culmination of an entire year of play. As opposed to have a hot streak on the right weekend rather than the wrong one.

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      • You’re arguing against the idea that a golfer’s performance varies significantly week to week, or you’re arguing that there’s such a thing as clutch golfing and that’s what wins Majors? I don’t see any other alternatives to the idea that there’s as much randomness in who wins a Major as in who wins any other tournament.

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      • I don’t see any other alternatives to the idea that there’s as much randomness in who wins a Major as in who wins any other tournament.

        Last ten US Open Champs:

        2013 Justin Rose
        2012 Webb Simpson
        2011 Rory McIlroy
        2010 Graeme McDowell
        2009 Lucas Glover
        2008 Tiger Woods (3)
        2007 Ángel Cabrera
        2006 Geoff Ogilvy
        2005 Michael Campbell
        2004 Retief Goosen (2)

        Last ten Masters Champs (reversie):

        2004 Phil Mickelson
        2005 Tiger Woods
        2006 Phil Mickelson
        2007 Zach Johnson
        2008 Trevor Immelman
        2009 Ángel Cabrera
        2010 Phil Mickelson
        2011 Charl Schwartzel
        2012 Bubba Watson
        2013 Adam Scott

        If you follow golf, that’s not a list of “hot on a weekend” guys.

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      • And a Cardinals team that was barely .500 won the WS. The regular season is played over 162 games. Yet the champion is determined by, at most, 20 games. That is the worst ratio in major American sports and that is before you consider that baseball has the highest variance.

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      • Baseball has the longest regular season, giving it the best test for entry into the post-season. It’s a rare circumstance that a team as mediocre as the 2006 Cardinal will get there. But you’re absolutely right that letting more and more teams in dilutes the value of that. It’s getting as bad as the NHL, where more than half the teams advance and 8th seeds often go all the way to the finals.

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      • I did an analysis a few years back and found that the NBA is far and away the best as crowning the “best” team as champion. It is rare that a non-top 3 seed makes the finals, let alone wins it. The vast majority of the time a team with one of the four best records in the league takes home the trophy. This primarily had to do with sample sizes, both in terms of the number of games played and the number of scoring chances in a given contest. In hockey, which generally has the lowest scoring, results are highly variable because one funky bounce can be the difference between winning and losing. In basketball, with each team scoring upwards of 50 times, it is far less likely that a single flukey play will determine the outcome.

        Football has more scoring chances per game but the single-elimination aspect of the postseason compromises it a bit. It is probably somewhat similar to baseball. Hockey is the most flukey.

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      • Hockey is the most flukey.

        It’s flukey on a couple of levels. One is that the half the league makes it into the playoffs, so a team that gets hot at the right time can definitely take it all. The LA Kings from a couple years ago is an example of that, tho in their defense, they actually had a tremendous amount of talent on that team, and their poor regular season record was to some degree an indication of injuries rather than bad play. When everyone was healthy again, they cruised to the Cup.

        Another way is that in any single game, even a single flukey goal can not only change the outcome directly reflected on the score-board, but the whole style of play the teams are engaging in. If a team is down by two goals midway thru the second period they might start to press more than if they were only down by one. And you definitely see more flukey goals in hockey than soccer for example.

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