Which MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA divisions have been dominated?


The very first research-oriented blog post I ever did was in September 2010 and was titled “Problems of Parity.” I looked at the number of title winners in a few of the major sports and found that Major League Baseball doesn’t really have a problem with the same team winning all the time. However, there is a flip side to this that is blatantly obvious. What about one when one team dominates the division? Since 1995 when MLB instituted the wild-card, the Yankees have won the AL East 11 out of 16 times. That’s domination. But how does this compare to other divisions within baseball and within other sports?

Choosing the Data

I looked at all division winners for MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA in each sport’s current divisional setup and ignored this season for MLB and NFL. For MLB, this covers the years from 1995-2010; NFL, 2002-2010; NHL, 1998-2010; NBA, 2004-2010. Besides the fact that each league covers a different range of years, another problem emerges before the analysis even begins: Not every division has the same amount of teams. The NHL and NBA have exactly five teams in each of the six divisions, but the NFL has four teams in eight divisions and MLB has either four, five or six teams in six divisions. This was my solution to the problem: Divide the number of times each team has won the division by the number of years. Then, multiply that number by the number of teams in the division divided by 4.69. This is the average divisional size between the four sports in this study. This multiplicative factor gives a boost to teams in larger than average divisions as they have less of a chance of winning than a team in a smaller than average division.


Once I had this weighted percentage of how often a team has won the division, I needed to come up with a criterion for “domination.” The AL East is an obvious choice, but what about the AL Central? The Indians and Twins have won the division 13 out of 16 years, but neither team has won it even half of the time. Does this count as domination? I say no. I have decided to define “domination” as a team having a weighted division championship percentage of greater than 50. So after considering the number of teams in the division, has one team won the division more than half of the time in the current format?


14 teams have dominated their division based on this analysis. Here are those teams, along with the sport, division and weighted percentage:

The Detroit Redwings are another obvious candidate for domination. Since 1998, they have won the Central (or Norris) Division ten times. The St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks have won once each. The NBA appears five times on this list. There have only been seven seasons since realignment and each of these five teams has won the division at least four times since then.

Here is the number of dominated divisions by sport:


The most dominated division in the four major sports is the NHL’s Central division, where the Redwings win it almost every year. In a similar conclusion to the previous post, the NBA has the least parity in sports. The NFL has the fewest dominated divisions, which follows the oft-used phrase “Any Given Sunday,” referring to the ability for one NFL team to beat any other team in any scheduled game (2008 Detroit Lions excluded). MLB and the NHL are somewhere in between. Again, even with no salary cap, Major League Baseball does not have a widespread problem with domination.


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