Where are the Wins?
A look at how average win counts have trended since 2013
It’s been about a month since our last post, our 2021 year in review. Since then, we’ve been busy at work prepping for 2022 (read to the end of that post for a sneak preview of what’s in store).
While we don’t have any updates on 2022 to share right now (look out for some in the coming months), we wanted to use this stretch of downtime to share the results of some fun analyses we’ve been running.
In the first of these, we will take a look at season-by-season win counts, and how those have trended in aggregate over the past 9 years.
Read on to find out, but before you do, make sure you subscribe below!
First Things First
Does this chart look familiar? This shows the total number of teams playing 11 man football in the state of Michigan - as you can see, there is a clear trend downward, with almost 100 fewer teams playing 11 man football in 2021 vs 2013.
While we won’t be discussing the ‘why’ behind this chart in this post (that’s a topic for another day), we wanted to showcase this trend before jumping in - because we are considering only 11 man teams in our analysis, and because the number of 11 man teams has dropped considerably over the time period in question, all of our metrics are reported on a “% of total teams playing 11 man football” basis.
This adjustment allows for us to compare across time periods: without this, reporting the number of teams with X number of wins in a given year would be meaningless, as there may be fewer teams with a given number of wins simply due to the lower overall number of teams playing that year.
Averages: COVID, Duh
With that caveat out of the way, let’s jump into our first look at the data: what’s the average number of wins across all teams in a given year?
Not surprisingly, the data shows a very consistent trend, with the average wins per team hovering right around 4.9, year in and year out. This makes sense, given that the regular season is 9 games long, and has been for the entire time period in question: the average wins imply an almost exactly average record of 4.9 wins to 4.1 losses (there are slightly more wins on average due to the playoffs - around half the state plays 10 games each year).
Also not surprising is the chart’s one blip: in 2020, when the regular season was shortened to 7 games long (I am counting the one guaranteed playoff game), average wins per team dipped to 3.8. This again implies an almost middle-of-the-road record, with 3.8 wins to 3.2 losses.
1 Level Deeper: Variation
Let’s go one level deeper: you’ve seen that the average number of wins has been roughly constant over time, but how has the variation in win counts changed?
Here, we are using standard deviation to measure variation: if there is more parity in win counts, i.e. a lot more teams are going 5-4 each year, we would expect the standard deviation of win counts to drop, as the overall variation lowers.
On the contrary, if there is increasingly less parity in the state, with more teams going winless and/or more teams going undefeated, we would expect this number to increase: overall variation would be rising.
Since 2015, there’s been a clear trend upwards in variation of win counts across the state, with the trend spiking in 2020, and coming back to earth slightly this past year.
While the overall trend might be a bit surprising, the 2020 phenomena certainly is not: variation spiked that year because of the extreme variation in the total number of games played. For instance, none of the Lansing schools played football in 2020, and very few teams played all 12 possible games. This is a wider spread than normal; hence, variation increases.
What’s driving this?
What’s driving this increase in variation? Before we jump into the actual numbers, a high-level visualization may be helpful: below are two histograms of total win counts.
The one on the left shows a State where there is more parity: as you can see, the data is more mound shaped, with a larger bump in the middle and a symmetrical look. Think of this as a State where nearly everyone goes 5-4.
The one on the right shows a State where there is less parity: more and more teams are winning fewer games, and less teams are going undefeated. This is causing the data to take a sloping shape, with a large lump at the front (low # of wins), and a longer tail (high # of wins).
Essentially, our State is moving from the left histogram to the right histogram: over the past 9 years, the level of parity has dropped.
There are more 0 & 1 win teams than ever
Let’s look at some more data to prove this out: below is a chart on the % of total teams winning only 0 or 1 games each year. This trend is in lockstep with our average variation chart: since 2015, the % of teams winning this few of games has steadily risen.
And fewer teams are posting double digit win counts
On the flip side, the % of teams with double digit wins each year is down. This trend is not as pronounced as the other, but it's still visible.
The Rich Get Richer?
As you can see, the State is fighting a two-front war when it comes to total wins: not only are more teams going winless (or posting only 1 win), but there are also fewer posting double digit wins.
This dynamic would seem to embody the ‘rich get richer’ dynamic we are seeing across the sports world: each year, the top of the game grows increasingly smaller, with just a few teams dominating.
Who are these teams?
In Part II of this post, we will take a look at who these teams are, and try to answer the following questions:
Which program has been the most dominant over the last 8 years? How about 3 years?
Which program outperformed their last 8 year trend the most in 2021? Who underperformed?
Are there differences in average win counts across divisions?
Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss out on Part II of this post!