Parity. It’s everyone’s favorite word. It signifies balance and unpredictability. In sports, there’s not supposed to be anything better than parity. It gives every team and program hope.
Parity, in my opinion, is generally healthy (for fans). When it comes to the NEC, you want CCSU and Sacred Heart fans going into every season feeling like they have a chance.
There’s also a thin line between parity and fun. Sports are fun because of villains. I love the NBA because everyone is shooting to take down the Cavaliers and Warriors. The NBA would be significantly less fun if LeBron James didn’t exist. The NFL would be less fun if Tom Brady didn’t exist (unless you’re a Jets fan). Parity is great because a team like the Falcons can come out of nowhere and make it to the Super Bowl.
The NEC lacked parity for years. If you were a fan of Robert Morris or LIU-Brooklyn, this was great. The Blackbirds won back-to-back-to-back championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Robert Morris went back-to-back in 2009 and 2010, lost it in the 2011 and 2012 championships, won the regular season title in 2013 and 2014 and won the conference tournament in 2015.
The 2015-16 season was the first step toward true parity. Robert Morris stunk. Mount St. Mary’s and LIU-Brooklyn were middle of the pack. St. Francis Brooklyn, Sacred Heart and Fairleigh Dickinson were three of the top four teams in the league. FDU, who won eight games the year prior, represented the NEC in the NCAA tournament with 18 wins.
But this year was when true parity was on display, and it was beautiful. The first round of the NEC tournament featured three close games.
This has been the norm all season. KenPom studied the nine home games each conference team played and found that 27 of 90 games were decided by four points or less or overtime. Only one other conference had more close games. Think about all of the close games Robert Morris played this year. One and two-point wins against FDU and Wagner. An overtime loss at St. Francis PA. Only four of their 18 conference games were decided by 10 points or more.
Of the four conference tournament games played Wednesday, only one was decided by more than three points. St. Francis PA beat Bryant, 100-78. Every other game was decided by one possession.
And when we, as fans and writers, fantasize about March, that’s exactly what we’re looking for. March is more fun when George Mason, Northern Iowa and Hawaii make runs through the NCAA tournament. It’s even better with buzzer-beaters.
And the NEC is more fun when we have days – and seasons – like 2017. Mount St. Mary’s was pushed to the limit by No. 8 Sacred Heart. The defending NEC champions lost a two-point game to No. 3 Wagner. Robert Morris pulled off the first 2 vs. 7 upset in 13 years.
And again, all of those games were decided by three points or less. And what might benefit the league even more are the teams that did advance. Robert Morris has national awareness from its past success. Mount St. Mary’s has been once of the most successful conference teams since Jamion Christian took over in 2013. Wagner has made the NEC tournament seven straight years, the second-longest streak in the conference. St. Francis PA has an offense capable of wowing any spectator.
The league is in a great spot. Parity probably is the last thing they want to hear about. But for the four teams that did advance, Saturday should make for some great basketball. Robert Morris lost both games to Mount St. Mary’s by a combined three points. Wagner and St. Francis PA split during the regular season, with one of the games being decided in overtime.
My point here is that parity has made for great basketball all year. Unless, of course, you’re an LIU fan.