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Where are the Wins? (Part 2)
An even closer look at average win counts over the last few years
This post is Part II of a post we sent out several weeks ago:
If you haven’t yet read that, I highly suggest you start there - that will give you an overview of the material we’re covering below.
With that out of the way, a little refresher on what we’re covering in today’s newsletter: we’re taking a deep dive into the dynamics of win counts over the last few years. In the last post, we discussed win totals in aggregate, noting the following dynamics:
Except for Covid, average win totals have stayed constant over the last 9 years (hovering right around 4.9 wins per year)
That said, the variation in win totals has not stayed constant - each year, this statistic has grown
Variation is climbing because more and more teams are going winless, and fewer and fewer teams are winning 10+ teams each year
This dynamic highlights a ‘rich get richer’ effect: since 2013, the # of top teams in our sport has grown smaller
So who are these teams? Is there a trend by division? How have they’ve fared recently? Let’s jump into the post to find out.
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8 Year Win Averages
Before we get into it, I want to make a note on metrics: one statistic that we will be referring to in this post quite frequently is a team’s “8 Year Win Average”.
“8 Year Win Average” is simply the average of a team’s total wins, over the last 8 years (2014 - 2021).
As a for instance, let’s look at a sample team here. The Hudson Tigers are the reigning D8 state champs. Over the last 8 years, they’ve had win counts of the following:
These win counts average out to 7.0. Thus, Hudson’s 8 Year Win Average is 7.0
Why are we using this metric? The first reason is easy: we wanted to get a notion of which teams have had staying power. Measuring win counts over a longer time period like this can give us a sense of which programs belong to the proverbial ‘rich’ we spoke about in our last post.
Second, 8 years is the time it takes to completely cycle two full classes of players, freshman - senior. Again, towards our goal of measuring long term performance, if a program is able to maintain dominance through two independent classes, it is certainly doing something right.
With this in mind, let’s get into the data.
8 Year Win Averages - By Division
Before we discuss the individual teams, I thought I’d start us out with a graph that probably belonged in Part I of this series - the above chart showcases the average of 8 Year Win Averages across divisions.
There’s not much variation in win counts by division - as you might expect, the average here hovers right around 4.9, which is consistent with our average for all teams from Part I of this series.
You do, however, see 2 slight trends: 1). A gentle slope downwards from D1 - D4, and 2.) A gentle slop upwards from D5 - D8
What are the reasons for these? While we don’t have any hard evidence to share here (that’s a topic for another day), here are some potential theories we have:
#1 - for the slope downward from D1 to D4, this might be driven by relative competitiveness between divisions. As D1/D2 teams don’t play exclusively D1/D2 teams (and quite commonly play as low as D4), their win totals showcase that they are ‘taking’ wins from other teams in these divisions, thereby inflating their own 8 year average win totals, and deflating those of other divisions.
#2 - for the slope upward from D5 to D8, this is likely driven by something else: our data here only shows the 506 teams that played 11-man football in 2021. Thus, there is a bit of a survivorship problem: because most of the ~100 teams that have dropped to 8-man over the last 8 years have come from these lower divisions, and because the teams dropping to 8-man were more likely to have lower competitiveness, quite a few teams with lower win totals are not captured here (as they are now in 8-man), thus boosting the average for these divisions.
8 Year Win Averages - By Team
With the divisional look out of the way, let’s look at some individual teams. Shown above are the 15 teams with 8 Year Win Averages of 10.0 or higher. Congrats to Pewamo-Westphalia, who takes home the title of the State’s most dominant program over this time period.
P-W’s dominance underscores a trend here: there’s a heavy small-school bias, with 5 of the 15 coming from D7 alone, and only one team appearing from D1 or D2 (Mona Shores).
Taken at face value, this is suggestive of a third theory behind the differences in divisions, which we did not share above: it is easier to build long term competitiveness in smaller divisions. If this theory is true, it would help explain the relatively high 8 Year Win Averages that D7 owns vs. other divisions - there are simply more dominant programs here than in other divisions.
3 Year Win Averages - By Team
Now that you have a feel for who’s been dominant long term, let’s take a look at something more recent - to get a sense of who is contributing to the ‘rich get richer’ effect, we don’t just care about one point in time: we want to know who is falling out of the ‘rich’, and who is (not) coming back in.
Shown above are the programs averaging 10+ wins a year across 2 different time periods: 2014-2016, and 2018, 2019, & 2021 (we removed 2020 due to COVID). This is equivalent to the 8 Year Win Average shown above, except it is now across two different 3 year timeframes.
You will note that there are less teams in the more recent timeframe (25 vs 30) - this is due primarily to the decline in teams overall (589 vs 529), but on a % basis, there’s also been a slight decline in the % of teams with 10+ win seasons (5.1% vs 4.7%).
This highlights the trend we discussed in Part I of this post - the ‘top’ of the sport is growing smaller. Were this trend not true, you would expect roughly 2 more teams to have averaged 10+ wins in the 2018, 2019, & 2021 time period.
Another interesting point are those teams that are found in both time periods: of the 46 teams to average 10+ wins a year in either time period, only 9 have averaged 10+ wins a year in both time periods (these teams are highlighted in green on the table).
As you might expect given our commentary above, the teams that appear in both lists share a common theme: they belong to smaller divisions. For instance, 4 of 9 belong to Division 7 (Pewamo-Westphalia, New Lothrop, Lumen Christi, St Francis) and 0 of 9 belong to Divisions 1 or 2. Again, this evidences that long term competitiveness is easier in the smaller divisions.
Furthermore, the fact that smaller division teams occupy such a large position in both lists evidences a third trend: the top heavy nature of the smaller divisions is only increasing. Think about it this way: for the 2014-2016 time period, the % of 10+ win seasons owned by teams in divisions 5-8 was 53%. For 2018, 2019, & 2021, that statistic has now increased to 56%.
This implies that in aggregate, the decline in 10+ win seasons across our two timeframes is coming from the larger divisions. If you extend this one point further, you might conclude that the larger divisions are becoming more competitive (hence less 10+ win seasons), and the smaller divisions are becoming less competitive (hence more 10+ win seasons).
Rich get Richer: An Unlikely Source?
With this conclusion in mind, we can start to understand where our ‘rich get richer’ dynamic is playing out most acutely: in the State’s smaller divisions. The teams specifically driving this tend are the ones you see listed on the charts above - those perennial D7 powerhouses that annually post 10+ wins a year.
Will anyone stop them?
This is the question we will attempt to answer in Part III of this post: who outperformed this year? Are they likely to push these teams out and join the ranks of the ‘rich’? Can we predict who will have what win totals next year?
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