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What's The Greatest Sports State In America?

There are 50 states and a capital in our Union. Some of them are very good at sports. Some are very bad at them. America Week is as good a time as any to sort them out, once and for all.

TALLADEGA, AL - MAY 05:  Fans attend the NASCAR Nationwide Series Aaron's 312 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 5, 2012 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)
TALLADEGA, AL - MAY 05: Fans attend the NASCAR Nationwide Series Aaron's 312 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 5, 2012 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Getty Images for NASCAR

I know it isn't July 4 anymore, but America is that annoying friend you have that isn't content to just let a birthday be a birthday, and instead spends the days before and after going all OHMGAAAHD IT'S MY BIRTHDAY WEEEEEEK. In light of that, let's reflect upon the 50 states of the Union and ask ourselves: which state is the best at sports?

There's more than one way to measure that, but to keep things straightforward, I concentrated on standard win percentage, rather that championships or native sons of anything else. In order to preserve a half-decent sample size, I narrowed the field to states who have hosted at least 200 seasons, combined, of teams that played in any/all of the following leagues: MLB, NFL, NBA, and one of the six largest NCAA conferences in football and/or basketball. (I counted Notre Dame's football program as well.)

Of our 50 states, 33 met these criteria (as did Washington, D.C.). I looked up the winning percentages of every season of the teams in question from these states, some of which dated back to the 19th century. Then I found the mathematical average of all those seasons. This is what I ended up with:




Secondly, if we're simply looking for the states with the best teams, this map is not going to give us a perfectly accurate answer. It's a better answer to the question, "which states have seen the most winning, relative to the games they've played?"

Clearly, states with collegiate powerhouses will have a leg up here. The winningest team in baseball, the Yankees, is .568 all-time; in contrast, college basketball programs such as Kentucky and UNC are well over .700 all-time. This helps to explain why Massachusetts, in spite of the glut of success over the last decade and the long-term success of the Celtics, has a rather poor showing here: relatively speaking, they don't have much in the way of NCAA football or basketball. There's a slight bias against the large-market corners of the nation, and I'll leave it up to you to figure out whether that was an accident.

A few observations:

  • What the Hell, New Jersey? While you do have the NFL's Giants and Jets (which I counted as New Jersey teams since they play in the Meadowlands), you also have a century of Rutgers football, Rutgers basketball, and Seton Hall basketball. Poor showing, friends.
  • You might wonder what's weighing Texas down. They have no shortage of sporting greatness in Texas and A&M football, Texas basketball, the Cowboys and the Spurs. In large part, the state's winning percentage is brought down by Baylor basketball (.480 in 106 seasons), the Rangers (.475 in 52 seasons), and the late Oilers (37 seasons of .463 football).
  • D.C. does boast 106 years of over-.600 Georgetown basketball, but the failures of the late Senators, Nationals and Wizards were too much for The Not State, as it's nicknamed, to overcome.
  • Florida would have a significantly better showing, were it not for 37 seasons of sub-.400 football from the Buccaneers. Even as it stands, the state's above average.

The most remarkable thing about this map, though, sits right in the middle. The three states with the worst winning percentage are separated by only .002 over a huge sample size, and they all sit right next to one another: Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. Let's break these down.

Iowa, you have the Hawkeyes, who have been decent at football and basketball for a long time. But you also have Iowa St., which has been pretty bad for over a century (basketball is .495 over 105 years, football is .450 over 114 years). From what I've seen, it's somewhat rare for such a not-good program in a major conference to have been around for so long.

Missouri, your basketball Tigers have been very good, and the Chiefs and baseball Cardinals haven't been bad either. Problem is, you've been home to several bad teams who have since moved away. The NFL's Cardinals, NBA's Kings, and MLB's Athletics and Browns used to play in Missouri, and they were all pretty bad.

And lastly, Illinois. You might guess this state is brought down by the Cubs and White Sox, but they're both actually over .500 all-time. The NFL Cardinals were awful when they played there, Northwestern basketball has been bad, and Northwestern football has been sucking since 1894.

Final thoughts: Kentucky is awesome, Massachusetts sucks, and Keokuk, Iowa -- which sits right on that tri-state intersection -- should probably be recognized as the capitol of sporting awfulness. By the way, if you're interested in seeing any of the data I dug up, you can do so in this Google Docs spreadsheet.

Here's the full list, from best state to worst state. All schools' records were included in both football and basketball, unless otherwise noted. Defunct or relocated teams are in italics.

  1. Alabama (Alabama, Auburn)
  2. Kentucky (Kentucky, Louisville)
  3. Nebraska (Nebraska)
  4. Utah (Utah, Jazz)
  5. Oklahoma (Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Thunder)
  6. Indiana (Notre Dame, Indiana, Purdue, Colts, Pacers, Pistons)
  7. Tennessee (Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Titans, Grizzlies)
  8. Michigan (Michigan, Michigan St., Tigers, Lions, Pistons)
  9. New York (Syracuse, St. John's basketball, Mets, Yankees, Bills, Knicks, Nets, Braves, Dodgers, MLB Giants, NBA Royals)
  10. Louisiana (LSU, Saints, Hornets, Jazz)
  11. North Carolina (UNC, Duke, NC State, Wake Forest, Panthers, Bobcats, Hornets)
  12. Florida (Florida, Florida State, Miami, USF, Marlins, Rays, Jaguars, Dolphins, Buccaneers, Heat, Magic)
  13. Arizona (Arizona, Arizona St., Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Suns)
  14. Wisconsin (Wisconsin, Marquette basketball, Brewers, Packers, Bucks, Braves, Hawks)
  15. California (Cal, Stanford, USC, UCLA, Angels, Dodgers, Athletics, Padres, Giants, Raiders, Chargers, 49ers, Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, Kings, Rams, Rockets)
  16. Ohio (Cincinnati, Ohio St., Reds, Indians, Bengals, Browns, Rams, Cavaliers, NBA Royals)
  17. Kansas (Kansas, Kansas St.)
  18. Texas (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, Astros, Rangers, Cowboys, Texans, Mavericks, Rockets, Spurs, Oilers)
  19. Virginia (Virginia, Virginia Tech)
  20. Pennsylvania (Penn St., Pittsburgh, Villanova basketball, Phillies, Pirates, Eagles, Steelers, 76ers, Athletics, Warriors)
  21. Georgia (Georgia, Georgia Tech, Braves, Falcons, Hawks)
  22. Minnesota (Minnesota, Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Lakers)
  23. Maryland (Maryland, Orioles, Ravens, Bullets, Colts)
  24. Washington state (Washington, Washington St., Mariners, Seahawks, Sonics, Pilots)
  25. Colorado (Colorado, Rockies, Broncos, Nuggets)
  26. Massachusetts (Boston College, Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Braves, Redskins)
  27. South Carolina (South Carolina, Clemson)
  28. Oregon (Oregon, Oregon St., Trail Blazers)
  29. Washington, D.C. (Georgetown basketball, Nationals, Redskins, Wizards, Senators)
  30. Mississippi (Mississippi, Mississippi St.)
  31. New Jersey (Rutgers, Seton Hall basketball, Giants, Jets, Nets, Americans)
  32. Illinois (Northwestern, Illinois, DePaul basketball, Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls, NFL Cardinals, NFL Zephyrs, NFL Packers, NBA Blackhawks)
  33. Missouri (Missouri, Royals, Cardinals, Chiefs, Rams, MLB Browns, MLB Athletics, NFL Cardinals, NBA Hawks, NBA Kings)
  34. Iowa (Iowa, Iowa St.)