Why Are Sports So Obsessed With Rankings?

While the actual games and wins-loss records of teams are the actual determinant of how the teams do, usually just having standings are not enough for people. It can be seen quite obviously in the way that college sports release polls of the top 25 teams as decided upon by a committee of higher ups or a collection of coaches. Rankings can even be seen in professional sports from reporters’ power rankings, such as the one Peter King writes in his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback column, or even in daily debates of which team would win a hypothetical game by word of mouth. The way that people obsess with rankings relates to how in Homer’s Iliad contestants in the funeral games take great measures to assure their rightful rank at the end of the competition. Also in relation is how Tejada-Flores ranks the difficulties of separate climbing events in his piece “Games Climbers Play.

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First off, in the funeral games within Homer’s Iliad, contestants compete for prizes that are to be given out by Achilles. The issue of ranking becomes involved in all events as the best hope to be ranked in such a matter, but ranking is particularly prevalent in the events of the chariot race and the spear throwing.

In the Chariot race, Antilochus finishes in second, but his prize is almost given away, for the last place finisher, Eumelus, should have finished better. While others believe Eumelus should receive the prize, Antilochus stands firm in believing that the prize and the rank of second are rightfully his. This compares to how, in rankings within sports, people debate over the rightful place of individuals or teams and how some teams have to defend their own rank. Constant chatter is heard regarding very important rankings, such as the college football top 25, as these can be the final determinants in who has the opportunity to win a national title. Articles are written daily about which team should be ranked where, such as this one by ESPN columnist Gene Wojciechowski.

Next, in the spear-throwing competition, ranking comes in to play as before Agamemnom and Meriones even compete, Achilles awards the prize to Agamemnom. Agamemnom, in Achilles’ eyes, is the better ranked of the two in terms of spear-throwing abilities, so he decides not to delay the inevitable and just hand over the prize. This shows the drastic importance that rankings can have. While in sports teams actually have to compete in order to prove their ranking to be true, people often do assume that rankings are correct, and in turn garner more respect towards higher-ranked teams.

Finally, “Games Climbers Play” shows the importance of rankings, for Tejada-Flores actually takes the time to write an article pertaining to which types of climbing are more challenging. He takes the time to go through every type, analyzing in which ways the more difficult types are more difficult and vice versa. This is similar to how power rankings are made of teams in both professional and college sports. People in general enjoy taking the time to see which teams (or in the instance of Tejada-Flores’ article, types of climbing) are the best. This leads us back to the original question: why is this?

In my opinion, it all comes down to the competitive nature that people have. One way or another, people are always competing – be it with one another or with one’s self. People instinctively have a want to be better, and this competitiveness can be inputted towards peoples’ hobbies, an example being sports. It gives people a sense of pride when they are doing well, and if people are connected to a particular sports team, it gives them a sense of pride when their team does well. This point is made in A. Bartlett Giamatti’s Take Time for Paradise. In his work, Giamatti talks of how people find moments of utopia when their team accomplishes something. Seeing your team regarded nationally as the best gives people great pride, and it is finding that sense of pride that drives people to be so obsessed with rankings.

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Overall, rankings are very popular and very prevalent in sports. With these rankings, what it all boils down to is people trying to get that genuine sense of happiness that comes with seeing your team, yourself, or even your type of climbing being highly regarded by many.

4 thoughts on “Why Are Sports So Obsessed With Rankings?

  1. Sports rankings are created to determine who the best team in that particular sport is, whether it’s for that week, month, or even the whole year. It is very hard to determine who the best team is when multiple teams have the same record. Sports like football, especially college football have some controversy surrounding rankings and who the best team is. Rankings seem to never be fair to the team who is overlooked or left but it’s always fair to the team or teams who benefit the most.


  2. I think rankings keep the games alive and interesting because it makes the game more competitive. This being for the players and the audience. It a player knew he was the best and there was no chance of anyone being better, he probably wouldn’t try to get any better. which make the game boring, excitement comes out not knowing whether or not a team is going to win. Furthermore I would just like to add that ranking are sometimes biased depending on who is doing the ranking. That was clear in Homer’s funeral games.


  3. Rankings are interesting and grab attention for fans. In high school, it was always nice to see my team ranked but the only good it did was motivate us to be our best. Rankings in collegiate and professional sports are more for their fans and for not as passionate fans to know who is good at the time. Rankings are more of a bonus for the athletes themselves who have other goals such as winning games. The fans use the rankings for bragging rights or to decide to go to the games.


  4. Very interesting blog. I love how you touched on the competitive nature and how people are born to be competitive, and I definitely agree that has something to do with the obsession of rankings. People love the satisfaction of winning and knowing that you’re better than someone, or the team you cheer for is superior to another. Also a very good point and connection with Giamatti’s talk of utopia.


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