Post-Season Comparison - Is it Tougher to Win the Super Bowl or Make it to the Final Four?

On talk radio, on television, and just hanging around the water cooler, I continue to hear comparisons between various sports leagues' post-seasons, especially discussions about how hard it is to win it all.  For example, is it harder to win the Super Bowl or make it to the Final Four in basketball?

To answer those questions, I decided to to look at nine different sports leagues, taking the total number of teams participating and finding out what chance a random team had for making the post-season, advancing in the post-season or winning it all. I know in some of these sports, based on extreme differences in talent level (college basketball, college football and World Cup soccer), the really weak teams have a billion to one chance of actually winning a championship, but I included them because there is that remote chance.

Sport Total Teams Teams in Post-Season Percent Chance of Making Post-Season
MLB 30 8 26.7%
NFL 32 12 37.5%
NHL 30 16 53.3%
NBA 30 16 53.3%
College Football 120 68 56.7%
College Basketball (Men's) 347 97 28.0%
College Baseball 196 64 32.7%
NASCAR 42 12 28.6%
World Cup 205 32 15.6%

 

I then divided success into nine levels of difficultly, with each additional level being about twice as difficult to reach as the previous level (1 - easiest, 9 - hardest):

Level 1 (53.3% to 56.7% of all teams)

NHL - Conference Quarterfinals
NBA - First Round
NCAA Football - any bowl game

Level 2 (26.7% to 37.5% of all teams)

MLB - First Round
NFL - Wild card Round
NCAA Baseball - Regional Round
NASCAR - Chase for the Sprint Cup

Level 3 (25.0% to 28.6% of all teams)

NFL - Divisional conference round
NHL - Conference Semifinals
NBA - 2nd Round
NCAA Basketball (Men's) - any post season tournaments (NIT or NCAA tournament)

Level 4 (13.3% to 20.0% of all teams)

MLB - NLCS or ALCS
NFL - AFC or NFC conference championship
NHL - Conference Finals
NCAA Basketball (Men's) - NCAA Tournament
NCAA Football - Major New Year's Day Bowl
World Cup - Group Stage

Level 5 (6.3% to 9.2% of all teams)

MLB - World Series
NFL - Super Bowl
NHL - Stanley Cup Finals
NBA - Finals
NCAA Football - BCS Bowl game
NCAA Basketball  (Men's) - Round of 32
NCAA Baseball - Super Regional
World Cup - Knockout State - 16 teams

Level 6 (3.9% to 4.6% of all teams)

NCAA Basketball (Men's) - Sweet Sixteen
NCAA Baseball - College World Series
World Cup - Knockout State - 8 teams

Level 7 (2.0% to 3.3% of all teams)

MLB - World Series Champion
NFL - Super Bowl Champion
NHF - Stanley Cup Winner
NBA - Champion
NCAA Basketball (Men's) - Elite 8
Sprint Cup Champion
World Cup - Knockout State - 4 teams

Level 8 (1.0% to 1.7%  of all teams)

NCAA Football - BCS National Championship Game
NCAA Basketball (Men's) - Final 4
NCAA Baseball - Final best of 3 series
World Cup - Knockout State - Championship Game

Level 9 (0.3% to 0.8% of all teams)

NCAA Football - BCS National Champion
NCAA Basketball (Men's) - National Champion
NCAA Baseball - College World Series Champion
World Cup - Champion

Note: I would love to include golf but I'm not sure of the best way since it doesn't really have a post season. Winner and everyone else? Pick a tournament like the Masters and rank from there? Feedback on this would be great.

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