Four longstanding and wealthy U.S. pro sports leagues have labor agreements that are similar in some ways but very different in others.

The question is this: Out of the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, which league strikes the best balance when it comes to all-around fairness and ability for its teams to compete?

First take: Michael Rand

This is an interesting one because different leagues have different relative strengths.

The NFL probably achieves the best competitive balance, with teams able to reverse fortunes quickly, but it does so in part because management has too much leverage over players.

The NBA goes to the other extreme, with players wielding tremendous power and guaranteed annual salaries soon to top $50 million. But that affects parity.

MLB guarantees salaries, but as the only one of the four leagues without any type of salary cap a two-tiered system emerges.

My gut says the NHL, with guaranteed salaries, a hard salary cap and a free-agency system that still allows rising stars to cash in, is the best of the bunch. Perhaps not coincidentally, it also the league with the least money at stake of the four.

Chip Scoggins, columnist: The answer depends upon one’s perspective. Fair to whom? Players? Owners?

The NFL’s parity is hard to top in terms of leveling the field for every team, but in the absence of guaranteed contracts, job security for players is tenuous.

The Super Team phenomenon in the NBA shrinks the pool of legitimate candidates, but players certainly are making a lot of money and hold more power than in any sport.

I agree with your thought on MLB’s lack of salary cap. Spending doesn’t always equate to winning, but it allows teams more flexibility to improve or buy themselves out of problems.

So I guess I’ll agree that the NHL comes closest to your topic of fairness and creating parity.

Rand: It seems strange to say that given the NHL’s labor woes — including canceling the entire 2004-05 season — but it’s true. They seem to have the most sustainable model, while others could be headed for a crisis.

I think NBA fans are a couple of years away from deciding the league isn’t that fun when only a few teams are realistic championship contenders.

The NFL is ripe for a player vs. ownership showdown.

And when exactly is a baseball player supposed to get a fair contract in between accruing service time and analytics deciding they aren’t worth the money as they get older?

Scoggins: I don’t know if I agree with the crisis part. The NFL certainly has had its share of labor battles, but nothing seems to dent that league’s popularity with fans. I thought the concussion era and spotlight put on player health might damage the NFL in a profound way, but I don’t sense any less interest from fans.

This new NBA makes it between difficult and impossible for a segment of teams to compete, but look at how much interest, excitement and drama that free agency created. Maybe fans eventually will tire of the same teams winning all the time, but I don’t see much revolt right now.

Rand: But a thought that keeps Vikings fans dreaming of a Super Bowl should also be heeded when it comes to labor wars: Just because something has never happened doesn’t mean it never will.


Final word: Scoggins

That is true, which brings to mind another thought: Never underestimate the power of greed and money.