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The Sports Equinox Is Upon Us

Game 5 of the World Series is tonight, and it could be a deciding one: The Kansas City Royals are looking to finish off the New York Mets after going ahead 3-1 in the series. But Sunday also includes 12 NFL games, seven NBA matchups, and five NHL contests. That makes today a very special day: a sports equinox.

A sports equinox occurs when the four major U.S. leagues — MLB, the NFL, the NBA and the NHL — all play at least one game. There’s a very narrow scheduling window when this can happen: Nowadays the MLB season and the start of the NBA season overlap by just a few days or not at all, depending on the NBA tip-off date and the length of the World Series.

By our count this will be the 15th equinox in history, and the first since 2010.1 They did not used to be so rare: There were nine equinoxes between 1971 and 1980 (when the NBA season tipped off in the first half of October), and several years have more than one. Here’s the full list:

GAMES
EQUINOX DATE MLB NFL NBA NHL
Oct. 17, 1971 WS Game 7 12 3 6
Oct. 15, 1972 WS Game 2 12 3 6
Oct. 22, 1972 WS Game 7 12 3 5
Oct. 14, 1973 WS Game 2 12 3 5
Oct. 21, 1973 WS Game 7 12 3 5
Oct. 15, 1978 WS Game 5 13 5 5
Oct. 14, 1979 WS Game 5 13 3 7
Oct. 12, 1980 NLCS Game 5 13 4 8
Oct. 19, 1980 WS Game 5 13 3 6
Oct. 27, 1985 WS Game 7 13 1 5
Nov. 4, 2001 WS Game 7 13 7 4
Nov. 1, 2009 WS Game 4 12 7 4
Nov. 2, 2009 WS Game 5 1 5 3
Nov. 1, 2010 WS Game 5 1 3 3
Nov. 1, 2015 WS Game 5 12 7 5

Phoenix, of all places, is the only city to play in all four parts of an equinox. On November 4th, 2001, the Arizona Cardinals lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Phoenix Coyotes lost to the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Phoenix Suns lost to the Houston Rockets. The Diamondbacks salvaged the day, winning Game 7 over the Yankees to capture the city’s first and only championship across the four leagues.2

New York and Kansas City sports fans have less luck today. K.C.’s NHL and NBA franchises left for other locales decades ago, and both the Knicks and the Nets are off. But New York has its own packed calendar on Sunday: beyond the World Series and both NFL and NHL matchups, the Red Bulls play their first game of the MLS conference semifinals, and around 50,000 runners will compete in the NYC marathon. It may not quite be an equinox, but it’s still a huge day for NYC sports.

Footnotes

  1. We identified equinoxes using scheduling data from the sports-reference.com sites. Equinoxes, by our definition, were not possible before the inaugural NBA/BAA season in 1946.

  2. The Mercury, Phoenix’s WNBA team, have three titles of their own.

Reuben Fischer-Baum is a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

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