A lot of attention has been given recently to a girls high school game played by a couple of teams in Tennessee. The gist is this: both teams saw that it was to their competitive advantage in an upcoming tournament to lose the game they were playing with each other.
The scene went far past the absurd with purposeful missed free throws, players refusing to get out of the lane or cross the half court line in hopes of creating violations. In the end one team finally put its foot on the gas and won, but only after both teams and all witnesses were exposed to a competitive debacle.
The interesting part of this is not what happened, but our general reaction to it. Both teams were banned from further postseason play, and are to be on probation for next season. Both coaches face probable penalty from the respective schools and the state legislative body. At first, I too clamored for punitive action…until…
I considered that what happened here is something that people in competitive sport and in life do everyday, and no one bats an eye. We accept it; we condone it; we live it all the time.
For instance, currently a number of NHL teams are in the process of trading talent for lesser talent so that they may lose so that they eventually may win. Sound familiar. A couple of short term wins now is far less appealing than a chance to draft 1st which history has shown can lead to multiple Stanley Cups. Where’s the outrage?
Or, pick any golf course not currently covered in snow, and you’ll find some guy fudging his handicap. Players frequently turn in scores that are worse than the truth. Why? So that when they play in next month’s club championship, they can be in the B flight with a chance to win instead of the A flight where they surely will lose.
Or, in some pool hall somewhere, somebody is purposely losing a game of 9 Ball. Why? So that he can eventually bet more money and take home more than he lost on the first game.
You see, in every instance somebody is purposely losing so that he or she can win later. So why the issue here? The state contrived a playoff system that was obviously flawed enough that both teams realized they had a better chance of advancing in the tournament by losing the game. The same state officials who made the flawed system dropped the hammer on the two teams for trying to win the tournament which in the minds of both coaches involved losing first.
To be clear, I believe both teams were in the wrong. Both teams should have tried to win. But, I also believe that golfers should have an accurate handicap, that pro hockey teams should try to win every game, that pool hustling is wrong, that businesses shouldn’t purposely show a loss to gain in taxes, that every student should try hard on every exam.
Sadly, we as a society often fail on this account, and when we do, most either turn a blind eye, or justify poor action as just part of the game. So, I ask you, why is this one different?