How To Win By Losing…Well, Except For The Suspensions That Follow

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Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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  1. Avatar Kim
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    says:

    In other times, we call decisions to “misplay the game” just pure sportsmanship.
    When one team is so decidedly below the other (particularly in basketball, because of height issues), it’s often considered “good manners” to let them score for a bit (maybe the first half). I mean, you know they have no chance. So let them play, and then you play.

    That’s not what you do during a competitive game, of course.

    No one should be punished for getting their kids to play the meta-game. In baseball, they have sacrifice plays. This is a good thing, a strategic thing. Lord knows, most sporting kids could use a little strategy.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Kim
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      says:

      The difference is that letting a poorer team score a few is done for good sportsmanship, but these coaches were acting out of bad sportsmanship.Report

      • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        What about this game was “bad sportsmanship” again?Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Not playing to win.Report

      • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        How is that bad sportsmanship? Both teams were striving for the same outcome, with the difference being that the shared goal was a loss rather than a win.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        As you noted, they weren’t playing for a loss. They were playing for a strategic win. That strategy would have involved playing against a weaker team rather than a stronger. Beating up on someone weaker and avoiding someone stronger: that’s bad sportsmanship.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        “We didn’t lose Vietnam. We had a strategic win.”Report

      • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Nonsense. They were trying to end up playing similarly talented competition, rather than going up against a juggernaut. (And, again, if the seeding process hadn’t been broken, this never would have been the outcome. But it was.)Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        No, I don’t buy it. Let’s go out there and lose, so we’ll face an easier opponent? If you were a coach, would you say that? And anyway, if your opponent is ranked nationally or not, if you lose by single digits in basketball, odds are you were in the game.Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        There are times when tanking a play during a game is good strategy. E.g., taking a safety on purpose to kill to the clock when two points doesn’t really hurt you, or letting someone score a touchdown to ensure your offense gets the ball back one more time (see Ahmad Bradshaws superbowl touchdown). In basketball, it can mean focusing on getting a quick shot off, one that would otherwise never be encouraged, in order to increase the probability that you will get one more possession before the end of the period. Hell, it can be taking a player out to let him rest so he has energy when he needs it, even though in the short term its detrimtental to your team’s performance. And because this is all in service of winning the game, its acceptable strategy. And I think it should be.

        Why then, does it become unacceptable as soon as a team decides to focus on something other than winning the game, like increasing its odds at winning a championship, or advance further in a tournament?

        I’m with Sam here. This is bullshitReport

      • Avatar switters in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        For more examples, intentionally missed free throws, intentional walks, QB spikes to stop the clock – All examples of tanking a particular play to gain a longer term advantage. Do all those who agree with the trouble the schools got in advocate that those participating in the above examples are guilty of bad sportsmanship, and deserve to be punished by being suspended?Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Another point – brackets always have balance issues. You can’t blame the sponsors of this tournament. To depict this as an extraordinary situation that forced the coaches to make unprecedented choices just isn’t fair.

        Sportsmanship is playing the game. Unsportsmanship is playing the rules.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        @switters All those things do take away from the spirit of competition. But even if we grant your point, don’t you think there’s a difference between game actions that affect the outcome of the game and game actions that affect the outcome of a different game?Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Pinky, I disagree that they take the away from the spirit of competition. I wouldn’t necessarily oppose a push to outlaw them, but if they are not outlawed, they are a part of the game. Does sacrificing a pawn in order to take a bishop take away from the spirit of competition in a game of chess. I don’t think so, but YMMV.

        To you second point, I agree there is a difference. But that difference is a result of one’s focus on the game, rather than winning a championship or advancing further in a tournament, as the “point” of the competition. If a championship or advancing are your goals (and whenever I played, they were mine), then I see no difference between the examples I raised and what the high schools in question did.

        Its why we don’t begrudge (or at least I don’t) NFL teams assured of their spot in the playoffs resting players who wouldn’t otherwise rest if the game was a must win.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        I’m not a sports guy but to me the question seems to hinge on what is the “atomic unit” of a sports narrative – is it a play, a game, a season, or a career?

        To me as an outsider, it seems obvious it’s largely the game (hence all the sayings and metaphors around “The Game”). A single game or match is supposed to be an idealized abstracted story of trial-by-combat that is isolated from all outside concerns, and you are supposed to play your hardest in each and every one to win, as long as you stay within the rules and established etiquette.

        We would look down on a team that intentionally threw a game for straight-up money paid them by mobsters fixing the game; why wouldn’t we look down on one that intentionally throws a game for the possibility of the further-down-the-road gain of a championship (and whatever perqs come along with that?)

        In the music industry, there are examples of artists who were contractually obligated to produce a record that they didn’t want to (either because they had a bad deal with their label, or because their legal/financial situation meant that the profits would largely go to someone else). In some of those cases, they “throw” the album, recording some bare-minimum crap just so they can fulfill their contractual obligations.

        While we understand why they did this (and I am unaware of any label ever successfully suing the artist over it, even when it’s obvious that’s what happened), we generally don’t hold that album in any sort of esteem, or necessarily admire the artist for doing it (though we do not generally condemn him either). Ideally, we want them to produce good “work” every single time, regardless of the larger, longer narrative.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        During yet another of the Pete Rose Hall Of Fame arguments, Patrick said this in response to Hanley’s statement about how he’d understand the Pete Rose ban had Pete Rose bet against his team, but not the ban if he’d bet for it to win:

        You wouldn’t want a manager to drop $3k on his team winning tonight and then have that decision affect his middle relief rotation or his decision to bring in the closer or anything like that. “Normally I wouldn’t bring The Kid in when his elbow has been bugging him, I’d let me rest another three days, but their slugger is coming up and the first reliever put two on base, I gotta bring him in or I’m going to lose the dough”.

        In baseball, the goal is to have the best record, not win each game, and those two goals are sometimes at cross-purposes. Betting on your own team upsets that balance.

        So there’s that too.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Switters, to me there is a significant difference in strategically losing a play or a round and throwing an entire game. I don’t necessarily consider benching your starters to be “throwing a game”, though. Particularly at the lower levels, where allowing kids to play is a virtue in its own right. I can even get behind other measures, such as trick shots and seeing if you can make a basket from the half-court, because that adds the virtue of fun and perhaps entertaining.

        I don’t see much virtue in intentionally losing the ball due to inaction fouls. That’s where, if it were my daughter on the court and even if I understood why they were doing it, I would be saying “This is bull$#!+”Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Will – I hear you. And if it were me, I think i would be disagree with both coaches’ approach here. But I would disagree because I think the potential cost of losing on purpose wasn’t worth the potential benefit of playing in the bracket they desired to play in (plus, I’d want to play the juggernaut for the chance to kick their ass, or lose honorably). And, not surprising, I think that’s a fair argument. I can’t, however, accept that this is some sort of moral failure, or outside the realm of good sportsmanship. I just have a pretty black and white view of sports. Within the rules, whatever it takes to win (up to the particular participants to define what they mean by win, whether its the game or a championship) is OK by me.

        And I think thats because I don’t see the game as the only unit of measurement in sports. I see both championships and advancing in tournaments as useful goals in their own right, and hence have no problem making short term sacrifices in increase the likelihood of success WRT either of those goals. If you can accept the validity of a teams goal being to win a championship vs just winning the game, you only have to go up one level of abstraction and losing a game is no different than an intentional walk, or sacrificing a pawn. This game was a pawn for both teams, and one they were willing to sacrifice towards fulfillment of THEIR goal (winning a championship or advancing further in a tournament).

        My calculus would be different for a youth league (which to me, high school sports are not), where I think effort, team work, fundamentals and participation are more important than winning. But then, only because in the long run, that’s what i think is most likely to produce winnersReport

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        @switters @will-truman @pinky @jaybird

        ““We just have to be vigilant at all times—as all sport has to be,” Kermode said in an interview at Wimbledon last year. “Because sport has to be real. As soon as it isn’t real, it loses the essence of what it is.””

        http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/2015/02/denys_molchanov_match_fixing_allegations_pro_tennis_has_a_match_fixing_problem.2.html

        If the goal of a tennis player is to get paid, and he can get paid more by throwing the current match than by winning it, why shouldn’t he?

        If the goal of the team is to win the championship and get the perqs that come with that, and they can increase the odds of winning the championship by throwing the current game, why shouldn’t they?

        What’s the difference between the scenarios?

        I agree they feel different, but why?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        @glyph I view professional and non-professional contexts differently. And different levels of non-professional differently (one area where I differ with Switters is where I see high school athletics on the spectrum – heck, I even still put college sports in the non-professional category and hold it to mostly non-professional standards). The goal of the kids should be to play. (This is why I don’t object, if you’d kinda maybe sort of prefer to lose, letting the kids who get less game time start.)

        One of my commenters at Hit Coffee tells a story of a little league coach that determined, mathematically, his chances of winning improve if none of the kids ever swing. He put this in motion and won the division. He wasn’t invited back to coach the next season. Rightfully so, in my view.

        The goal of a professional tennis player may be to make money, but throwing a game for money is a sort of fraud. It may be a salesman’s job the sell, but not through fraud. That’s how I see it.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        @glyph “I agree they feel different, but why?”

        Honor.

        It’s an old-fashioned concept, I know. On a lot of sites these days, you see libertarians and liberals arguing about how to best reshape the world now that old-school morality is fading. The goal seems to be to maximize autonomy and to minimize rules. But a common code of conduct has a lot of benefits. It’s not the machinery that creates output, but it’s the oil that keeps the machinery functioning. You can go without it for a while, but little things just keep breaking. The next thing you know, the whole system has frozen up.

        Of course, you can make a strictly pragmatic argument for a social contract. The tennis player maximizes earnings by preserving and enhancing the reputation of his sport – usually, at least. Nixon could have won reelection and been remembered as a great president if he’d played by the rules. But so often, the best strategy is to short-change convention just slightly, to try to get away with just a little more than the other guy. The Nash equilibrium (if you’re into that sort of thing) is societal ruin. So for me, it’s back to honor, accepting a little disadvantage every time in order to keep the system running.Report

      • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Pinky,

        Several Super Bowls ago – when the Saints were playing the Colts – New Orleans started the second half with an onside kick. Indianapolis was caught flat-footed at the Saints got possession, eventually scoring, and later winning the game.

        “How dare they!” screamed some Colts fans, as if engaging in a legal (albeit unexpected) play was somehow inappropriate. What the coaches did here is an extension of the same thinking, one that holds that going after a championship is the ultimate (if generally unattainable for most teams) goal. Why should a coach knowingly march his/her team into a potential slaughter when another option is available? Again, this wasn’t a case of one team shaving points – both teams were in on it because both teams recognized that losing was more valuable than winning. Should they really be expected to ignore that reality? And should a seeding committee that made losing more valuable than winning really be expected to be absolved of its own responsibility by two coaches tasked not with protecting the seeding committee, but with trying their damndest to get their teams to a championship?

        Or, to shorten that considerably, it isn’t dishonorable to recognize a stacked deck.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Or, to shorten that considerably, it isn’t dishonorable to recognize a stacked deck.

        Again, not a sports guy, but as I apprehend the idea of sports and its narratives, it is OK to recognize a stacked deck – and the goal of rulemaking and officiating and planning and all that should be to level the playing field as much as possible – but that at some point, what is expected of an athlete is to draw a deep breath, plunge into the breach, and play a game to the best of her ability with the cards she was dealt, assuming those cards weren’t stacked against her intentionally via malfeasance or negligence.

        Even if the odds are against her (and of course, the glory should she triumph against unfavorable odds is then all the sweeter and more meaningful).

        Some people seem to indicate that this is just the way seeding often works; if so, then the uneven matchup and order is just luck of the draw; a call or a coin toss that didn’t go your way.

        Basically, I ask myself WWCTD (“What would Coach Taylor do?”) And IMO, the Panthers wouldn’t try to throw the game. 😉Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Playing a really good team in a championship tournament is a stacked deck?Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        That’s an interesting question Glyph.
        But let me turn the tables. No one here seems to take the position that throwing a play, within a game, isn’t OK. I.e., everyone agrees that there is no issue with giving up a short term advantage to gain a long term advantage within a game.
        Interestingly, your hypo would pose the same problems to them. For example, would a tennis player who threw a point, or a game or a set, to make a shit ton of money, but still won the match, be problematic. I think the answer is yes.
        Which means I still think its an interesting question, I just don’t think it sheds any light on the issue at hand.

        And Pinky, I get your appeal to being honorable. It the value I cherish above all others in life. To my thinking, our disagreement doesn’t lie in what’s honorable or not so much as what the “common code of conduct” currently requires. And I don’t think it requires trying to win to your own disadvantage.Report

      • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Glyph,

        In this case though, there was malfeasance. Tournaments are not generally seeded in such a way as to give a winning team a harder path to victory. The accumulation of a season’s worth of performance is supposed to be treated in a very specific way, one which this tournament failed to do. By giving the losing team the easier path to a championship, it had incentivized what the coach did. Asking the coaches to pretend as though this hadn’t happened is a big ask.

        A coach’s peptalk can’t be, “Let’s go out and win this game to reduce our overall chances!” That doesn’t have any flow at all.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Put another way: in my understanding, the goal of sports (and the prime way in which it differs from its metaphorical model, war) is not solely to teach us how to win, especially at all costs; but teach us how to lose with grace; to accept that things don’t always go your way and there will always be another chance/play/game/season/championship; what is most important is effort at demonstrating the skills of the sport, that you played your best (“with heart”), even against insurmountable odds.Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        That’s certainly a laudable goal, Glyph. Its just not the most common one at least at the collegiate and professional level.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        @switters – I thought these were high schoolers?

        And if I parse @will-truman ‘s earlier comment correctly, he identifies the problem not so much as throwing the game per se, but failing to play (a subtle distinction that I am still chewing on).Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Glyph, you are correct. I should have included high school sports. In all my experiences with high school athletics, its little different than college or professional in this regard.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        @switters sorry, I meant to acknowledge your everyone agrees that there is no issue with giving up a short term advantage to gain a long term advantage within a game.

        Which goes back to my question, what is the “atomic unit” (or maybe “platonic ideal unit” is a better way to say that) of sports narratives? It seems to me that what we consider acceptable at that level, still might not be at other levels (and vice-versa). And it does seem to me that a single game or match is it.Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        And i don’t buy Will’s parsing. Playing your worst players is no different in my book than throwing the game.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        The Colts using that same play this year to great success.

        I don’t think a ‘trick play’ is the right analogy to this situation. The better analogy is taking a safety when you’re up by 6 or 7 pinned near your end zone because it’s better to free kick from the 20 than from edge of the field, and 2 points doesn’t make a difference in that situation. Or the times where you decide to let the other team run in for the touchdown late in game because you want to preserve enough clock time when you get possession back (a scenario that was in play this last Superbowl)

        There is a certain quantum of gameplay where taking it easy or doing something counter-intuitive is necessary and not at all bad sportsmanship. It does get murkier as the moments are aggregated though.

        During a game, you rest your starters at tactically optimal points so that they can go the distance in that particular game, and nobody bats an eye.

        During the late regular season, you rest your starters once you’ve seeded as best as you think you can be so that they’re fresh for the playoffs, and some people grumble (esp fans with regular season tix that are now getting an inferior product) but everyone more or less understands. (the dilemma has come in from balancing a record breaking season for an individual or for the team vs getting everyone in the best shape for the playoffs).

        Then you get to the point when you’re mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but the worse you do, the better your draft prospects will be in the off season. (which is why the NBA has the lottery, but it still doesn’t completely stop people from tanking – and which the sportswriters right now are getting on the Commissioner to do something about those teams that seem to be just playing for more ping pong balls.) (with the additional facet of that being all those teams are big market legacy teams that normally don’t suck)

        So in that spectrum, two teams that are still at the amateur level deliberately and visibly tanking a game even if the incentives are all screwed up – and let me add my voice to those that say the league’s playoff competition design deserves the brunt of the criticism in this – those teams engaged in bad sportsmanship. Like the original post said, for a given game, even if you’re deliberately giving 100% through effort or roster choices, you still do the full Herminator.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        At the amateur level, allowing kids playing time has virtue. Soaking up inaction fouls doesn’t.Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Glyph,

        I think anyone who plays sports seriously (so including high school, college and professional) would all say championships are it. That’s where its always been at for me. Games are vitally important, but mostly because winning them typically corresponds to improving your chances at a championship, but championships are where its at. That’s the goal. I don’t know a single athlete that I’ve competed with who wouldn’t sacrifice a game if they knew it would increase their odds of winning a championship. I think if you took a poll of high school or above athletes the % of those who agree with me would very high.Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Will – I agree with you. But if i had a problem with the throwing of the game (and i dont), then playing the bench wouldn’t make it right for me. It would make it better, for other non-related reasons, but it wouldn’t make it right.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Funny, I and everyone I knew back in high school was all about the games. Championships were cool, mostly unlikely, but games were fun. I wanted to win, obviously, but mostly I enjoyed playing the games and even in tournaments I mostly thought about the game I was playing.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        At the amateur level, allowing kids playing time has virtue. Soaking up inaction fouls over the course of an entire game doesn’t.

        Watching backups play can still be fun. Not watching inaction fouls.

        H’ll, watching hail Mary shots from half court can be fun, and so is taking those shots, and has those virtues.Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Chris – I agree, mostly. I just think its because 999 times out of 1000 winning the game is the best thing you could do to increase your odds of winning a championship. In fact, I’ve never played in a game where it was advantageous to lose. But as the example above shows, there is a greater than 0 chance that it happens.

        But if you knew that losing the that second game of the season, even if only because your best player rested a sore ankle rather than played on it, would have resulted in a state championship vs not winning one, I think most competitors would take that deal. I would.

        Would you?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Oh sure. I can imagine that if someone said, “If you lose a few games this year, you’ll win a championship next year” (because your schedule will be easier, say), I’d say, “Let’s doe it.”Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Oh sure. I can imagine that if someone said, “If you lose a few games this year, you’ll win a championship next year” (because your schedule will be easier, say), I’d say, “Let’s doe it.”

        Would suck for the seniors.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        if someone said, “If you lose a few games this year, you’ll win a championship next year” (because your schedule will be easier, say), I’d say, “Let’s doe it.”

        Is the ‘someone’ making the offer a man of wealth and taste (alternately, is he making you an offer you can’t refuse)? 😉

        It seems we are just haggling on the appropriate reward level that makes it OK to intentionally throw a game.

        I can confirm that if a mobster offered me $100K (or the devil offered to somehow make me even more impossibly-good-looking) to throw a game, I also probably would say “let’s do it”…but that doesn’t really tell me whether it’s OK.

        If a season is like a war campaign, we certainly accept that a single battle can be sacrificed as part of a strategy to win the overall war.

        Is sports like that, or not?

        Is it how you play the game (season), or whether you win it?

        What does “sportsmanship” mean? “Sportsmanship” seems to be a quality we desire and value separately from “strategic planning” and “winning”, and it definitely does NOT mean “do absolutely anything to achieve your goal”.

        It’s definitely possible to stay within the rules, and yet do something unsavory that should be discouraged. To me, the amorphous concept of “sportsmanship” is intended to do a lot of the discouraging, often even over and above the written rules.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Will, yeah, it would, but at every level schools make decisions with the long term, sometimes sacrificing seasons.

        Glyph, I was thinking of the situation that has become the most talked about secret in the NBA over the last decade or so: tanking a season for better lottery odds and a higher guaranteed pick. The Sixers are doing it this year, as I suspect are the Knicks now that Melo’s out for the season. It probably happens pretty often in the NFL as well.

        By the way, I suspect something like the Tennessee situation happens in soccer more often than in any other sport (and I bet it happens in almost every tournament). The way soccer tournaments are typically structured, you start with group play and then the top two teams move to elimination rounds. The first elimination round pits a top team from one group with a second team from another.. Since everyone knows which groups’ first and second teams their groups’ first and second teams will play, teams frequently find themselves in a situation in which finishing second in the group is more advantageous than finishing first, because the first team from one group might be significantly worse than the second team from another group.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Over the course of an entire season I would probably disapprove of anything substantial beyond personnel decisions, and I would probably give that a short leash (length depending on the level).Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Glyph,

        I’ll take my sportsmanship over a win if there is a conflict every time (I’ve given money back to blackjack dealers too many times to count when they’ve mistakenly credited me with a win. Although I no longer do this). And if I didn’t, it would be a mistake. But i see nothing unsportsmanlike in tanking a game for an advantage that season. I’m less comfortable with tanking a season for a benefit in future seasons, mostly for the reason Will pointed out. I look at the team as the players and coach currently participating. As such, I’ll leave it up to them to prioritize between the reasonable goals of competition (game vs regular season vs tournament vs championship, or even just having fun, if that’s there thing).Report

  2. Avatar kenB
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    says:

    Both coaches failed their players — everyone knows that even when you and the opponents and everyone in the stands knows you have no desire to win, you have to at least keep up the pretense. There’s no way to get points besides putting the ball in the hoop, so why bother with the blatant 10-second violations and own-goals and such — all you have to do is make sure the whole team just inexplicably goes stone cold.Report

  3. Avatar Chris
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    says:

    Both of these schools were rivals of my school when I was there, so 17 year old me has been enjoying this story.Report

  4. Avatar Burt Likko
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    says:

    If one team really wanted to lose, why not simply scratch? Would that have disqualified the team from further tournament play? Or show up with only four players because the rest “fell ill” or with out-of-regulation uniforms or some other sort of technical disqualification?

    Now, certainly the rules should be set up so that every team is better off winning the next game than it is losing it. But the Mule here, the factor disrupting the normal flow of rules and incentives, was that there was a colossus in the tournament that everyone feared and no one wanted to play. So there’s gamesmanship to avoid being on the wrong end of a mismatch. Well, the problem is that a team of such prowess probably ought not to be in this division of play; it ought to be playing at a higher, and more competitive level. Once you take out the Mule, Seldon’s plan starts to work again.

    And, correct me if I’m wrong, but basketball is a volatile enough sport that sometimes there are upsets, no?Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      Random thoughts… Riverdale was a recent multi-time state champion; who the colossus is varies from year to year. This is particularly true in small-school divisions, which I believe this is. Gaining or losing one family with a couple of athletic siblings can be the difference between state champions and middle-of-the-pack. Small schools in Nebraska play 8-man football (and occasionally, every boy in school plays to get eight on the field). One year one school legitimately had three brothers playing, the smallest of whom went 6’4″ and 250 pounds. Nobody could come within 30 points of them that year, as they rolled undefeated to the state 8-man title.Report

  5. Avatar ScarletNumber
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    says:

    I don’t think that the tournament seeding process is broken.

    Here is a simple example. Consider an 8 team tournament. By the principles of seeding, on one half of the bracket are seeds 1, 4, 5, and 8, while on the other side of the bracket are seeds 2, 3, 6, and 7.

    Let’s say that the last game of the regular season is between the teams fighting for seeds 5 and 6. The winner of the game will get an easier opponent in the first round of the playoffs, but if they win will face the juggernaut in the second round. The loser of the game will get a more difficult opponent in the first round of the playoffs, but won’t face the best team until the finals.

    So by throwing the game, the team is putting itself at a short-term disadvantage in the hopes of securing a long-term advantage.

    As an aside, shenanigans like this have led Little League to get rid of pool play in its World Series and switch to a straight bracket.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to ScarletNumber
      Ignored
      says:

      This is almost certainly not uncommon, as that’s the way postseason tournaments tend to be structured at all levels. The only differences in this case are that both coaches did it really explicitly, and the ref was unhappy enough with them to report it.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to ScarletNumber
      Ignored
      says:

      I expect you remember 1981. For those who (inexplicably) don’t follow baseball, it went like this:

      There was a baseball players’ strike in mid-June of 1981, not quite halfway through the season. It lasted through mid-August, when the season resumed. To add interest to a badly spoiled season, baseball decided to add an extra round of playoffs, but in an immensely stupid way. They declared that the strike split the season into two halves. So whoever was in first place when the strike started won the first half, and whoever won the most games after the strike won the second half.

      The first bad consequence was that there was no reward for having the best combined record. In fact, The Cincinnati Reds, with the best record in baseball, missed the playoffs,finishing a close second in both halves. The second is that the teams that had already won the first “half” had no incentive to win in the second half, and several of their managers speculated about deliberately losing games to weaker teams in order to elevate them to the second-half crown. This was met with outrage and cries of bad sportsmanship, of course. And there’s some justification for wanting to avoid the perception in professional sports: it’s harder to sell tickets if the fans don’t think their team is trying to win. But the real problem was the incentives built into the split season.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        The first half, second half thing used to be common in minor league baseball (perhaps still is? I haven’t followed minor league baseball in about a decade). I assume that’s where they got that idea. It works pretty well in the minor leagues because the teams’ rosters are changing frequently (particularly between the first half and the second half, as mid- and late-season injuries deplete teams higher up in the hierarchy), so the roster of the best team from the first half of the season might be completely different in the second. It makes little sense in a league where roster turnover isn’t as common.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumber in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        I don’t remember 1981, if only because I was too young. But I am familiar with the circumstances. Don’t forget that the Cardinals had the best record in the NL East and didn’t qualify either.

        I find it interesting that 3 out of the 4 DS’s went the full 5 games.

        I have no problem with the split season per se, but I think that a team that won both halves should have gotten a bye into the LCS. I should look at old SI’s and The Sporting Newses to see if this was a consideration. Do you remember?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        I don’t think so, because then the first-half winners would have had an incentive to win out.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        @mike-schilling and @scarletnumber

        I looked it up. In the event that one team won both halves, the second place team with the best record would play them. That does create some bad incentives.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        I appreciate the effort, Will. I got as far as “Would MLB give up the revenue from that round just because one team had clearly shown itself to be the best?” and wasn’t motivated to even consider a “yes”.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    For some reason “we made it to the second round!” has a lot more caché than “we lost to the eventual tournament winners in the first round!”

    “You’re a funny guy, Sully. That’s why i’m going to kill you last.”Report

  7. Avatar trizzlor
    Ignored
    says:

    Is there a difference between this and trick plays? Which, as far as I can recall, we all thought were pretty crappy coaching.Report

  8. Avatar Mike Schilling
    Ignored
    says:

    Did anyone else grin as soon as they saw “Riverdale High”?Report

  9. Avatar Chris
    Ignored
    says:

    In related news, you know how teams sometimes grow beards during the season for solidarity? There’s a high school team in Kentucky that’s growing mullets, mullets of solidarity. which, by the way, is the name of my new socialist country band.Report

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