This week a high school basketball team beat an opponent 100-2. Yes, you read that correctly – the point here is not to make fun of the losing team, but to instead call to attention the ramifications involved when two extremely mismatched teams play against one another. Do these types of games actually do more harm than good – for both the losers, as well as the “winners?”
While this might be one of the more dramatic examples of teams that shouldn’t have played each other, we see similar examples on college basketball and football every year. In fact, most of the better DI college basketball and football programs commonly schedule their non-conference games against far inferior competition, again prompting the question of how good this is for the spirit of competitive sports? Who really “wins” in these examples? What’s the real value of padded stats for the winners, and complete humiliation for the losers? What a great future sport psychology study!
Expanding on this discussion in a new direction with respect to the competitive spirit of sports, what does it mean when leagues increase the number of playoff teams so that average to below-average teams become eligible? It reported this week that the NFL might look to expand the number of teams that make the playoffs from the current number of 12 to 14 or even 16 teams. Note that it wasn’t that long ago where most leagues, including the NFL and Major League Baseball, only allowed for a small number of the very best teams to compete in the playoffs.
Maybe I’m old school, but as a fan I do not like watching games where it is clear one team is ridiculously out-matched by the other, nor do I like it when professional sports leagues water down the playoffs to a point where teams that are barely .500 are able to make the post-season. Instead, I enjoy watching competitive games, and I believe only the top teams (those who have earned it through regular season success) should be able to go onto to post-season play.
We love sports because of the competitive spirit – it’s what keeps us on the edge of our seats when a closely contested game goes down to the wire. Sadly, it seems that in too many situations these days we see games being scheduled to merely “pad stats,” or give the better team that much more of a chance of a winning season (and better chance for playoffs and greater revenues in the cases of college and pro sports). These blow-out games are not only boring to watch, but can also lead to poor sportsmanship, anger and bitterness, injuries, gloating, and an overall compromise of the competitive spirit.