October 10, 2003

Of Performance And Fairness

My son's team, having gotten a taste of victory last week, apparently liked it a lot, because they won again yesterday (hanging another bagel on their opponents to boot!). Now, at 2-3, they're in the playoffs. Due to the state of sports reporting around here (what do you mean, I can't get daily news, scores, and standings for middle school football? I'm shocked, I tell you! Shocked!), I don't know anything about the team they're playing next week in the first round.

I opined to flower_goddess that since they were 2-3, they were probably the lowest seed or close to it, and would thus be playing the highest seed (or thereabouts) in the first round. Her response: "Well, that's hardly fair! They're going to get killed!" I replied, "That's how playoffs almost always work - the worst team to qualify plays the best team first, and the middle teams play each other." She wasn't seeing eye-to-eye with that model: "If the best team is really the best team, they should have to play the second-best team first to prove it!"

I was so floored by this statement, which runs counter to, well, my entire lifetime of What I Know To Be True About Sports, that I couldn't even respond for a minute. Eventually, I came up with a few alternative lines of argumentation:

  • "The reward for finishing first is the easiest path through the playoffs. In fact, most playoffs re-roll after every round to ensure that the best surviving team faces the worst surviving team in the next round."
  • "Your way wouldn't be fair to either the #1 or #2 teams. There's no incentive to finishing hard if your reward is to play the other best team first."
  • "Why reward the teams that just barely squeak into the playoffs with a game against another weak team first?"
It can be observed that all those grow from the "there should be some incentive to do well in the regular season" argument. Didn't matter; none of that made any impression on her.

Do you think I went overboard when I said "If women ran football, not only wouldn't there be a playoff, they wouldn't even keep score!" ?

Posted by Chris at October 10, 2003 01:23 PM

Category: Local Stuff