Sunday, July 15, 2007

Ties are not the enemy

Let's end it here.

Ties. They are the bane of American sports fans, often cited as one of the reasons Americans can’t get behind soccer. NCAA football and the NHL have, in recent years, eliminated ties from their competitions with contrived formats that hardly represent the sport in its true form. Four on four hockey and 25-yard football both determine winners, but you cannot say that those wins came from playing actual football or hockey. Those wins come from mini-games tacked on to the end of the match just so we can say that somebody "won". They might as well play a game of Gradius, a la the NES classic hockey game Blades of Steel to determine the winner.

Granted these are creative and entertaining ways to determine a winner, but they are not really fair to all the teams that are victorious at the end of regulation time and they bastardize the sport in some ways by changing the rules to provide a winner in a timely fashion. Why does an NBA team that needed 53, 58, or 63 minutes to defeat its opponent get equal credit as the team that needed just the standard 48? If you needed extra time, a few extra possessions, or a four on four situation to defeat your opponent, there is no reason why it should be credited as a win because, in all fairness, the win came as a result of a special situation in which the teams otherwise would not find themselves. When the game starts, the players, coaches, and fans know that their team has 48 minutes (or however long your favorite sport’s regulation time lasts) to win, and if they cannot, get it done in the time allotted. A second chance at victory should not be awarded.

Overtimes favor the more talented team, also. The Celtics should be rewarded in some way for staying even with the Cavaliers through 48 minutes instead of being subjected to five extra minutes of LeBron James and, most likely, a loss. On some days, teams are equal and nobody deserves the win, ties reflect that better than anything else. When a winner of a match is not guaranteed, the value of winning is increased and play will elevate to reflect that.

Now, I will say that overtimes provide an aura of excitement after regulation is over. Games like the epic New Jersey Nets vs. Phoenix Suns game this year illustrate that perfectly. That game set the record for points scored in an NBA game while providing loads of memorable moments and stat padding statistics for all players involved. However, in a sport like basketball, that excitement would just be crunched into the last few minutes of the game. In the end, teams would have to decide on taking a two for the tie or a three for the win without the benefit of a looming overtime period to bail them out if they decide to do the safe thing and go for two.

This leaves us with a playoff conundrum though. In the FIFA World Cup of old, if a game in the Knockout Round (playoff round) ended after 90 minutes in a tie, the teams would just have to play another game two days later. This rule was quickly abandoned in favor of the two-fifteen minute overtime periods followed by a (silly) shootout that we see today. Albeit this is a time-consuming way to determine winners, it is a very motivating way to end games during regulation as I’m sure not many NFL players would want to play a second game in the first round to advance in the playoffs. For basketball, hockey, and baseball, this is very doable. Imagine your favorite basketball team tying two games in a row, staving off elimination to advance to the next round. Or, if two games in a best of seven series result in ties, the series would just become a best of five, and so on.

In short, overtimes usually turn a sport into somewhat of a different game played with similar rules to force a result that was not necessarily earned outright by the victorious team. Over the course of an 82-game season there are plenty of opportunities to win, the great teams would find a way to do it in 48 minutes, like they are supposed to.

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Kenneth is a guest contributor to laissez-faire ball.

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