Saturday, January 31, 2009


Whatever your perspective on sports performance and acceptable behaviors on that supposed field of honor, we have either reached the abyss of political correctness and height of hypocrisy or we have evolved into another whole ethereal life form. I think that we occupy space in that middle realm as we would certainly like to have it both ways. There are no doubt formidable adherents that occupy both extremes.

The recent 100-0 drubbing by the Dallas, Texas’ Covenant School’s girls varsity basketball team over the winless (for four years) Dallas Academy girl’s team has once again revealed another opportunity to take a look at the culture of sports in our society and speculate what’s really important. Do we embrace a Victory at any cost mantra or should any Victory be secondary to moral and ethical considerations? The question begs: Why do we engage in sports at all? It would be nice, though surprising, if something positive – and lasting - were to result from this embarrassing and revealing episode.

There are foundations, organizations and academics that monitor this question and offer ever evolving perspectives on sport in our society (I wonder if they ever played sports?). It’s too bad that more parents and coaches don’t contemplate the consequences of their actions. So many seem to faux spiritually embrace ancient Greek philosophies of sport at least on paper only to forget them in the heat of competition. Bottom line: Most fail to apply them in their everyday lives. Like snow in North Texas, you never really get a lot and it doesn’t last very long…

By the way, I don’t totally blame former Covenant coach Micah Grimes for what happened even though the situation got out of hand while he was on point. He mostly did what he was paid to do and we suspect that it was only his very public rejection of Covenant’s hierarchy that prompted his firing. In an employment-at-will state like Texas an employer can release you for seemingly mundane reasons so long as they don’t break any laws. We may not have seen the end of this chapter of the Micah Grimes Saga…

As a side note we can find some solace in the Dallas Academy boy’s Varsity basketball team victory over their Covenant counterparts later that same night. The girls team lost their next game 41-8 and then in a long overdue action, appropriately opted out of their league and started scheduling games with more evenly matched opponents. Covenant has since publicly flagellated themselves, forfeited the game and apologized for their “embarrassing and shameful” victory. Some local citizenry have opined that Covenant looks almost too contrite… (smile please for the cameras).

No doubt that a lot of folks failed in this sad episode and that especially includes the parents and the administrators of both schools. The so-called lessons learned from this incident will soon blow over and become a footnote in a Wikipedia article. While we understand that some Dallas Academy parents and supporters were shocked and dismayed, we wonder what would have happened if the shoe were on the other foot. It appears that their Covenant like signs were wildly enthusiastic and not in a charitable mood when the game was being played. One reporter reported the Covenant temperament and mental state as, “Giddy with the mushrooming lead, excited parents, players and coaches realized, we could win this by 100! – a fabulous, unheard-of victory.” And so it went, in a piranha crazed atmosphere to hit the infamous century mark.

Let’s try and put this whole issue into a historical perspective. One of the more infamous sports blowouts was Georgia Tech’s 1916 lopsided football victory over Cumberland by a score of 222-0. History records little compassion directed towards the hapless Cumberland team, rather amazement at the ability of Georgia Tech to have scored that many points in forty-five minutes. Yes, the second half was cut short by fifteen minutes! Tech’s “level of success” of their athletic program has boasted of that victory. Times sure have changed…

Tech went 8-0-1 in 1916 and the Yellow Jackets’ coach was none other than the iconic and legendary John Heisman who is reputed to have deliberately run up the score against Cumberland in revenge for Cumberland running up a 22-0 score against Tech’s Heisman-coached baseball team a year earlier with a team mostly composed of professional players. From 1915 to 1917, Heisman's teams were undefeated, outscoring opponents during the 31-game winning streak 1,599 to 99. The Yellow Jackets won their first national championship in 1917.

We should note that Heisman while football coach at Clemson University in 1903 defeated Georgia Tech 73-0 so he already had a propensity for running up the score. Needless to say, Heisman’s reputation never suffered as the next year he was coaching at Tech and is now enshrined in the National football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame. The Downtown Athletic club of New York City annually presents the highly prestigious Heisman Memorial Trophy to the season's best nationwide collegiate football player and remains college football’s highest individual honor for a player. I would say that he was properly rewarded for his performance though it was a different place and time (no stigma here).

In 1968 the University of Houston football team defeated the University of Tulsa 100-6 with little resulting fanfare or controversy.

Most recently (October 18, 2008) we can look at the University of Southern California’s 69-0 (41-0 at halftime) victory over the University of Washington on the Huskies home turf at Martin Stadium in Pullman, WA . How sportsmanlike was that victory? Instead of apologizing an elated USC coach Pat Carroll stated, “Our guys had a ball playing football today, from the locker room on out," Coach Pete Carroll said. "Right from the start, we wanted to find that focus that we really hadn't had yet." I don’t see any humility or embarrassment in that statement if, indeed, that would have been appropriate.

Former Oklahoma basketball coach Billy Tubbs was notorious for running up scores. Among many examples, Tubb’s Oklahoma team scored 97 points against less than formidable US International University (now Alliant International University) ultimately winning by a 173-101 rout. When asked about his tendency to run up the score against inferior opponents Tubbs replied, “If they don't like it, they should get better." OK…

When the Oklahoma State Cowboys easily defeated Northwestern State by their largest margin of victory ever in a basketball game 82-36 last new years eve, there was nothing but a party atmosphere and elation on the team and certainly from their fans. It was a celebration… and a great feeling of accomplishment. Head coach Sean Sutton was nothing but laudatory about his team and their performance.

When the University of South Carolina defeated the Citadel in 2007 by 61 points (103-42) there was elation everywhere save on The Citadel side where USC “dumped the Citadel in historic fashion”. The crowd in a less than charitable mood when with 30 seconds left in the game and USC with 99 points they were chanting, “We want 100!” Indeed they got their century mark and then some. The relentless Gamecocks never showed any mercy and were rewarded with praise by their coach and fans while they anticipated their next game with, yep, Southern California who defeated the Gamecocks 85-75….. Goes around, comes around…

Now I know that golf ain’t basketball but why did Tiger Woods have the temerity and lack of sensitivity to defeat his competition by fifteen strokes in the U. S. Open in 2000, the largest margin of victory in a major championship? Couldn’t he just win by one stroke? Frank DeFord the iconic Sports Illustrated reporter commented on Woods’ dominance of the game by citing his “sheer determination” enough to justify naming Woods for an unprecedented second time, the SI Sportsman of the Year.

Methinks that J.D. Edgar, should be tarred and feathered for his sixteen stroke 1919 Canadian Open victory, the largest margin of victory in professional golf.

How did those girls on the Duncanville, Texas ChristWay basketball team feel losing to Arlington, Texas Oakridge 103–0 at the Arlington Christmas tournament in 1998? Well, probably not great though we never experienced this tempest in a teapot before.

We need note that the history of sport abounds with references of the absolute glory of dominating victories. We have deified our better performing athletes rewarding them with star like recognition and absurd mega bucks. We promote a winning at any cost mentality that promotes dishonesty on and off the field (see the He didn’t really catch that, did he? Might of Right Blog, Sunday, November 4, 2007), sometimes demeans the game and compromises the quality and integrity of our shared lives. So where do our student athletes and coaches get this attitude? Well, they get it from us – the parents and fans who live vicariously through their kids or favorite players and refuse to acknowledge those most human values of honesty, decency and humanity. They live for the moment and for the almighty dollar. These folks will debate that this is where we need to go in our life’s lessons whatever the venue: to take a hard and calculating approach to life with the victor taking all the spoils, whatever the margin. We at the Might of Right think that we can have it both ways.

The failure of most schools and athletic conferences/leagues to adopt a mercy rule (many have and even Heisman did) whereby a game is suspended when one team gains a predetermined and insurmountable advantage may seem a travesty to some including this writer. But there is another whole side to this issue.

Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, offered a right-on analysis of the situation. "Sports should involve three things – cooperative spirit, healthy competition and sportsmanship." Agreed. Athletics have always been an excellent way to get and stay in shape (how fat can we get?), develop new skills and habits and most importantly, build character, self-esteem, sportsmanship, ethics and a sense of community. Sports competition does not generally (and shouldn’t) recognize class differences, how much money your parents have or your race, creed or culture or any other such criteria. The playing field should be equal and level for all with the final outcome of any contest being determined by the better performing athletes, period. As the Olympics have proclaimed since 1924, “Citius, altius, fortius”. (Swifter, Higher, Stronger).

What we must all demonstrate in our lives is a humanity tempered by the logic and common sense of our times. We need to address the question: How do we motivate our athletes to appropriately power down and not perform after we have instilled those disciplines and attitudes in them? Conversely by playing and bending to those well intended but blindfolded citizens who in a sick Kum By Ya angst would focus only on the “savaged feelings” of the losers of any contest, we lose sight of another valuable lesson. They end up empowering this lack of good sportsmanship and creating another generation of emotionally scarred, entitled citizens. However, it looks like the Ladies of Dallas Academy are having none of that.

Following their defeat Dallas Academy Athletic Director Jeremy Civello told his girls basketball team that they have learned a, “lesson in sportsmanship that will last them a lifetime.” Here, Here! So the lesson here is that failure/defeat and how you deal with it are equally important components of life experiences. It’s apparent that the members of the Dallas Academy Varsity girl’s basketball team have a firm perspective on what may be a low point for them. They will use that experience to gage their responses when dealing with more serious issues. I suspect that they will also know how to offer compassion and humility when confronted with similar circumstances in later life… As some wise folks have been want to offer, “You don’t have a firm perspective until you know where your bottom and top are…” Maybe, just maybe, these kids will evolve into the more responsible parents that will stop all this nonsense.

Players and coaches alike on teams that fail to honor the best tenets of sport that include honor, respect, integrity, et al will suffer the slings and arrows of indignation and either become professional athletes or CEOs of Wall Street Financial firms. Of course those are occupations that currently do not appear to embrace any high ideals thereby offering those industries a bountiful supply of candidates…

But seriously, how do we realistically deal with this situation? I got to thinking…. While a student at Ole Miss my fraternity (Sigma Phi Epsilon) sponsored a D Stocker racer, the Sig Epic, a 1964 Oldsmobile Cutlass, at the drag races at the now defunct Lakeland Dragway/International Raceway in nearby Memphis, Tennessee. The sanctioning body was and is the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) who came up with the answer for handicapping racing vehicles in and out of class (Handicapping you say?). That answer was an electronic starting system that consists of a series of vertically-arranged lights known as a Christmas tree. The Christmas tree has a column of lights for each driver/lane consisting of staging lights and below that three large amber lights, a green light, and a red light. The tree in each lane depending on your handicap would flash faster or slower ostensibly giving the advantage to the lower rated competitor (getting the picture?).

Now our vehicle was a perennial winner and several times competed for the overall Top Drag Eliminator Championship at Lakeland. We always seemed to race another perennial winner, an M Stocker, a 1949 Studebaker coupe that would always be spotted close to one eighth of a mile on that quarter mile track. We never quite caught up or beat him though once we came as close as the nose of our Cutlass. This became the stuff that legends are now made of and prompted us on to greater and greater heights…. It motivated us to work harder in order to be better and entertained us in the process.

So, while we have precedent and an answer for our conundrum and it has been among us for many years, how to apply it? Good Friend and preeminent Dallas radio historian Bob Schumann collaborated with this writer and we have developed a modest and humble proposal (move over Jonathan Swift) that should eliminate individual and team competitive sprit thus reducing the sport of basketball to even lower and more manageable levels via a handicapping system.

We sincerely recommend the adoption of the Schumann Smores Quotient (SSQ) whereby underdogs or more appropriately PC motivated “Challenged” teams would receive points when the heavily favored, opposing handicapped team scores. For example, one aspect of this system would have the challenged team receiving an automatic three points when their opponents score two and matching points scored by their superior opponents at the foul line. Points scored by the “challenged” team would not be so reciprocated. Three point shots would be eliminated save for the last two minutes of each quarter though the challenged team would also automatically receive two points to their opponents three. The motivation, then, would be to not score using regular offensive sets, rather condensing the scoring opportunities to just a frenetic eight minutes of each forty minute game. Note that evenly matched teams would initially play the game without the Smores handicapping system though it could be invoked at any time by the Smores Referee [also inown as The Overseer (TO)] should a game get out of hand.

A critical aspect of the SSQ is the automatic awarding of “grace” points to the challenged or handicapped teams (fifteen for men and twelve for women) for each quarter played. Challenged teams would be able to keep their opponents in a losing mode should they try to play the game as Dr. Naismith intended. Some critics have opined that this might change the game though Schumann and this writer point out that there will be only winners and no losers or hurt feelings as the outcome of the game would always be predetermined and never in doubt. Thusly, the status quo and precedents as interpreted and administered by the Dallas, Texas Independent School System (DISD) would be maintained. Isn’t it nice to keep all these good feelings here at home?

So where do our Christmas tree lights enter the picture? Well, aside from the concept of handicapping the competition, when grace points are awarded one of four amber lights will be lit on the scoreboard at the behest of the challenged team coach who can receive the points at a time of his/her choosing or just let the points be awarded by quarter per the “tree”. For example, a challenged boy’s team could conceivably choose to take all their sixty points at the beginning of the game or in a grand manifestation of coaching strategy request them at critical moments in the contest.

Should a superior team prevail despite all the attempts to level the playing field the referee would be empowered to engage the red light signifying a mercy disqualification of that team for being too competitive. A continuously burning green light would signify that the game is being played under the SSQ. Honk if this sounds a little like Carousel in the 1976 cult movie Logan’s Run where society is managed and maintained in equilibrium in that case by requiring the death of everyone who reaches the maturity of twenty-one years. Hmmm…

As reporter Jacquielynn Floyd of The Dallas Morning News eloquently wrote the other day, “The Covenant School surely knows they lost this one. Why keep running up the score? And secondly, the whole point of this little morality play is to show a little mercy, to avoid using the advantage of the moment to crush your opponent to smithereens.” Well stated by Floyd who points out that we are wielding a two-edged sword.

Let’s leave well enough alone, adopt a mercy rule and encourage coaches and players to conduct themselves honorably, on and off the playing field, for once and forever. That failing, we will always have the Schumann Smores Quotient...


Ned Buxton

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