Monday, November 27, 2006

Running up the Score

I spent some time this Saturday on the other side of the fence. Gridiron football, that is. A friend of mine plays in a rough tough league so I watched a game and then adjourned to have lunch with these football players. Lucky for me, their coach was there and I was able to pick her brain.

Despite all the obvious differences, there are bigger ideological differences in respect to the game, what sportsmanship is, and what it is to show respect to your opponents. They had recently played in a match and received an ass kicking (ps, there are some very athletic women out there playing rec football). The other team, every single time they went on offense, tried to score. This, apparently, was a bad thing, and this wasn't just one person's opinion. From what I could gather, once you've sufficiently run up the score, the appropriate thing to do is just take a knee on offense and run through the downs. When I asked why, I was told "why risk someone getting hurt when the game is essentially already won?". This practice of "taking a knee" is apparently pretty standard in all levels of football.

Now of course I had to share the rugby way of doing things (sidebar: My friend Bekah, also a rugby person, was with me, and I could FEEL the tension rising as she anticipated what sort of incident-causing-comments I might make. I believe I did a wonderful job keeping a meaningful, non-judgmental dialog going)

I told them that in rugby, every second on the pitch is a privilege, and shouldn't be wasted. Games like this are an opportunity to work on things, and the losing team now has an opportunity to work on defense. We can play all our subs. We can try to develop aspects of our game that need work. Bottom line, I said - Saturday's a rugby day, and we want to spend every available second playing rugby.

So then what about the team getting their ass kicked, they said? Isn't it unsportsmanlike to embarrass them like that? Well, personally I think its unsportsmanlike to ever take it light on your opponent. We've all been on both sides of the 80-5 game. If you were on the winning side, don't people who normally never get a chance for glory suddenly find themselves in the tryzone? Isn't it a time where maybe you can see that rookie #3 has amazing foot skills? If you were on the losing side, wasn't it amazing to score that one try?. If you were on the losing side playing against some really amazing players, doesn't it feel great to have shared the pitch with them? And, if you're on the losing side, even though you got your ass kicked, don't you walk away feeling as if your team, together, has faced something really hard, and come away tougher and wiser?

So ... it's an interesting difference between us and them. I know I don't speak for all rugby players or coaches, but to me, "taking a knee on offense" is about the same thing as handing the ball to the other teams #9 at the next scrum down saying, "Here you go - why don't you guys just play offense for the rest of the game?".

Would anyone ever do that?


Anonymous said...

I don't know if I agree w/the ideological diff. I generally see rugby teams more likely to run up the score than football. Its definitely less common in football to run up the score. Part of the reason is its so easy to burn the clock in football(ie taking the max time allowed between downs) such that teams are assured they'll win with a narrower margin. Therefore a coach can start to sub 2nd & 3rd strings earlier. Since rugby is continuous play, a club can turn around a losing score quickly.

Meredith said...

Coach, thanks for bringing up this topic. It's very interesting. I don't know much about football, so I have no idea how prevalent the ideology you describe is, but, as a rugby player, my first reaction is one of mild disgust.

Having been on both sides of very lop-sided scores more than once, I would definitely take offense to having a team that was beating the pants off of my team suddenly let up. Subbing in less experienced players is one thing, but handing my team the ball is another.

But on further consideration, I wonder if my feelings come as much from several years of rugby-mentality conditioning as from my own competitive drive. I say this because I think there is another major reason why this difference may exist: in football you can take a knee, and nobody gets hurt. In rugby, when people make half-hearted attempts at tackling or running offense, players get hurt. Football players have a safe alternative that rugby players do not have. If we had that opportunity, might more teams take it? I like to think not, but who knows.

John Birch said...

I'd heard about this before and was surprised - and indeed would be deeply upset and insulted if an opponent did it to me. In any sport.

Maybe its a cultural thing, because the I was equally surprised when I heard that in baseball you cannot intimidate the batsman by sending one at his head, whereas in cricket allowing the batsman to "sniff the leather" is a much admired part of the game.

I am not aware of any nation or any sport outside the USA where it would be considered acceptable to "let up" on an opponent. You do not let up until the game is won - ever. The you retire to the bar and compare bruises.

Certainly it would never happen in Britain. Or India goig by the recent news item about a school cricket team that scored over 700 runs in an innings, and then bowled out their opponents for 21.

And can you imagine an Australian sportman doing that? Heck they'd have to emigrate!

And quite what a UK soccer crowd would do if their team "took a knee", even while 6-0 up, doesn't bear thinking about. Tear down the stadium probably...

Americans. Deep down you can be quite strange...

Anonymous said...

The short answer is that every sport has its own traditions, customs and unwritten rules.
In football, the issue of running up the score is a subject of constant debate. Generally speaking, it is accepted as part of the game at the college and pro levels and at the high school and youth levels, it is usually frowned upon. At no level and under no circumstances is a team expected to take a knee in the second or third quarter, punt on first down or fall down on purpose.
It is considered to be good sportsmanship when a team is leading big to play the backups (leaving the starters in is an insult to your own backups in that situation) run between the tackles and avoid trick plays, fake punts and things like that.
At the college or pro level, it's up to each team to make sure it can recruit or sign the kind of athletes to compete at that level. In high school or youth ball, you can only recruit from the athletes in your own school or community, so you're bound to have competitive mismatches. Running up the score in those situations is kind of like an army looting and pillaging after winning a battle.