Monday, July 4, 2011

Another Cliche I Hate

OK, so a cliché I hate: “Let the players decide the game,” in reference to some controversial, important referee’s decision. That argument attempts to move from the back-and-forth of arguments about fact (“He was out of bounds!” “No, he wasn’t!”) to an abstract argument that sounds good. Yes, we do want players to decide the game primarily.

But of course, a referee making a decision for one team or player and deciding the game thusly is the equivalent of a referee not making a decision for the other team or player and hence deciding a game. The referee always decides the game by his or her particular version of the rules. The game is meaningless without the rules.

In practice, people are rarely consistent about this: if you’ve ever said, “Let the players decide the game,” you should applaud many or most potentially game-deciding non-decisions or missed calls. Yet most fans I know will not be so understanding in that event (as well they should.) Fine, so people are hypocrites—that doesn’t necessarily invalidate the overarching argument. Except we know better: if we could count on noncalls being made in inflection points, most players would resort to egregious cheating. That’s letting the players decide the game, I suppose, but it completely removes any artistry from the game and often means we’ll be watching a scrum rather than, say, a beautifully-arced jump shot over an outstretched hand to clinch a game. What’s better?

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