We like to think of sports as being fair.
It’s a place where your wealth, race, popularity, connections and background don’t matter. Your own hard work and ability decide whether you win or lose.
Most of the time, that’s how it works. But not always.
Ask the baseball pitcher who jams a batter with a 90-mph slider, but loses the game on the resulting broken-bat bloop single. Or the basketball team whose shooters suddenly all go cold. Or the hockey team that loses because a shot glances off a defender’s skate and into the goal.
Also, there are injuries, sickness and sudden changes in weather that get in the way. The winners have the luxury of saying silly things like “you make your own luck,” but most of us understand there’s a random element to sports.
Deep down, though we may not like to admit it, we’re OK with that. It’s why fans pay to see sports — you never know what’s going to happen. Even the Yankees and the Patriots lose the big game once in a while.
The people who oversee sports know this and don’t mind those random elements at all. Why do you suppose the NFL moved the extra point back to the 15 yard line? Because even the best kicker brain-farts once in a while and misses from that distance, making the games a little more entertaining to the general audience.
But that’s professional sports. I’m sure we’d all agree we want high school sports to be as fair and un-random as possible. That’s what everyone involved in running high school sports strives for.
Sometimes the unfairness can’t be helped. We’re at that point right now, with state regional play.
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There are 11 sectional basketball champs playing down to one state champion. Somewhere along the line that uneven number has to get sorted out, and it happens here.
There are three teams in this region, so sometimes you play just once, sometimes you have to play twice. Sometimes you make the long bus trip, sometimes you play just down the road. It’s all based on a rotating calendar.
There is no way to seed or rank the teams, since almost all games are played within the section. So it’s complete chance whether or not you have to play twice or once, travel or stay home. Nothing can be done about that.
There is one thing, however, I wish high school sports officials would address.
They used to use “mixed officials” for state regional events, whereby officials would be drawn from both sections involved. The budget crunch came along a few years ago and since then they’ve been using the host section’s officials for regional games. I’d like to see mixed crews come back for all state regional games.
I am not questioning the fairness of officials. Almost uniformly, they are people who care about what they are doing and seek to be fair in every way.
But there are regional differences in the way things are called. Anybody who’s watched basketball around the state knows that a foul in one area isn’t necessarily a foul in another. It doesn’t hurt to know an umpire’s strike zone, or how much you can argue with a hockey referee before misconduct gets called.
Does it make a difference in the outcome? Probably only rarely. But given the unavoidable imbalance in the scheduling of state regional games, it seems like it would be wise to bend over backward to take care of the things you can, like spending a few extra bucks to bring to have mixed officiating crews.
Contact Sports Editor Greg Brownell via email at firstname.lastname@example.org