Piling Up Our Points About Sportsmanship
Sunday morning: Frank is driving to a nephew’s soccer game and tunes in New York radio’s top sports blabber, Mike Francesa. In reviewing the college games, Francesa rips the Badgers big-time for, in his view, running up the score. “They should be ashamed,” he says. Coach Bret Bielema has a pattern of doing this, he says. It shows no sportsmanship or class, he says.
And Frank says, “I better check this out with someone who saw the game.”
Frank: Of course you had a rooting interest, but 83 points sure looks excessive. Does Francesa have a case?
Artie: He didn’t watch the game; I did. It’s easy to rip Bielema, especially for a radio gasbag whose job is to create controversy. The Badgers had their third- and fourth-stringers in for the fourth quarter and still scored 24 points. What were they supposed to do, walk off the field?
Frank: Francesa said the next-to-last touchdown was a long pass play and the last was a run by the quarterback, who should have been instructed to “slide” rather than score.
Artie: I’d hardly call the pass play an intended “bomb”; third-string QB Jon Budmayr simply chucked it long on third down under pressure. And the last score was by the fourth-string QB, seeing his first game action, and he happened to break it.
Frank: Still, it seems like there had to be something they could do to keep the score down. Just call the most simple running plays or something.
Artie: And they mostly did that. When it was 59-13 after three quarters I thought, “Geez, this could get really embarrassing.” But hell, they put in all their freshmen and bench guys. Are you supposed to tell kids who haven’t been in games, “OK, here’s your chance but don’t do anything”? That’s not how anyone coaches a team. You tell them to give it 100%. Otherwise, why have them on the team?
Frank: My brother-in-law has coached high-school soccer, and he said he’s been on both ends of 8-0 and 9-1 games. He said that when he was doing the routing he’d switch his players around, put defenders up front and strikers on defense. But guess what? The defenders would naturally want to score.
Artie: You’re in the game, you want to play the game, ain’a? And of course in football there’s no way to put a wide receiver on the defensive line.
Frank: My bro-in-law also said that when his players were the rout-ees, they’d feel worse when the other team deliberately tried not to score, instead of just playing.
Artie: It goes against the whole grain of coaching to tell your bench guys, who may be starters in a year or two, to hold back. It would be different if Bielema kept Scott Tolzien in the whole game and kept him throwing, but that’s not what happened.
Frank: I guess Tolzien played three quarters, and someone might quibble at that. But I checked out several game stories and the Indiana coach didn’t even hint that he thought Bielema “ran it up.” He said something like, “Well, it’s up to us to stop them.”
Artie: This ain’t peewee ball. It’s the Big Ten.
Frank: Yeah, if it was little kids or high-school teams, I’d say 83 points sends a bad message. But at the major-college level, if the other team can’t stop your scrubs, too bad.
Artie: Indiana was never gonna win this game, but when they lost their top QB, Ben Chappell, in the first half it was really over. The Hoosiers’ offense just couldn’t stay on the field.
Frank: As to Francesa's claim that Bielema has a habit of running up the score, I did some research and I don’t think it’s true. Yes, they scored 70 points against Austin Peay this year, but 49 were in the first half and that was a cupcake game anyway. Against Minnesota, the issue wasn’t the point total but the fact that Bielema went for two points with a 41-16 lead. He gave a lame excuse that his “card” dictated that call with a 25-point lead, and that was dumb, but a 41-23 final ain’t running it up.
Artie: One thing about the 83 points—with the Badgers ranked high in the BCS, you wonder if there’s any incentive to having a huge margin of victory.
Frank: I thought that too, but there’s a twist. I assumed that margin of victory might affect the “pure numbers” of the computer rankings, but in fact the BCS specifically tells its six ranking services NOT to include margin of victory stats. So if anyone tried to pump up the victory margin, it would be for the human voters in the polls the BCS uses.
Artie: But in this case, any reasonable voter knows that this was just a humongous mismatch.
Frank: It sure wasn’t the same thing as No. 3 TCU beating No. 5 Utah by 40 points two weeks ago. Now, I would ask you and all other Badger fans, if Bucky was getting 83 pasted on him, would you be able to swallow it?
Artie: As long as the other team did the right things, put in the subs and ran the vanilla offense, hey, you take your lumps and hope your day will come.
Frank: Sportsmanship means playing fair, not cheating, not trying to injure, and having respect for the game and the opponent. I suppose you could say it also includes having some compassion for an opponent who’s decisively beaten.
Artie: But that doesn’t mean you stop trying to do what you’re supposed to do. It’s an insult to the game and to the opponents if you don’t go all-out.
The Enemy of My Enemy...
Frank: No miracle for Mr. Favre and the Vikings against Chicago.
Artie: Was that sweet! After the game Brett was hobnobbing with some Bears and I could just hear him saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll beat the Packers for you next Sunday.” And I said, “In your dreams!”
Frank: So the Vikes are three full games behind the Packers now. And even though the Bears are tied with Green Bay at 6-3—and beat them at Soldier Field—you apparently had no trouble rooting for them against Favre. I understand the idea that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” but in this case both teams were the Pack’s enemy.
Artie: Yeah, but I see the Bears as much less a threat. I didn't want the Vikes waiting at the Metrodome at 4-5. Now the shovel is all polished up and the Pack will bury them Sunday.
Frank: And as for the Bears?
Artie: They’ve got a tough schedule—at Miami this Thursday, then Philadelphia, and later the Patriots and Jets, to say nothing of the final showdown at Lambeau. And besides, they have Jay Cutler and his knucklehead decision-making. I ain’t worried about no stinkin’ Bears!
Frank: Fans of the Eagles also had an “all-enemy” game to ponder in Cowboys vs. Giants. I was in the Philly area visiting another sister and listened to WIP, the local sports-talk station. One caller said, “I’m a 42-year season-ticket holder, and I know you guys say I should root for Dallas because it would help the Eagles, but I can't do it. I hate the Cowboys too much; I saw too many Roger Staubach comebacks. I’ll never root for Dallas!”
Artie: A man after my own heart. And his Eagles got their help with the Cowboys spanking the Giants. Geez, the Packers beat Dallas by 38 and Dallas beat the Giants by 13. Maybe the Green and Gold will lay 83 points on Eli and Co. on Dec. 26.
Frank: Well, as long as they don’t rub it in.