Babb Bits: Speed, Scoring, & Soccer

The speed myth about northern teams is no more, says Charles Babb. Just look at what Ohio State has been able to do in recent years with their players. Also some thoughts on a strange scoring rule and the other sport called football in this edition of Babb Bits.

Northern Speed…

Leading up to confrontations with Southern teams, it is not unusual to hear the talking heads harp on the speed adjustment which the Big Ten teams must face. This has become an ‘everybody knows fact' finding itself on tenuous ground in Columbus. Ohio State's football team had an intramural track meet this spring according to, and the results are illuminating.

If there is one thing that Ohio State has done successfully since the late 1980's, it is improve their speed. Jimmy Johnson and his Miami Hurricanes believed even if your players were smaller, if they can't catch you but you can catch them…you are in trouble. They were right and revolutionized the way the sport is played.

Back to Columbus...the sheer amount of speed Ohio State possesses at the skill positions now is almost disturbing. Anthony Gonzalez, Ted Ginn, Jr., and Ray Small are the type of players you build an offense around at wideout. Most programs would trade multiple offensive or defensive linemen for just one game changing player of their ilk. Ohio State has three and just sent Santonio Holmes to the NFL draft in the first round. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have Malcolm Jenkins and Jamario O'Neal manning the secondary – each accomplished sprinters in their own right. In 2007 Brandon Saine, who broke the Ohio high school record for the 100 meter dash as a junior, will be joining the roster.

For all that the perception of Ohio State and the Big Ten is ‘three yards and a cloud of dust,' the number of sprinters for Butch Reynolds to coach is frightening. Ginn and Saine in particular are literally world class athletes who could have Olympics written all over their resume if they had so chosen.

Look for a little ‘Northern Speed' to be coming to a Big Ten stadium near you this fall.

Connecticut High School Football

I know this is perhaps old news, but just consider me a ‘Johnny come lately' to the discussion. It has been a while since I have witnessed something this ridiculous.

Bent out of shape feelings and occasional confrontations led Connecticut's Interscholastic Athletic Conference to enact a rule which mandates suspension of any coach whose football team wins by more than 50 points.

Admittedly, I believe routs and blowouts (for the most part) show poor form. I am of the opinion winning and losing isn't all that is at stake every week but rather – how do you play the game? A team or program that bullies weaker opponents and needlessly runs up the score on hapless competition generally says more about its own character and the character of its coaches than about its athletic prowess.

Still, this is a foolish rule, and the problems I have with it are threefold:

First, sometimes it isn't possible to halt a bloodbath. I'm reminded of some of the Kansas State-Nebraska or Ohio State-Indiana tilts of the early 1970's. It didn't matter who the top tier programs sent onto the field; they could have put their water boy and three elderly women in wheel chairs out there and still handily win. For that matter, with the Cornhuskers winning by over 40 in the 1995 national championship game, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne all but emptied his bench, but even his third string tailback gashed the over-rated and over-hyped Gators for serious yardage.

Second, it is not the job of the winning coach to keep the score down. If he chooses to take up this mantle, then it is at his discretion. However, it is not their responsibility. Both teams take the field with the goal of winning, and as a general rule haven't spent a great deal of time discussing how they can avoid hurting feelings; each is consumed instead with the desire not to have their own feelings hurt by a loss. Refusing to run up the score can burn you – as it did with the Nittany Lions in 1994. When the Indiana Hoosiers scored two touchdowns late because Joe Paterno chose to be a gentleman, it sealed the fate for Penn State to lose a share of the national title. As Bobby Bowden told an angry Lou Holtz following a game his Mountaineers won in impressive fashion, "It's your job to keep the score down."

Third, it goes against the spirit of competition; the drive to motivate others to improve in relation to competition is part of sport. Should the Dream Team have stood on the sidelines and let other teams score in 1992? Should they have simply dribbled the ball once they were up by 35 points? Let's just say for the sake of argument that they had taken this course of action. Do we really believe the level of basketball around the globe now be as high? In the incredible beatings taken by the rest of the world, they were able to see just how far they needed to travel down the bumpy road of improvement. What about the University of Florida? The Gators were absolutely obliterated by Nebraska in 1995, but they won the national title the following season with an improved defense.

There are at least two better ways to approach this than mandating their current rule:

(1) When teams consistently dominate those in their division, make them move up to the next division. Those who lose by wide margins move down a division. There would have to be limits with how many times they could move up (or down) in order to be fair to the smaller schools, but this would work and create better parity much like the 85 scholarship limit in D-IA football.

(2) Enact a mercy rule. If one team has a 35 point lead to start fourth quarter or 50 point lead at half, call the game. This puts an onus on the coach of the more powerful team because frankly, if they unleash everything they have on the opponent, they find themselves in the shoes of the boxer who needs 6 rounds of work but knocks out the opponent in the first round.

In this end, this rule is simply absurd. If this is the route Connecticut wishes to go, why even keep score at all? After all, isn't it harmful to the psyche and damaging to lose? I mean, aren't we all ‘winners' anyway? That's what my momma always told me, and I'm sure those poor players losing by 50 points or more would like nothing more than to run home to momma and stay (and stay until they are 40) anyway…

You can't legislate scores in a game. This is simply beyond the pale. I mean how long before we go to not keeping score at all? Losing after all might cause introspection and force a desire to win or compete, but since we are now teaching competition is bad (with grades and now apparently with sports) – why not just sit back and get rid of that "ugly" side of humanity. I mean, competition in the business world has been so terrible for America – right? With just shy of 300,000,000 in this nation, the economy has been destroyed by the idea of free market and winners and losers and people who have their dreams crushed in bankruptcy (since banks apparently do keep score in dollars).


The World Cup

A hearty congratulations to all sports fans around the globe who love soccer. This must be nirvana, and for those in the United States – for the first time they are actually able to see more than just the Stars and Stripes play.

However, I personally would consider it a huge favor if every sportswriter and fan of this particular minor sport in the United States would refrain from implying those of us who don't care for it are backwater rubes. I have heard just about enough for a lifetime of ‘You know the rest of this world loves this sport – what is wrong with you?' and ‘Why is it Americans only love the sports they invent?'

First, there is nothing wrong with America that it cares the most for the sports it invented; that is natural. The sports they invented are deeply ingrained in their culture and are in fact the reason for the sports culture. Read a little history, and you will find the protestant work ethic in America was so pervasive in the 19th century that other than perhaps an occasional horse race or pugilism (boxing), time for leisure activities was rare. When Europe and even Asia was settled with people groups who had been living in one place for thousands of years, the United States was in turmoil. So, if you are a soccer fan or sports writer maybe you should thank the purveyors of football, basketball, and baseball instead of thumbing your nose at them.

As to the second, it is pure baloney. The United States competes in every Olympics, and the last time I checked we didn't invent track and field or any winter sports having to do with ice or snow. They didn't invent horse racing. They didn't invent boxing. They didn't invent skiing. They didn't invent wrestling. The residents of the USA play them all, but they didn't invent a one of those or even come close.

So bully for you sportswriters and fans of soccer. I'm thrilled you can enjoy yourself, just in the future – please refrain from thinking you are somehow more cultured than the rest of us because you enjoy ‘futbol' when we don't.

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