November 27, 2012

When Points Destroy The Game

In 1956 my Jamaica high school basketball team played Far Rockaway, a league rival. At the end of the first quarter I had 19 points and our team was ahead by twenty. The result of the game was already determined. I felt confident of breaking the school scoring record and perhaps the city record as well, but to my dismay the coach took me out of the game. I was furious. Yet in retrospect, he was right.

Had I broken the school record, it would have come at the expense of a marginal team. Moreover, it would have embarrassed the other players. My coach understood what I did not.

Now we hear the story of Grinnell College sophomore guard named Jack Taylor who scored 138 points in a recent game against First Baptist Bible College. While this point total obliterated the college record and even pro stars like LeBron James are eager to see the video tape, I find this story depressing. Why didn't Grinnell's coach, David Arsenault bench his star player who took 108 shots - missing 56 - in a game won by 75 points? 

The once decent standard of not embarrassing a rival has been interred along with giving bench-warmers a chance to play in a one sided victory. "Kicking" an opponent when he is down was something college athletes were once told to avoid. That, of course, was yesteryear when competition counted and records were set that had real meaning. 

As I see it, there isn't anything reasonable about one player taking 108 shots in a game whose outcome was not in question. Whatever happened to sportsmanship in college sports? Instead of applauding this performance as television hosts have, it should be criticized. Imagine "pressing" all game in a 75 point margin of victory.

During college basketball and football games, there is the ritualistic suggestion by the NCAA that athletics build character. After this performance at Grinnell that bromide should be a source of embarrassment. It is bad enough that players routinely preen in front of the television camera after a dunk. It is sickening to hear players curse at one another and engage in verbal intimidation. Exploiting weak athletes by piling on is yet the latest perversion in college sports. My guess is Jack Taylor will be a model, a source of emulation. And a coach, who should know better, is also likely to represent a new bench standard.

College basketball is a game that can build character when talented players restrain personal ambition for team goals. It happened last season at Kentucky with six teammates drafted into the professional ranks. Of course, at Kentucky academic life is a meaningless after thought since what happens on the hardwood is all that counts. Yet Coach Calipari, despite his reputation for challenging academic standards, does teach something about team play.

Jack Taylor, by all appearances, seems to be a sensible young man. Perhaps he is embarrassed by all the attention. He should be. The game in this instance was converted into a gladiatorial event with the opposition gored into submission. Some may call that basketball; I call it exploitation.

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Published by the Manhattan Institute
The Manhattan Insitute's Center for the American University.