Monday, February 06, 2012

Clock Management

In the past two days, I have seen my least two favorite plays in all of sports.

  • Trailing by two points withe one minute left on the 6 yard line, the Giants handed the ball to Ahmad Bradshaw, who burst through the line of Patriots defenders who were letting him score, tried to stop at the one yard line, then fell into the end zone for the most anti-climatic last-minute Super Bowl winning touchdown we'll ever see.
  • Leading Oklahoma by three with five seconds left, Missouri fouled an Oklahoma player who was not in the act of shooting, so he would have two free throw attempts.  (He missed the first, then purposely missed the second, which set up an open 3 point attempt for Oklahoma that was missed.)

The intentional walk probably belongs in this category as well.  I have a little more tolerance for more established tactics like basketball teams fouling when they're behind and calling time out while falling out of bounds.

Why do I hate these?  Because they turn the games into a contest over who can think of and execute the anti-competitive play rather than which team is playing the sport better.

Yes, "clock management" is part of the game.  And the ways in which coaches screwed up various end of half situations are great for filling time on 24 hour sports radio stations.  But it has nothing to do with how the game was originally designed, or how we played the game as kids.

Or does it?  In the age of video games, probably more fans have experience managing a team in different late game situations than have ever gotten into a three-point stance or burst through a hole in the offensive line.  Which may partly explain the focus on these tactics.

But it's my belief that telling a running back not to score, and telling defensive players to let them score, takes them away from what got them into that position in the first place.  The Giants didn't get to the Super Bowl by not scoring touchdowns; they got there by scoring touchdowns.

Mike Greenberg loves these things.  You can count on him coming on the air of every morning talking about how some player should have taken a knee, run out of bounds, fumbled on purpose, ran through his own end zone, dropped an interception, or done something contrary to his competitive instincts.  And Golic is there to set him straight from the perspective of someone who's actually played the game.

Sure enough this morning, he was justifying Bradshaw falling down by saying that the Patriots wanted him to score, so by falling down, he was playing into their hands.  But you know what I'm saying to my defense if I'm Tom Coughlin?  I'm saying that the Patriots think they can out-clever us, but I believe in our football team.  I think we can beat them on the field, and they don't.  Now go out there and prove me right!

This is one thing I think soccer may have the right idea on -- the referee keeps the time on the field, and the players and coaches don't know exactly when time will end, so the end of games doesn't turn into a mutual effort to manipulate the clock to your advantage. 

In general I watch sports to see athletes competing at the highest level.  I don't watch hoping to see coaches out-clever each other, defensive players letting a team score, and offensive players falling down before they score a touchdown.  It may be fun to talk about, but it's not why I watch sports.  To paraphrase Bill James, "Quit screwing around and play football!"

For more of me on this topic, see here.
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