Saturday, October 30, 2010

A competitor

A competitor is what you need in order to have competition.

But what is it that makes the game worth the candle? What makes competition meaningful and worthwhile?

I thought of that in the context of our state's lagging University of New Mexico football (American) team, which under its current coach is doing its best to claim uncontested occupancy of NCAA division one A's cellar. The New Mexico Lobos were shellacked by the Oregon Ducks earlier this season by what looked like a basketball score on the Duck's side. But even so, the two teams were in the same athletic division and had roughly comparable equipment, budgets, staff sizes, player weights, etc. So the Ducks could take some satisfaction in hugely defeating the hapless, poorly coached Lobos.

Even so, there is little honor in sports in "running up the score" and it's actually somewhat embarrassing to play inferior opponents. It may need to be done in order to keep ratings and ranking poll votes up, but it doesn't feel all the great. And it's certainly nothing like the satisfaction that comes from defeating an opponent who actually has a good chance to beat you. And it's nothing remotely like the exultation of defeating a stronger opponent.

Of course, there would have never been a question of the Oregon Ducks or even the poor Lobos playing some rural small high school team. Of course that would not be allowable, but it would also be incredibly unsporting even if it were.

Nor would you ever see Notre Dame playing a football game against some high school team in Ohio, or UT-El Paso playing a sandlot team from Anthony, NM. It just isn't done; it isn't sporting, right, fair, safe, or meaningful.

When the competing teams or individuals are hugely mismatched and the hapless inferiors are mercilessly ground into the dirt, that isn't real competition or sportsmanship. Such so-called victories resemble nothing so much as schoolyard bullying by immature thugs who are wholly clueless of sportsmanship and fair play.

In sailing, the meaning of competition can get interesting, given that in many regattas it's possible for rank amateurs to sail against seasoned professionals who have the resources to spend most days of the year out practicing, and who can afford the best boats and equipment. For this reason, some elite class regattas give separate trophies to amateurs, and a true amateur who does well against professionals is highly regarded.

In college sailing, fortunately, there often seems to be a high standard of sportsmanship and support for other sailors. Gerald, when his ASU sailing team visits California, has reported favorably on the hospitality, cooperation, and mutual support among Pacific Coast college sailors. Protests are rare, yelling is limited and kept to the course, sails and gear are frequently made available to others, and the members of different teams enjoy each other's company.

One-design sailing has often been touted as the solution to many of the problems of sailing competition, particularly issues with widely varying boat capabilities that bedevil handicapping systems.

Of course that only works when the boats are actually quite similar to each other. There's one-design and then there's one-design. If boats and crews are hugely divergent in their equipment and performance, then what's happening certainly isn't one-design racing. If the differences between boats are completely unbridgeable, then the one-design fleet is likely to fail as the tail-enders can never hope to make any progress against the fleet leaders. This can happen when a class is dominated by a small cadre of highly skilled professional sailors and no consideration is given to the needs and development of the mid-fleet and tail-end crews and boats.

In the best one-design fleets, this rigid stratification, fossilization, and fleet failure don't happen. That's because the best fleets provide support, advice, and coaching for all fleet members. Tuning tips, go-fast advice, tactics, equipment, and more get discussed freely. Information is readily available to help the mid-fleet and tail-end sailors upgrade their boats. Fleet and class leaders are readily accessible. Fleet and class membership are affordable and have good benefits to make joining worthwhile.

So, how does your fleet rate? Do you sail in a REAL one-design fleet?
What does competition mean to you?

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At 5:45 PM, October 30, 2010, Blogger Tillerman said...

You mention your "state's lagging university team" but don't mention what sport you are talking about. Or is "lagging" a sport?

At 11:48 PM, October 30, 2010, Blogger Pat said...

Theoretically, the University of New Mexico Lobos field a Division I-A football team. But they are entirely winless, and so it seems more like the sport they specialize in is, indeed, "lagging".

Some other university sports do much better. UNM fans would do better to cheer on something like the women's ski or basketball teams.

However I've never been a basketball fan; too me it seems like it's likely one of those sports that's more fun to play than to watch. Maybe that's what it has in common with sailing.

At 11:49 PM, October 30, 2010, Blogger Pat said...

to not too


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