Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Topical Questions

I've been traveling for a few days, and have an unholy amount of work to get done in next couple of days, but here are two questions that have arisen--well, arisen in my own mind--during my absence:

1. What percentage of major college sports are content with virtuous mediocrity? And is this choice more admirable than selling one's soul for championships?

I speak specifically of my alma mater, the Pennsylvania State University, which now stands at 0-12 in the Big Ten despite coming off a year in which it won the NIT championship, despite the fact that the roster includes a guard who is almost certainly the best player in the program's history. I've written previously about my alma mater's long and illustrious basketball tradition, and every time I think it might actually getting better, it seems to get precipitously worse: On Saturday, I went to watch Penn State play Michigan State at the mausoleum known as the Bryce Jordan Center, where Daughtry concerts and tractor pulls generate far more interest than anything basketball could provide. The place was half-full; I was told it was one of the best crowds of the season.* Anyway, this post at Black Shoe Diaries outlines a number of the major issues, and also hints at the larger philosophical issue, which is whether it is perhaps more noble--given that modern college basketball is essentially sanctioned mafia warfare--to lose with dignity rather than win ignominiously.

2. Does it make sense to slide into first base?

I don't care what you say about the Winter Olympics. I know they're an easy target for blowhards like Bernard Goldberg. But I enjoy the Winter Olympics for the same reason I enjoy college football more than I enjoy pro football: Because it essentially a two-week mosaic of athletes dealing with the biggest successes/failures of their lives on national television. And I don't really care what the pursuit is--the stakes are what make it compelling. (Then again, I also spent two years attempting to document the merits of competitive chess, so this should not exactly surprise you.) But I do think the most intriguing debate of these Olympics may be this one: A number of speedskaters, in order to make up a couple of tenths of a second in the case of a photo finish, are literally attempting to get a leg up at the finish line. It evokes the age-old argument of whether it makes sense to slide into first base, but more than that, it's one of those utterly ridiculous trends that defy neat empirical categorization, like barefoot kicking and black mamba tights. And if all this high-kicking in tight outfits will lead to an inadvertent wardrobe malfunction, well, at least it gives the skeptics something to do other than mocking male figure skaters in Cobra Kai outfits and feigning outrage over athletes who compete in sports we don't really understand.

*This could easily be remedied by moving the majority of home basketball games back to Rec Hall, which, for those who are unfamiliar, was like a scruffy replicant of Cameron Indoor Stadium, and regularly provided the home team with a 10-to-15 point home-court advantage based on overall volume and students' direct proximity to the floor (at Rec Hall, if you were so inclined, you could actually bear hug Chris Webber on an out-of-bounds play. I will never cease to romanticize the place). But to do this would be to essentially admit defeat.

No comments: