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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Was Youth Team Westwood Warriors’ Decision to Lose Game Unethical?

A controversy in a Winnipeg High School hockey league last week that resulted in two coaches being suspended has captured people’s attention. The Westwood Warriors were leading 3-2 against the Collège Jeanne-Sauvé Olympiens on Thursday when they decided to pull their goalie to allow the Olympiens to win.

Several games were being played at the same time and the coaches had learned that if they won, they’d have to face the Oak Park Raiders in the semifinals. The Raiders had the league’s best record in the regular season so they understandably wanted to avoid having to face them. They pulled their goalie and lost 4-3, setting up a rematch in the semis against College Jeanne-Sauve.

The controversial decision created a buzz around the area and sparked concern amongst league officials and fans. The players on the Warriors didn’t like losing on purpose and actually volunteered to play the Raiders on Friday in a play-in game that they lost 4-1 — eliminating themselves from the playoffs.

The choice to lose was met with widespread criticism because it goes against the ethics of the league and spirit of the game. In a poll on SI Hot Clicks, where I first learned about the story, 71% of voters said they didn’t like the move. I was one of the people in the minority who said they were fine with the decision.

Here’s why.

Part of sports is strategy. In tennis, men have five set matches in Grand Slam events. If a player is up two sets to none but finds himself down 4-0 in the third set, does he expend all his energy trying to come back that set, or more or less concede the set to save energy to come out blazing in the fourth set? Ethics say you should always play hard, but that’s not necessarily the best path to victory. And if you don’t think players utilize such a strategy, then you clearly aren’t paying attention.

Likewise, in the NFL, we frequently see teams who have clinched playoff spots or homefield advantage rest players at the end of the season. Is it against the spirit of the game? Sure, but those teams have earned the right to do as they choose. Having a bye sometimes backfires, but a team that has earned the right to control its playoff destiny by winning in the regular season has earned the right to decide how hard it wants to compete and if it wants to try and hand-pick its opponent.

If anything should be condemned, it’s not the coaches who were planning strategically. It’s the league’s post-season system which had the league’s best team get knocked out in their round-robin tournament. If you want to eliminate this issue, eliminate the round robin and make the regular season winner the champion, or just go with a standard single or double elimination tournament. What do you think was the right way to handle this?

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