Column: Line Drives — Lack of respect damages integrity

[This is my column in the Feb. 26 issue of The Commercial Review.]

Some may argue all-inclusive playoff systems are bad for sports.

They will state that it takes away from the importance of the regular season. Or that it doesn’t make sense to reward teams with a playoff appearance if they didn’t fare well during the season.

Opponents of those arguments, however, can point to the recent developments in Tennessee.

The girls basketball teams from Riverdale and Smyrna high schools are no longer allowed to participate in the postseason this year after they were accused of intentionally trying to lose their game on Saturday.

Why, you may ask?

They wanted to get a more favorable side of the playoff bracket.

They were missing free throws purposefully. Video shows one shot in particular hitting the right side of the backboard, nowhere near the rim.

Another video shows a player from Smyrna all but handing a Riverdale defender the basketball. Following the failed attempt, the Smyrna player intentionally crossed the timeline resulting in a backcourt violation.

According to a story by The (Murfreesboro, Tennessee) Daily News Journal, a referee wrote he arranged a meeting with the coaches after “a Smyrna player was about to attempt a shot at the wrong basket on purpose.

“That was when I called both coaches together and told them we are not going to make a travesty or mockery of the game. WE ARE NOT GOING TO START TRYING TO SHOOT AND SCORE FOR THE OTHER TEAM,” his letter said, according to the Journal.

Kudos to the referee.

Shame on the coaches and players for their complete disrespect for the game and lack of sportsmanship.

Subsequently the Rutherford County Director of Schools on Wednesday suspended both coaches for the remainder of the season and all of the 2015-16 school year.

Thankfully, poor sportsmanship by athletes in Jay County has not been an issue.

In fact, two separate officiating crews last season notified the IHSAA for an exemplary display of sportsmanship by the Jay County football team

It’s a testament to the character of the kids on the field, and it’s something coach Tim Millspaugh takes great pride in.

“To me, that’s very important,” he said. “A big part of athletics is teaching kids how to handle success and to deal with setbacks. There are a lot of people — adults included — that do not handle those situations well.

“To hear officials and other teams say how impressed they are with (our sportsmanship), it is definitely gratifying.”

Initially, the all-inclusive system set in place by the IHSAA may be a head scratcher, for all of the reasons stated at the beginning of this column.

But it allows teams to play a tough regular season schedule to prepare them for the playoffs.

The South Adams Starfires are a prime example. In each of the last two seasons, the Starfires have limped through a tough regular season slate, only to catch fire come playoff time and win two sectional titles and a regional crown.

Plus, the blind draw for sectional removes the opportunity for a squad to do what the Riverdale and Smyrna girls basketball teams did over the weekend.

If the Patriot boys basketball team goes undefeated or winless, it still had the same chance of drawing Wayne or No. 2 ranked Homestead in the sectional tournament.

Sportsmanship comes down to a few basic criteria: respect the game, respect yourself and respect the opponent.

When even one of those goes by the wayside, the integrity of the sport — and athlete — diminishes greatly. Those involved with the deliberate tanking in Tennessee may forever be remembered by their poor sportsmanship.

What sounds better as an athlete, creating a legacy for accomplishments in your sport, or being remembered for a conscious disrespect for the game?

My guess is the former.

It just makes sense.

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