Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Shootouts On Their Way In

The NCAA rules committee has done what it does. It's a committee to deal with the rules. If they didn't recommend changes every year they wouldn't be doing their jobs. It's useful for the game to progress and only through some smart management can you get that done. Unfortunately, the competition committee (or subcommittee or um .... gaggle of asshats ...) believes there is a big problem in the game: they think that if two amateur athletic teams finish a titanic battle (lets say ... as part of an intense rivalry) tied, that "competition" isn't served.

When I was a youngster I'd occasionally have a chance to help the old man while he tuned-up the '63 Dodge Polara. He'd show me how to tweak the carb's air intake and adjust the mix or maybe I'd get to run the timing light! I know I couldn't have been more than 10 and my brother 13 when he took us out on a north Texas road (that goes on forever) and I saw the needle hit 120mph. Sweetness. But I didn't understand for years why he'd be playing with these settings weekly as if he was improving things. He was out front under the hood of the car tweaking away so he didn't have to be inside the house getting tweaked by the other 5 inhabitants. You see ... there are good reasons to tweak things and there are bad reasons.

The rules committee noticed some tendencies over the last couple of years and have issued a couple of points of emphasis for the upcoming season. Most of these points of emphasis have been valuable in tweaking the game and well received by the broader community. So ... right on for calling more diving and even two referees and the reasons for them. But piss on the shootout and the bad reasons for it.

The virtue of a tie game is not exceeded by the virtue of any other result. Ties are worthy. A tie is one of three possible outcomes in virtually any sporting competition. It is only the advent of technology that allows us to see .003 seconds between first and second place on a ski-hill or 100 meter dash. Before the most accurate technology we called those results a tie. I can't begin to understand how some "best of 10" one-on-one shootout is more important than the reality of what happened on the ice in the preceding 65 minutes.

You see ... while I'm a raging anti-establishment irreverence-loving cynic about the real world, I'm dead on serious conservative about one of the last sports I follow with any sort of passion. Yup, I'm a purist or whatever you want to call it.

Yeah I know everyone loves shootouts. I know they're "real exciting". I know the fans love them and probably every player is itching to get his chance taking one. But the problem here is that you're invalidating a perfectly rational natural potential outcome. They're telling us that when our team battled it's heart out in front of the hometown crowd for sixty minutes and held some behemothly more talented rival to a scoreless tie that there is no pride in that? Don't expect to come here in two or three years and expect me to treat shootouts as anything other than a stupid sideshow. They're an affront; a staged horseshit event that only a fractionally respresents the reality of the game.

There are any number of equally important facets of a full game that would equally represent the game as well as a shootout does. There's more hitting in a game than one-on-ones; why not a hitting contest to decide the game? A forward and a defenseman race to a puck sitting in the corner and viola! Wouldn't that be exciting? Whoever comes out with the puck the most times out of ten wins the game! Why not do use that more important facet as "the decider"?

Because it's stupid ... but I guarantee though it is a dramatically more important facet of gameplay than one-on-one skills. A naturally occurring one-on-one breakaway is truly exciting. No doubt about it. But how often does it happen? 5 times a game would be a lot of natural breakaways in my book. But going into the corner hard and challenging for a puck happens what ... um 50 times a game? Shootouts are the preferred method for only one reason that I can determine. To satisfy "the mob". It isn't because they represent the game or for any other good reason. So ultimately the rules committee is making these changes because they'd rather be tweaking than be tweaked. And the best way to avoid being tweaked by "the mob" is to get under hood and fool around. Sigh.

This change in our game is going to have serious strategic implications. Don't think for a second that some highly talented team that happens to be getting outplayed won't jump into neutral zone trap with eight and a half minutes to go in the 3rd in hopes of preserving a tie and taking their chances in the shootout. It'll happen, in fact that will likely become a league norm. Don't think for a second that some hot goalie won't get seriously run with 3 seconds left in overtime. It'll happen. Other leagues that use shootouts do so with 80 game schedules. There is a normative effect with a larger sampling that tends to even out the effect of shootouts on standings. That effect will be absent with a 32 game college season. It's wrong for a lot of reasons (besides just the stupid circus sideshow). Too bad it's our reality starting in 08-09.


Goon said...

Hey Donald in that same article on USCHO they basically say that they are trying to make NCAA hockey about skill. Maybe that means the refs will call the game the way its supposed to be called and penalize team that go into the hook hold mode to get to the shoot out.

Donald said...

You can use the neutral zone trap and slow a game down without hooking and grabbing. We see a lot of trapping already ... for example, in last years playoff game three the Gophers utilized a well executed neutral zone trap for the third period against UAA. It was a good tactic as UAA had used it at points during the first two games and it led to a win for both teams in the series. Shootouts will encourage the tactic late in tied games ... Both by home teams and road teams.

I can appreciate either style of game (wide-open/free-wheeling or trapping/defensive) but don't try to tell me you're "improving" the competition factor when your stated goals for competition (and the rules you've changed/emphasized to encourage a more wide open style).

I see the committee's stance as just grasping for reasonable sounding explanations when in truth they're (in essence) pandering to popularity (i.e ... "the mob") who are programmed for win and lose but can't appreciate a tie because ... well ... they're "the mob!" "The mob" isn't aware of complexies or dichotomies or true reason ... they're "the mob". Subtlties are beyond their comprehension. Their primal need for simplicity of only two choices instead of an apparently complicated 3rd must be satiated. People (some of them in "the mob") think we live in a world of absolutes ... we don't. Right is almost never only right and wrong is almost never only wrong.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Shootouts suck. Turning a team game into a one on one against the goalie is no way to determine a winner. It's a shame.

Anonymous said...

i can say there is a time and place like if a 4 game series ends up tied 2 games apeace and u cant fit a 5th game in yeah u have too but other then that throw them out

444 said...

I guess it is here to stay.

Goon said...

So donald does that mean we won't see you cheering when the games goes to a shoot out if your team wins?

I have hard time believe the WCHA will be able to fine enough competent officials to enact the two refs for every game.

Donald said...

When the first shootout happens at the Sully, I'll be walking out to my car. At least on those nights I'll be the first out of the parking lot. So in that sense shootouts will have one positive effect. I doubt that I'll be able to totally ignore the results here on the blog but I'll do my best. It may leave a bad enough taste in my mouth to quit going to the games. I'll give it a year I guess so Sully fans will have to put up with my cheering through the 08-09 season. After that ... the joint could be Donald-free.

Two refs just mean an acknowledgement of what's been happening. Linesman (er ... Assistant Refs) have been inappropriately calling more and more penalties over the last couple of years. At least from now on the guy(s) with the armband will make the calls while the nonbanded zebra will do what it's supposed to do: Call the lines (an excercise that is difficult enough for most of them).

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