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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ties in Sports: A Request

Crimson Tide excepted, I don't give a damn about sports, so I'm hoping my reader(s) can help me out. I'm looking for information about ties and/or draws in sports or games. I'm interested in the details and history but also, God help me, in the policy and philosophical issues: why some sports/games allow ties and some don't, why the trend seems to be moving away from them, and even what ties "mean" in some broader sense. Any citations, especially but not exclusively to policy or philosophical discussions, as well as your own opinions, would be greatly appreciated. Thank you! Obviously, it's for a paper on law and religion.

(By the way, I generally refuse to use the ugly neologism "bleg.")

Posted by Paul Horwitz on December 18, 2011 at 03:36 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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As has been mentioned earlier, soccer uses three points for a win in order to penalize teams that are too defensive. It was thought at one time that some teams (Italy?) essentially played for draws (or maybe 1-0 wins). The switch to three points coincided with a host of other changes that were made to discourage defensive play, including: (1) moving to a much faster paced and less predictable ball; (2) having multiple official match balls (to prevent teams from kicking the match ball into their supporters' end of the pitch to waste time); and (3) eliminating back passes to the goalie. There may well have been other changes done for the same reason.

Posted by: Stuart Ford | Dec 19, 2011 10:27:30 AM

Did this issue come up in 1983, when, as I recall, Nebraska's coach refused to play for the tie and instead went for 2 after a late touchdown. When the 2-pointer failed, Nebraska lost the national championship. Under current rules, Osborne kicks the ball and plays for OT under the same circumstances. But at the time, the meaning fo a win versus a tie was debated, I am sure.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 19, 2011 10:07:56 AM

Paul: One of the most infamous "ties" in judicial decisionmaking was a sports case--the Barry Bonds home run ball case. And the judge was roundly criticized for failing to fully decide the issue.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 19, 2011 8:45:28 AM

Thank you for all the strong and interesting points, which suggest again to me that: 1) lots of law professors are enthusiastic about opining on sports, even when 2) they're not sure they know the answers to the questions involved. Seriously, I thought there was a lot of useful information here and thank everyone. I still am curious whether there's a literature out there that discusses when, whether, and why ties should or shouldn't be used and some of the philosophical debates, if any, within the "philosophy of sports" literature (which I assume exists somewhere) on these questions. I like the class suggestions, which I find quite interesting.

I think I'll mostly save my explanation of the connection to law and religion for now, not least because I'd be curious to see what other people think the connection might be. I can say that, more or less in keeping with some of what I write in The Agnostic Age and with what other "tragedians" of law and religion, like Marc DeGirolami, are writing, the connection is prompted in part by my wondering whether law and religion is the kind of area where "ties" are advisable, inadvisable, or inevitable. Of course judges need to decide cases, so in that sense we might say that ties are generally anathema to law, or at least to judicial decision-making. But I'm not sure how true that is, and in any event the possibility that "ties" are a bad thing in law does not mean they are not inevitable in certain areas. Thanks again and by all means keep the ideas and especially the cites, if any, coming.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Dec 19, 2011 6:27:51 AM

Junior Mint: good point re tennis. But if this were a gentleman's game of tennis, I would of course have to wear whites with a collared shirt, call your shot in if I weren't sure, say "sorry" if my ball hit the net and dribbled over, and likely have to share a gin and tonic with you after the match. And there were no modern tiebreakers. And pros weren't allowed to play at Wimbledon until 1968.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Dec 18, 2011 4:23:15 PM

In response to the comment "Sports and games that were historically the province of the upper classes - football (both kinds), chess - in which the participants undertook the sport or game for the love of the game were less likely to require a victorious outcome," I counter with tennis. I wonder if "win by 2" counters or exacerbates the effect.

Posted by: junior mint | Dec 18, 2011 4:06:16 PM

Anon, good nurse!

Ties were traditionally valued at 1 point and wins at 2 points in association football (soccer), until the English FA in 1981 switched to three-points-for-a-win to encourage more attacking play. FIFA moved to 3 points for wins for the 1994 World Cup. The goal of 3 points for the win was goals, plain and simple...

Posted by: D.Schleicher | Dec 18, 2011 3:44:26 PM

Good Nurse: This is a guess: But when a game goes to penalty kicks, it is considered a tie (one point each). Then the team that won the shootout gets an additional point. So doing that requires a third category--three points--for a team that wins outright.

James: I think your statistical theory somewhat jibes with mine. We keep playing in those sports (baseball comes to mind) when extra play is likely to produce a score and thus determine a superior team.

Paul: I'm dying to know how this ties back to law and religion.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 18, 2011 2:41:56 PM

Rugby allows for ties during the regular season (playoffs/world cup necessitate finding a winner). Rugby is historically an upper-class game as opposed to soccer (low class) (in England not sure about other countries).

Posted by: GU | Dec 18, 2011 1:35:23 PM

Different cultures can have different attitudes towards tie games, even in the same game.

In American professional baseball, for example, tie games are completely rejected. Once a game has become "legal" (at 4.5 or 5 innings), it can be suspended (due to weather or other external factors) while the score is tied, but the game must be resumed and played to completion (with a winner and loser) at some other time.

If two teams met for the final game of the regular season, and it was suspended as a legal game with the score tied, then the game probably would never be played to completion (unless the outcome affected the postseason). But even in this case, I think it would go into the record books as a "suspended game" (i.e. incomplete), not as a "tie game".

In Japanese professional baseball, on the other hand, tie games are quite acceptable, and they occur commonly. I think that they can even occur in the postseason, in which case the game must be replayed.

Posted by: BJT | Dec 18, 2011 1:26:32 PM

Isn't that an exception that completely swallows the rule? I'm just saying.

Posted by: David Case | Dec 18, 2011 1:14:53 PM

Alabama and LSU each had six points at the end of regulation in this year's football game. If the game had ended then (which it should have), most of the controversy about the rematch for the BCS Championship would have been avoided. With one tie each, far fewer would have disputed that the two teams should meet again.

Posted by: Fred Vars | Dec 18, 2011 12:33:28 PM

Not sure if this fits the bill, but there was a bit of controversy a couple years back when Donovan McNabb (then QB for the Philadelphia Eagles) noted in a postgame press conference that he didn't know there were ties in the NFL. Some links below:

Interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MVZg639gJ4
ESPN Commentary: http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=3709095 (mentions that ties were "fully adopted" for NFL regular-season games in 1974)

As an avid (my wife would say obsessed) sports fan and law & religion junkie, I'm REALLY looking forward to learning how this sports issue provides insight into law & religion.

Posted by: Michael Helfand | Dec 18, 2011 12:22:54 PM

The most popular sport in the world, soccer / football, allows for ties. I don't think it's a coincidence that soccer / football is the most popular sport in almost every country except America. I would suggest that American culture demands a winner and rejects ties, while non-American cultures are ok with them.
Playing for a tie is an acceptable strategy in soccer / football, especially against a superior opponent. Thus, defense is rewarded. Americans want offense, and point scoring.
What support do I have for this, other than idle musings? None.

Posted by: anon prof | Dec 18, 2011 11:43:13 AM

Just to tie the last two comments together. HAD I written the senior thesis at Michigan, no doubt James' mother, Jan, then a grad student and one of the graders of my papers in the American history survey course, would have read it. James, tell your mom I think ties are Gemeinschaft and wins are Gesellschaft.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Dec 18, 2011 11:33:42 AM

One thing that always interested me was the difference in how ties are valued in the various sports. Specifically, in hockey and (now only pro) football, a tie is valued at half a win -- point-wise in hockey (1 point versus 2), and statistically in football (it counts as half a win and half a loss when determining the all-important winning percentage). Conversely, in soccer, a tie is valued at one third of a win (1 point versus three). Why? What are the sports trying to incentivize?

Posted by: Anon, good nurse! | Dec 18, 2011 11:30:49 AM

A statistical theory: a tie is a set of observations of the teams' respective quality that fails to reject the null hypothesis that their quality is equal with sufficient confidence. Sports allow ties when the costs of further observations aren't justified by the additional likelihood of determining a superior team with meaningful confidence. Yes, this is a poor theory in terms of fitting the available data, but it's fun.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Dec 18, 2011 10:16:25 AM

How about a sociological theory? Sports and games that were historically the province of the upper classes - football (both kinds), chess - in which the participants undertook the sport or game for the love of the game were less likely to require a victorious outcome. Baseball was the first widely professional sport (I'm pretty sure), largely populated by the immigrant and lower classes, and was played to win. As long as you are watching a lot of movies, take a look at "Chariots of Fire" again, particularly the scene where Masters of Trinity and Gonville and Caius (John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson) are berating Harold Abrahams for training with the attitude of a professional. Abrahams says "you want me to win as much I do." They respond, "not at the expense of being a tradesman." You might also look at the writings of Baron de Coubertin, who was the founder of the modern Olympic games.

The senior history thesis I never did, some 36 years ago, was to be about the professionalization of college sports, using the resources of the Michigan athletic department and the two historical libraries.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Dec 18, 2011 9:33:39 AM

Not sure if you're looking for examples, but it seems to me that the controversial result in the MLB all-star game in 2002 coincides with the beginning of the trend away from ties:

See http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/2002/allstar/news/2002/07/09/allstar_game_ap/

Posted by: FifthYearLawProf | Dec 18, 2011 8:16:15 AM

Sport is a competition, the fundamental purpose being to determine a winner (that is, which team is better on that given day). Ties mean there is no winner, so the game somehow failed to achieve its purpose. The saying (purportedly dating to the early 1950s) is that "a tie is like kissing your sister"--fundamentally unsatisfying.

Ties generally were accepted in almost all sports until fairly recently. Historically, only basketball and baseball fundamentally rejected tie games. As to why, I would speculate that, because basketball is so high-scoring, the expectation has always been that an extra period will produce a winner. And baseball is untimed, so it could be thought of as not having "ended" after nine innings if no team lead. The rise of lights (other than at Wrigley) in the 1930s made ties even more rare.

The trend away from ties (or, more precisely, towards mechanisms to break ties) coincides with the dramatic expansion of money, media, and public interest in sports. Not only are tie games fundamentally unsatisfying, but they implicate championships, which implicate money.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 18, 2011 7:23:31 AM

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