This is somewhat amusing, unbelievable, and shameful at the same time.
Two high school basketball teams – Smyrna and Riverdale, who happen to be located in the Middle Tennessee county in which I live (though, thankfully, I did not attend either as a student) — purposefully tried to lose to each other on the court this past week. The teams intentionally stalled play, made unforced turnovers, deliberately missed free throws, played with backups instead of the usual starters, committed blatant on-court violations, and, at one point, even made as if they were going to shoot at the wrong net.
The referee policing the action finally had enough of the shenanigans and called out the coaches.
Turns out neither team wanted to win because that would pit them against a powerhouse team and possible elimination in the next round of the playoffs, according to published reports. Instead, they wanted the loss so that it would put them on the other side of the bracket where they would stand a better chance against the opponent over there. A win in that case would propel the team into the state playoffs.
Sounds like a Las Vegas sports fix. But these are high school teams!
To appreciate the irony of this further, you need to know that winning is par for the course in Rutherford County high school athletics. Coverage of high school sports has always been an emphasis at the local newspaper, where I used to work as an editor. The county has produced numerous state champions over the years. State playoff berths are as expected from them as much as Super Bowl appearances are expected of the New England Patriots. Anything less is almost taboo.
Hard play, execution and determination are the norm from these two teams.
Famed sports writer Grantland Rice — who was born in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and whose portrait once hung on the wall of my office in Murfreesboro — said: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
In this case, how the teams played the game was unbelievable, embarrassing and disrespectful.
The game was an insult to fans who paid money to see a legitimate contest between the two schools. Fans were clearly not in on the game plan of trying to lose in order to advance, and the fans took to voicing their disgust on Twitter as the game unfolded.
Nor was the plan to intentionally lose disguised very well. One player reportedly even signaled to the ref that she had made a three-second violation and the ref should blow the whistle on her.
Now that’s comedy.
What isn’t funny is what this says about sports and what it says about fair play. Whether this was an idea or a directive foisted upon the players by the individual coaches or whether it was something the players themselves decided to do, the result is the same. Their actions were dishonest and deplorable, and, quite frankly, akin to cheating.
Both teams have already been punished by being banned from the postseason altogether, put on probation for the following season, and each school fined. One coach has been suspended for two games and discipline may be forthcoming for the other.
Hopefully, the players will learn from their mistake as they go through college and beyond. Because, being duplicitous is not a highly sought after skill on job applications.
And you all thought deflating footballs was a new low.