Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Next Tuesday, April 20th, is my last day of classes before final exams that run until the end of the month. My teaching evaluations tend to be supportive, but if I were to announce on the 20th that I had decided to extend school for an extra week there would be an uproar approaching a riot. Few students, if any at all, would think this was a good bang for their buck--an extra week of classes for the same tuition dollar. There would be a petition and I would likely have to answer to someone at the university who is in a loftier position.

I had a Statistics professor in graduate school who commented that education was the one thing that people are willing to pay for, but don't care if they get. The quip was funny, and in many ways right on target. Some other time I might write about why his remark is on target in many, but not all, ways.

On Sunday night I watched a replay of the shootout between the Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. Their game was the last one of the regular season and as it turned out, the contest determined which team's season would continue.

The Rangers and Flyers were deadlocked prior to the game. The winner would make the playoffs. The loser would go home. End of season. The score at the end of regulation was 1-1. There was no score at the end of the 5 minute overtime. When this occurs during the regular season, the NHL determines the victor by conducting what is called a shootout.

A shootout in hockey means that each team selects three players and each of these players is allowed to skate toward the opponent's goaltender undefended in an attempt to score a goal. After each team has three attempts, the team that has scored the greater number of shootout goals is determined to be the winner. If the score is still tied after three players have attempted to score, then another player is selected from each team and the shootout continues until one team has scored more than the opponent.

The shootout, in my opinion, might be exciting, but it is idiotic. It is like deciding the winner in a baseball game that ends in a tie, by deciding how many of three selected players can hit a fungo out of the stadium.

But a shootout is the way ties are broken in the regular season in hockey. So that is the way the Rangers/Flyers game was decided and it determined whose season would continue and whose season would abruptly end.

The Flyers scored two out of their three times. The Rangers scored one out of their first two. When the third Ranger was unable to score a goal something predictable happened.

The Flyers erupted in joyful celebration. The Rangers sagged knowing the season was over. They would have to stop working. The Flyers could continue to work.

My students would riot if I extended their work. The Flyers exulted.

Something about sport and the joy of competition in this contrasting dichotomy.

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