When college football hands out its annual awards, which player deserves what according to the awards' mission statements often stirs up a lot of debate among voters.
Some awards, like the Heisman Trophy, define their winner as the "outstanding college football player" while other awards, such as the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, is awarded to "the best defensive player" in college football.
Is there a difference between outstanding and best? Is there a difference between most outstanding and most valuable?
Valuable is defined as:
1. Having considerable monetary or material value for use or exchange: a valuable diamond.
2. Of great importance, use, or service.
If we consider this in jewelry standards, a valuable diamond may not necessarily be the best diamond—it could be a diamond that is the biggest or has some sort of history attached to it that makes it more valuable than an identical diamond without that history.
Outstanding is defined as:
1. Standing out among others of its kind; prominent.
2. Superior to others of its kind; distinguished.
This definition is a little muddled because technically—if we again use a diamond as an example—there can be several outstanding diamonds in a collection. Or, you can look at it this way: If your child comes home with four "A's" and two "B's" on his report card, he had four outstanding grades. One "A" is not superior to another.
Outstanding doesn't necessarily mean the best. And neither does most valuable.
In the world of athletics, the most valuable player is generally assumed to be the one player that is most important to the team. Can the team win without him?
He may not be the best player, but he's the most important player. He usually is considered a leader and is the heart and soul of the team. But make no mistake, his value is to his own team, not necessarily to every team in the country.
To illustrate how one thing can be more valuable to one person than another, consider the law of supply and demand in unusual circumstances.
Natural disaster victims are frequently the victims of price-gouging because ordinary items needed for human survival—such as water—become more valuable. Is a gallon of bottled water worth $10? It is if you have no access to clean water. Meanwhile, everyone else is drinking free water from the tap. Value changes according to one's needs.
Now that we understand the difference between outstanding and most valuable, let's consider the Heisman Trophy's mission statement.
"The Heisman Memorial trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability, combined with diligence, perseverance and hard work."
There are several things about that statement that are worth noting. First, the trophy isn't given to the most outstanding college football player, it's given to one outstanding football player.
Second, no superlatives (ie- best, greatest, most) are used to describe the player's attributes. "Winners epitomize great ability" is different than "Winners epitomize the greatest ability."
The only time "best" is used in the mission statement is where it describes a player's performance in terms of "pursuit of excellence with integrity." In other words, it's not best performance—it's which performance by a player best showed his quest to be excellent.
All three Heisman finalists—Collin Klein, Johnny Manziel and Manti Te'o—may have not been the most accurate passer or the best tackler in college football but they certainly, through their actions on the field, performed beautifully in striving for excellence.
They're all outstanding. And coincidentally, they're all probably the most valuable player on their respective teams.