Jim Caldwell's Decision Exposes a Bigger Problem in American Sports

Paul SieversAnalyst IDecember 29, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - DECEMBER 13: Jim Caldwell the Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts is pictured during the NFL game against the Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 13, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts won 28-16. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

As most college basketball fans will tell you, if you find yourself agreeing with Doug Gottlieb you should seek immediate psychiatric help.

However, today I found myself listening to his show on ESPN radio and for a change he wasn’t stirring the pot; instead he actually made a valid point regarding Colts head coach Jim Caldwell’s decision to bench his best players for most of the second half against the Jets.

Unless you have either been on the lam or spending the week in Yemen, you are probably aware that the Indianapolis Colts decided it was in their best interest to sit their best players at the end of the Sunday’s game against the Jets.

The Colts went on to lose their first game of the season, blowing a chance to become only the second team in NFL history to finish an entire season without a loss.

Today, America reacted.

Anybody who spoke out against Caldwell’s decision had one of three objections.

1) Resting the players will not help the Colts win a Super Bowl.

2) The Colts owed it to the other teams fighting the Jets for a playoff spot to try their hardest to win.

3) The Colts owed it to the history of the game to try to duplicate the accomplishment of the 1972 Dolphins.

The first objection is highly debatable and really has nothing to do with this article. The second objection also has nothing to do with what I am about to write (though I personally don’t believe the Colts owe any body else in the league anything and the teams competing with the Jets for a playoff spot should be more worried about themselves).

It’s the history buffs who I have a problem with. The people who filed the third objection are the ones who pushed Gottlieb to actually make sense.

Gottlieb’s argument was essentially that we have created in American sports where the only thing that matters is the title. He cited the 2007 Patriots and a pre-2009 Alex Rodriguez as a team and a player who spent the regular season proving they were the best their respective sport had to offer but because they failed to win the big one, they are now looked at as inferior.

And that is in my mind the least logical thing about American sports, even less logical than calling our league champions “World Champions.”

Many of the talking heads heard all over television and radio today making the argument that the Colts owed it to the history of the league to play their starters all four quarters are the same people who scoff when college football fans say their sport has “the best regular season of the American sports.”

They are also the same people who will probably have votes on the NFL “team of the decade.” None of these people will select the 2007 New England Patriots despite the fact that they had the best single season winning percentage (.947 including playoffs) of any team this decade and would probably win any hypothetical match up against any of the Super Bowl champions this decade.

The reason the 2007 Pats wont be recognized as the team of the decade is simple, they didn’t win the Super Bowl that year. Their one loss was in the big one.

After hearing all day today that pro-athletes are conditioned to play their hardest no matter what, am I really supposed to believe that in 2007 the Giants were able to dig a little deeper and prove they were the best team in football? Or am I supposed to stick to my guns and believe that the 2007 Pats just picked a really poor time to have a bad game?

What about A-Rod, am I really supposed to believe when he underachieves in October that he’s really not that good even though he just spent 162 games proving himself to be the best in the game?

Lets face it, the way we pick our champions in American sports is asinine.

While the NBA and NHL use slightly more effective playoff methods than the NFL or MLB, we use extremely small sample sizes to pick our winner. In most cases the regular season is probably a better way of determining the best team.

Compare this with the English Premier League where teams play in two single elimination tournaments (not including European tournaments) in addtion to the regular season, allowing their teams to win one of three different championships in a given year. Of those three champions it is genearly understood that the champion of the Premier League regular season is the king of English football (err Soccer).

I’m not suggesting we change our playoff systems, given the amount of money generated by the current setups it really isn’t practical to make brash changes. I’m just wondering if there isn’t enough import placed on regular season greatness.

What if 16-0 meant something without a playoff championship? What if the Colts only needed two wins to secure their place alongside the 1972 Dolphins and 2007 Patriots as the greatest teams of all time?

If there was incentive to achieve greatness in the regular season, the debate would have changed to “should Jim Caldwell chase history en route to a regular season championship or should they rest their players and be better prepared to win the regular season and playoff championships?”

What if the Colts only needed to beat the Jets and Bills to achieve immortality at opposed beating the Jets, Bills and three games against elite competition; oh by the way if you lose one of your last three your 16-0 regular season will merely be a footnote? Maybe Jim Caldwell plays Payton Manning and Co. all four quarters.

I’m not sure what the answer is. All I know is that as a Jet fan I’m happy as hell that Jim Caldwell chose to act in what he believed to be his team’s best interest and that he was merely doing what he believed he needed to do to achieve historical relevance for his football team.

And if you have a problem that Jim Caldwell and the Colts opted against trying to make history, maybe you should blame the system first.


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