who’s the real loser?

Above photo courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eli_Manning_New_York_Giants_Ole_Miss_Rebels.png

Recently, I attended the Michigan Men’s basketball team’s game against Villanova at the Barclays Center. While this was a very close game, I was heartbroken to see Irvin’s game winning shot blocked and to see my phone explode with text messages from all of my friends who attend Villanova (This is what happens when you live 30 minutes away from the school you are playing). But the play after was more appalling – to see the in-bounds pass thrown out of bounds instead of to someone was a shocking lack of communication and it ultimately cost Michigan the game, and championship.

On the other hand, I also attended the Philadelphia Eagles play the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on October 12th to witness the Giants get obliterated 27-0. The Giants were run out of the building, as was I by all of the heckling Eagles fans. It was a shame to watch a team who had been playing well at this point in the season (things have since changed) get slaughtered by a team whom I felt was overrated at the time (I still do, but less so).

Chip_Kelly_SmileYet what do these two events have in common? Almost nothing. Actually, they were opposites, which is why I think it is important to analyze the outcomes of each game and to figure out why they happened as they did. Villanova’s Men’s basketball team starts three seniors (one redshirted), and two juniors (one redshirted), whereas John Beilein’s Michigan Wolverines start one junior, two sophomores, and two freshmen (one redshirted). On top of that, the seventh man in the rotation is a freshman as well. On the other side, the Eagles have had a consistently young roster under Chip Kelly, while the Giants are continually sputtering, trying to hold onto players from their incredible run in the 2011 playoffs.

I think Professor Mika LaVeque-Manty would be intrigued by these two situations, as they present opposing viewpoints as to what the disability is in this scenario. Is the disability age, or is the disability experience? In his book The Playing Fields of Eton, Professor Manty wrote a chapter entitled, “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities.” The premise of this chapter is that women are inherently disadvantaged in athletics, but also in life as a whole. But on top of that, there are many different things that can are constituted as disabilities, and in fact the creation of a category creates a disability. For example, weight classes in wrestling imply that lack of weight is a disability because a lightweight could not handle him/herself against a more formidable opponent.

In the same light, I am going to argue that age can be both an advantage and a disability, something that Professor Manty does not completely address in his chapter. I think that is partially because age is a much more questionable attribute and it would probably weaken his argument, but it is important to see the effect age has on the quality of someone’s participation.

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Is age a disability or an advantage?

In the case of Michigan basketball, there are several different things that could affect their performance on the court. With such a young core, there are multiple issues stemming from the maturity of the players, the first of which being their willingness to learn and comply with the system. Frequently, young superstar players (like the individuals on our team, ie: the Sixers) want to be stars and have the chance to do it all themselves instead of learning how to be a part of the system and play their own role. Although Coach Beilein told the members of Maize Rage that the younger kids are being very involved, there were many times during the game against Villanova in which it became clear some of the younger players were trying to win the game themselves instead of doing what was asked of them.

The Heat are a great example of a team comprised of five good players - they lost to the more cohesive Spurs in 2014

The Heat are a great example of a team comprised of five good players – they lost to the more cohesive Spurs in 2014

Along with that, the Villanova team was much more impressive in their ability to play as a cohesive unit instead of five players. Watching this game, I thought of the saying my junior year APUSH teacher had at the bottom of his emails: “I would rather have the best five than the five best.” Villanova’s ability to play as a team is what won them the game against Michigan, and that is why I think in this case age is an advantage. The Villanova team had been playing and practicing with each other for several years (seeing as they are all upperclassmen), while the young Michigan squad began playing together over the summer. Their ability to grow as a unit came from the amount of time they spent together, which is why they found more success than a team with less experience.

On the other hand, the ‘cohesive unit’ of the 2014 New York Giants is one of the most pitiful football teams I have ever seen in my life. Their roster is full of returning players who have an incredible amount of experience and football IQ, but that has clearly not helped them in the same way it helped Villanova. When playing the Eagles, the Giants were pummeled and outrun by a much younger, fitter Eagles team. On top of that, this season is only their second year running Chip Kelly’s relatively revolutionary (at least on NFL standards) high-flying spread offense. Watching this game, it seemed that age was a disability. The Giants were unable to keep up with their fast opponents and were very exhausted by the end of the game.

Overall, I think that age is something that can be seen as a disability when team members are immature and unable to sacrifice what they want for the greater unit of the team. But when players are willing to sacrifice their own success for the greater good, that is when age becomes a disability because the younger, more physically fit players are going to outperform the veterans.

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3 comments

  1. benlangt · December 2, 2014

    I hated to see the Michigan Wolverines basketball lose in that fashion against Villanova. They came so close to still being undefeated. In regards to the Giants, who I am not a fan of, I could have cared less whether or not they lost to the Eagles. I think you took an interesting approach in analyzing these two sporting events. I can see how age can play a significant role in performance, but I wouldn’t say there is a trend across all sports. Let’s take Kobe Bryant for example. He is almost 40 years old and is still playing quality basketball. He has fought numerous injuries, that come with age, to continue to play the game he loves. I would have to agree that youth is usually closely linked with mental immaturity as previously stated. But I also believe it has to do with chemistry and finding the right combination that works the best for the team. Due to the examples, it is clear to me that there is no correlation between success in sports and age. However, there is a correlation to Mika Laveque-Manty’s “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities”.

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  2. maxmcquaid · December 2, 2014

    It is interesting to think about how age can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. While I do think that maturity is a very good point, I actually think Michigan is a pretty unselfish and mature team. Everyone knows their role, and they play it. I think that Villanova’s age helped them not because of maturity but because of experience. They know how to stay cool under pressure and how to keep control in a close game. We got frantic, and made some major mistakes. Also like you said, they have been playing together for years.

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  3. johnoett · December 2, 2014

    This post provides an interesting perspective on age, but I think you need to look at the context of the differences in age a little more. In the case of Michigan and Villanova, our players are mostly 18-20, while theirs are 20-22. At an age range this young, all of the players have the same athletic statures and abilities, and the added experience of the Villanova players give them an advantage. Looking at the Giants and Eagles, some of the older players on the Giants are reaching their mid thirties, while the young stars are usually 20-25. In this case, the physical difference is much greater. In college, all athletes are at their physical peak, while that is not the case in the pros. For this reason, I don’t know if you can compare the importance of age at the two levels of competition.

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