Raising the Bar

University of Michigan Rugby Football Club crest

The two live University of Michigan sporting events I attended were actually the same sport; rugby. Now I know most people are now thinking three things, one is “we have a rugby team?”, the second is “what is rugby?”, and the last is “how can you compare two sporting events that were the same sport?”. Before I get into my comparison I should first answer these question. To the first question my answer is, yes, we do have a University of Michigan Rugby Team, and a good one at that. My answer to the second question is slightly more complicated. Rugby is a sport played on field similar to that of a football field. The ball used looks a little like a football and, again, similar to football, the main way to score is to cross a line, defended by the opposing team. It is obviously more complicated than that but essentially one teams goal is to move the ball down the field either by running or passing it (all passes must be backwards) or a combination of the two. The opposing team’s objective is to stop them, by tackling the ball carrier, and eventually to turn the ball over (done many different ways) so that they now have possession and become the offensive team. My answer to the last question is that if you watch any two sporting events closely enough you can write an in depth comparison of the two even if it is the same sport, teams, and even score. The first game was played a few weeks ago and was against the University

Senior, and team captain, Joel Conzelmann running up-field

of Wisconsin, who is now ranked 3rd in the Big 10 and 17th in the country. The second game was this past weekend and was against Purdue University who is ranked 8th in the Big 10 and unranked in the nation. There were many differences in these games but I will focus on the differences in the quality of the opponent and how that effected the result of the game. When I say result of the game I am not talking about the final score, though there was a large difference in that as well, but rather the quality of rugby played by the University of Michigan. While there are probably a million difference between the two games besides the difference in teams (injuries, game plan, home vs. away, etc.), I believe the biggest reason for the difference in play was our opponent. When we were playing Wisconsin not only did we have a far better week of practice, but in the game itself we played better rugby. Tackles were perfect form, passes were clean, lines were run with pace, and communication on the field was loud and constant. It ended up being a close game (reasonable as Wisconsin is a very good team) but we got the win. Going into our game against Purdue practice was a little different. Players jogged instead of sprinting, sloppy trick plays were attempted, and there was no sense of urgency. Come game day the same problems persisted. Defensively players were going for a risky strip as opposed to a sure-fire tackle. Offensively, players were skipping the correct pass and taking the ball themselves, not communicating, and running side to side to try and find huge gaps as opposed to driving up the field as they should. Come the end of the game we had blown Purdue out posting almost 100 points and keeping them to single digits. This result, as you may expect, would usually delight a coach, but he was disappointed in the result and for good reason. This is where the connection to political theory comes in, In politics, just as in sports, and more specifically University of Michigan rugby, when the level of competition increases, so does performance. As my examples show we played far better rugby when we were playing a better team. This because it was what we had to do to win. Now think to November elections. In certain states, usually ones at either polar end of the spectrum, there is a candidate who will clearly win. Very little money is put in by the opposing national committee and very little media attention is given. However, I would argue this is one of

Linda McMahon (left) and Chris Murphy (right) after one of many long and hard fought debates

the most dangerous places to be as a politician. This is when campaigns getsloppy, scandals occur, and careers change for the worst. Even if said candidate wins the election as projected and there are no major negative events, it is not a “good campaign race”. I would define this as one in which both candidates are forced to reveal specifics about their plans, and there is a significant amount of transparency regarding candidates past, and intentions for the future. This is what happens when a race is competitive. Take the Connecticut senatorial race between Linda McMahon and Chris Murphy for example. This race was not decided until the very end and during the campaign debates both candidates, with help from the media, forced each other to take clear stands on issues as opposed to being vague. Each candidate’s campaign teams were also able to dig up things from there opponent’s past that helped create a clear picture for voters as to what they were going to get in whomever they voted for. This is what I would consider a “good campaign race” and it is all because there was a good level of competition just like our game against Wisconsin, far better than an election blow out just like our game against Purdue.

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2 thoughts on “Raising the Bar

  1. I liked your comparison of sports competition to political campaign competition. It is very true that the public does not view a game or debate worth watching unless the opponents are of equal intensity and/or talent. Performance can, of course, still be high, yet a true measure of skill is apparent against another high performing team or individual. There is a clear comparison in what competition means for the contestants. It is easier to become lazy on dribbling or passes in a basketball game if the other team are poor defenders. Similarly, politicians can easily talk circles around certain political issues if their opponent’s stand on the issues is unclear or they have a weak argument. I think your blog post title was perfect to describe both the reality of competition and to inspire others to consider these aspects.

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  2. You make a very interesting comparison between the two very different rugby matches and the allocation of campaign funds and attention by political candidates. I see how this comparison does make some sense, but the limit of monetary resources in politics is different from the amount of effort that an athletic team can put in. In other words, had the rugby team put in sufficient effort in the week of the Purdue game, they would not have been cost effort in the future; however, if a politician were to utilize a larger sum of money and time in a state that will almost definitely vote one way, then he loses this same amount of money and time that could be used in a swing state, thus making the strategy of putting equal effort into every state a less effective strategy. This is a very interesting comparison though.

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