Sunday, November 25, 2012

What's a College For?

This week Grinnell's Jack Taylor scored 138 points to break the NCAA single game scoring record.  I couldn't let that milestone achievement pass without a comment.

First, most of the things I heard about the performance were positive.  But there were a few comments that questioned the idea of one player, or one team, scoring that much.  One coach said to me, "That kind of gimmicky performance gives small college basketball a bad name."

I don't agree.  We all know there have been System critics since the day it was created.  Something this different is bound to be criticized, if for no other reason than that it is different.  If the complaint is based on the supposed "sportsmanship" issue, we've all heard that before.  And what does it matter, really, who scores the points?  If the issue is the margin of Grinnell's victory, this is an odd time to bring that up.  They've been winning big for a long time, and that's the nature of the System.  The Grinnell System is designed to maximize offensive production, at the risk of giving up a lot of points.  Grinnell has been beaten handily in the past.  So have my teams.  So has every System team.  When you choose this style, that's the risk you take, and despite what some critics might believe, I know that Grinnell does not routinely run up the score on opponents.  Quite the contrary, Coach A routinely slows the game down when his team has the game won.  He's always done that. 

But if the complaint is that it's somehow "wrong" to go outside the commonly accepted definition of "good basketball," in an effort to see what an individual player or a team is truly capable of, then I don't get it.  This game and this performance were examples of why Grinnell is good for college basketball.  And make no mistake, this was a landmark performance. To say, as my coaching friend did, that the performance was "gimmicky" is to ignore the fact that Grinnell played a fantastic game.  How is a 1.44 Offensive Efficiency Ratio (i.e points per possession) "gimmicky?"  Grinnell played a great game...  they just didn't play a great game using a conventional approach.

No, with 1800 other colleges in America dedicated to playing ball-control basketball, isn't it refreshing that there are one or two that are trying new approaches, and testing the limits of the game?  Isn't the purpose of going to college to "test your limits?"  Colleges and universities are not just places to earn a degree in order to get a higher paying job.  They are environments where we explore the boundaries of knowledge and human performance. 

That's what Jack Taylor did.  He showed what a college basketball player is capable of.  Grinnell has been pushing the boundaries for 20 years, demonstrating 22 nights a season from November to March that teams and individuals can do extraordinary things under the right conditions.  Grinnell has been a laboratory for such performances in exactly the same way that an exercise scientist at the University of Iowa uses his lab to measure and improve human performance.

The only difference?  At Iowa, they do it in the basement of the Chemistry Building, and publish the results in a prestigious research journal.  At Grinnell, they do it in Darby Gym, and broadcast the results on ESPN.

Well done, Grinnell College.  Well done, Jack Taylor.

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