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If you follow college football, you’ve probably run across Ohio State a time or two. Their football program is very old and very prestigious.
But I’m still cringing at the thought of watching them get beaten by Oregon at the Rose Bowl. (Yes I’m fairly certain they’ll lose although I do hope I’m wrong.) As a Big Ten fan, I’m really tired of watching Ohio State get hammered in these big, national games.
(Of course, if MY team, the Wisconsin Badgers, would ever actually beat them in conference, maybe all of this would be different but I digress.)
For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Why did Ohio State win so darn many games only to consistently embarrass the Big Ten in big out-of-conference games? Jim Tressel is an excellent coach. Isn’t he?
Well, this year I finally got my answer. Yes Jim Tressel is an excellent coach. But he plays not to lose. He doesn’t play to win.
And that, my friends, is why he loses the big games. Because those teams come to win. And Tressel is coming not to lose. (And that’s why he’s probably gong to lose to Oregon at the Rose Bowl because Oregon has been playing to win all season.)
So what exactly does it mean to play not to lose? Well it means playing very conservatively. You punt the ball rather than going for it on 4th and short. You go for the field goal rather than the touchdown. You build very strong defenses. You commit very few penalties. You have a very well coached team.
It also means you don’t take chances. You don’t have quarterbacks that heave the ball down the field in broken plays that can result in an interception or an 80-yard touchdown. You also don’t win a lot of shootouts. And if your game plan isn’t working, you don’t have a lot of options because winging it isn’t something you do.
And you’re also pretty uninteresting to watch. (Sorry Buckeye fans but it’s true.)
Now, can you win games playing not to lose? Absolutely. Tressel has a very respectable record. (Much better than my Badgers.) He’s won the Big Ten Title nearly every year.
The problem happens when he gets to the big games. Now I’m not a coach nor did I ever play football but I do watch a lot of it and here’s what I think happens. If you’re not able to prevent Ohio from executing their game plan, you’re toast. If Ohio can execute their game plan, they’re going to do it very well and probably beat you.
But, if you throw a wrench in that game plan, if you throw them off, well then Ohio has a problem. They’re not good at improvising nor do they take chances. And if you don’t take a chance, especially when the chips are down, you’re probably not going to win those games.
So what about you? Are you playing not to lose or are you playing to win? Sure you can do well playing not to lose, but you’re never going to play as big of a game as you could be. Play to win, sure you might fall on your face from time to time but you’ll probably end up playing bigger than you ever thought possible.
So what does it mean to play to win or play not to lose? I’ll talk about that more in next week’s article.