"Injustice, if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice."
-Thrasymachus (Plato's Republic)
Part of the fun for me this season with the Mid-Majority is being a neutral, not having a dog (or a cat, chanticleer, or paladin) in the fight. The perspective of not being wholly concerned with the result has allowed me to just enjoy our game, but -- more importantly to me -- the things that make it great, some of which don't take place on the court at all.
But if I do have a rooting interest below the Red Line, it lies with Yale, nearly within walking distance of my current residence. Payne Whitney Gym, which includes Lee Amphitheater, is my favorite college facility because of its ancient architecture, its sightlines, and simply the fact that it houses the hometown team (stupid bias kicking in again), the one I grew up with.
Saturday night was it for Yale's 2011-12 home schedule, Senior Night, which would see off Greg Mangano and Reggie Willhite (along with Brian Katz and Rhett Anderson), both of whom had great careers, and kicked it up a notch in their senior year. A 71-40 thrashing of Cornell made for a perfect send-off and moved the Bulldogs to 19-7 (9-3 in the Ivy). To put that in perspective, with a win at Princeton or Penn this weekend, Yale would win 20 games for only the second time in a half-century.
(They won 21 in 2001-02, also under current coach James Jones, who won his 100th Ivy League game Saturday, good for fifth all-time, believe it or not.)
It was quite the turnaround for the Big Red from the last time I saw them in New Haven. Two years ago, they had already clinched the Ivy League title by the time they got here, and went on to the Sweet 16. Now they were 11-15, just 2-13 on the road, and in the middle of the Ivy pack.
(I miss former coach Steve Donahue and his ubiquitous whistle after every basket which told his charges what defense they were in, which he changed a lot when he was at Cornell. I've watched a couple of Boston College games on TV this season, and can hear that whistle, and it makes me sad. Sadder still that his Eagles are terrible, but such is life.)
About the time Yale was putting Cornell away with a run early in the second half, my mind -- somewhat fittingly on an Ivy League campus, I guess -- drifted toward the idea of justice and fairness, the differences between the two, and how it relates to mid-major basketball and the Ivy League.
(Maybe if Yale would have let me in to their school, I could have written a thesis on it. Because, of course, that's exactly what the world needs, right? But I certainly wasn't this clever.)
Specifically, as you're probably well aware, I was pondering why the Ivy League doesn't have a winner-take-all tournament, one of the best traditions in all of sports, forget about college basketball. I looked at Yale, with Mangano and Willhite dominating, heard about Harvard struggling again at home and thought, 'God, Yale actually might be able to win an Ivy League Tournament this season.' Keep in mind Yale hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1962. I've heard it was a wee bit different then.
(It should be pointed out that Yale holds out hope that if it can sweep its games and Harvard finds a way to lose at Columbia or Cornell this weekend, there would be a playoff, possibly a three-way with Penn, which would serve like a tournament. But play along with me for the purposes of my argument, will you?)
Shouldn't Mangano and Willhite be able to go out there with everything on the line one more time? To go out in a blaze of glory like everyone else that plays in obscurity below the Red Line? The Ivy, just like the stereotype, is behind the times.
Or is it? I've long been a defender of the Ivy system. Isn't the most just system the one that rewards the regular season, a long-term grind that weeds out weak hearts, weak minds, and weak point guards? Why should a team be able to get hot for three or four games and get all the glory at the expense of someone that has proved to be the best all season?
On any rational or coherent level, Championship Fortnight, these two weeks we hold so dear, doesn't make any sense.
But, then again, if you think hard enough (preferably like Rodin imagined), maybe it does.
Thrasymachus would not be a friend of the Mid-Majority. As one of Socrates' antagonists in Plato's Republic, his most famous stance was that the best definition of justice is that it should serve the interests of the stronger, this this behavior would trickle down (Voodoo Economics is loosely based on this) and ultimately benefit the rest of the society (sounds like the NCAA model).
You can read The Republic for yourself, you don't need the SparkNotes from me, but basically Socrates (a personal hero and most assuredly a champion of those below the Red Line) spins the argument as he always does so adroitly.
At first, it was about defining justice, but is it worth it to be just? Socrates eventually puts his sophist friend in his place by proving that justice is desirable.
But, in walking around Yale's gym for one final time this season, I was left to doubt Socrates in this instance. Aren't fairness and justice two different things?
It seems like we can agree that the most just thing to do is send the regular season champion for each conference to the NCAA Tournament. However, is that fair? How much publicity would be lost for all of our small schools, and how many memorable moments for both the players and the fans would be lost forever?
Of course, John Rawls wrote about this at length much more recently than Socrates. In A Theory Of Justice, Rawls wrote, "The only thing that permits us to acquiesce in an erroneous theory is the lack of a better one; analogously, an injustice is tolerable only when it is necessary to avoid an even greater injustice."
So what is the greater injustice: having a regular season champion get unceremoniously dumped in their conference tournament, or the elimination of Championship Fortnight, a tradition that has given us so many memories, so many great stories, and a chance for the little guy to get a shot to get noticed on national television?
I think we know the answer to that question.
So, thanks to logical arguments, I (and hopefully you) can enjoy the next 10 days or so in peace.
It won't help Mangano and Yale, though. Jones was able to get his seniors out before the end, giving them the ovation they deserved from the home faithful. After the teams shook hands, Mangano loitered a little on his home floor. He looked up and waved at his parents and walked slowly to the exit that leads to the locker room. A step from the door, he turned and looked one last time. And then he was gone.
Had he been a college basketball guy, Rawls might have been able to help Yale this season.
But maybe not. He was a Harvard professor after all.
There are some things in life that are more important than justice or fairness.
at YALE 71, CORNELL 40 02/25/2012
CORNELL 11-15 (6-6) -- C. Wroblewski 2-10 6-6 10; D. Ferry 2-9 0-0 5; S. Miller 2-10 0-0 5; E. Chemerinski 1-5 0-0 2; J. Gray 2-11 0-0 5; D. Tarwater 2-6 0-0 4; D. Giddens 1-1 0-0 2; M. Asafo-Adjei 0-0 0-0 0; G. Cancer 1-4 2-4 4; D. Cherry 0-1 0-0 0; D. Scelfo 0-3 0-0 0; J. Figini 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 14-62 8-10 40. YALE 19-7 (9-3) -- G. Mangano 7-15 1-2 16; R. Willhite 2-9 4-4 8; A. Morgan 4-10 0-0 11; J. Pritchard 5-6 0-0 13; J. Kreisberg 3-6 1-2 7; M. Grace 1-2 0-0 2; B. Sherrod 2-3 0-1 4; S. Martin 0-2 0-0 0; R. Anderson 0-1 2-2 2; W. Bartlett 1-1 0-0 3; W. Childs-Klein 0-0 0-0 0; A. Cotton 1-1 0-0 2; J. Duren 0-0 0-0 0; G. Kelley 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 27-57 8-11 71.
Three-point goals: CORN 4-22 (C. Wroblewski 0-3; J. Gray 1-5; J. Figini 1-1; D. Scelfo 0-2; D. Tarwater 0-1; G. Cancer 0-1; D. Ferry 1-8; S. Miller 1-1), YALE 9-21 (G. Mangano 1-5; R. Willhite 0-2; S. Martin 0-2; A. Morgan 3-7; W. Bartlett 1-1; G. Kelley 1-1; J. Pritchard 3-3); Rebounds: CORN 36 (S. Miller 8), YALE 37 (G. Mangano 10); Assists: CORN 7 (C. Wroblewski 4), YALE 19 (R. Willhite 8); Total Fouls -- CORN 16, YALE 16; Fouled Out: CORN-None; YALE-None.