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September 7, 2006

Sports Ethics: Little League Edition

Eugene Volokh a post up with a very interesting question. Here is the scenario:

Last month's tournament leading up to the Little League World Series included one game with an unusual series of events that set the stage for a fascinating ethical debate.The Situation: On August 11 in Bristol, Conn., a Little League team from Colchester, Vt., only had to retire its Portsmouth, N.H. opposition in the top of the sixth inning (Little League games are six innings rather than nine) to win the game 9-8 and move on to the New England regional championship game.But there was a problem. The Vermont team had made its third out in its half of the fifth inning before player Adam Bentley got to the plate. The Little League has a strict rule that requires every player to bat at least once a game, and the penalty for violating it is forfeit. Vermont's coach Denis Place realized, to his horror, that even though his team had the lead entering the last inning the only way it could avoid losing by forfeit was for Bentley to get an at bat. For that to happen, the New Hampshire team would have to tie the score or take the lead, requiring the teams to play the last half of the sixth inning.Place held a meeting of his players at the pitcher's mound and instructed them to let New Hampshire score a run. The plan: walk the first batter, and ensure that he made it home with the assistance of wild pitches and intentional errors so the game would be deadlocked at 9-9. Then, hopefully, win the game in the bottom of the sixth inning, with Adam Bentley getting his mandated turn at the plate.Not so fast. The New Hampshire team's coach, Mark McCauley figured out what was happening and ordered his players not to score. So after a walk and two wild pitches allowed a New Hampshire runner to reach third base, the player refused to advance to the plate despite another wild pitch and a fielding error. McCauley also told his players to strike out intentionally, preserving Vermont's lead but guaranteeing a successful New Hampshire protest that, under the rules, would require that New Hampshire win by forfeit.This obviously led to a ridiculous spectacle: one team trying to give up a run while the other team was trying to make outs and avoid scoring. The perplexed umpires understandably chose to end the debacle by ejecting Place and his pitcher from the game. Vermont won 9-8 ... and then New Hampshire was awarded the victory by forfeit, because Adam Bentley never got his turn at bat. The New Hampshire team advanced to the next round.
The question is: who acted ethically? Possible answers:
1. Place, the Vermont coach2. McCauley, the New Hampshire coach3. Both coaches4. Neither coach.
Volokh links to a sports site that discusses it. Volokh tends to think McCauley is the party that acted unethically. I tend to agree. Place, the Vermont coach acted like a crappy coach by not getting all his players up to bat, but by extending the game he was only trying to win within the rules. His only error was an innocent mistake. McCauley was the one who distorted the aim of the rules by keeping his players from scoring. Of course, if McCauley ended up losing because he didn't distort the rulesMore than anything, this seems like a case of poor rule making.Update: Now that I think about it, why didn't Place have his pitcher bean the New Hampshire players, ensuring that a run was scored? That would have made this whole episode a moot point.