Political Science 113: Cincinnati and Comparative Politics

By: Justin Pierce

Ever since Ultiworld reported that Cincinnati had decided not to attend Huck Finn, essentially solidifying a second bid for the Ohio Valley region, I can’t stop thinking about whether or not I agree with that decision.

I am pretty sure that I’m not the only one thinking about this: Ultiworld’s first article, which broke the news, has well over 100 comments; Cincinnati’s captain released a statement about the decision; Twitter blew up, compliments of Tulane Ultimate; here at Up Call we created a poll to see what the ultimate community thought; and even the unthinkable happened, USA Ultimate commented on the situation.

But throughout all of this, I still couldn’t decide how I felt. Was this a strategic move where they saw an opportunity to earn a second bid and capitalized? Or did they break the ethos of ultimate known as Spirit of the Game?

As someone who firmly believes in strategic thinking – envisioning a future, and intentionally choosing one path over another option in order to achieve your goal – this should have been an easy decision for me. If the team’s goal is to make nationals, or even to give themselves the best opportunity to make nationals, then choosing not to attend Huck Finn is the rational decision. However, I certainly see the way in which this could be considered ‘gaming the system’ or intentionally taking advantage of a flaw in the way that bids are allocated.

The more I thought about this situation, the more I remembered a class I took as a freshman in college – Political Science 113, Introduction to Comparative Politics. The grading in this course consisted mainly of three or four midterms through the semester followed by a final examination. It was during the last week or so of classes that the professor explained how the final exam was optional – if you were happy with your grade in the class, then you did not have to sit for the exam, but if you chose to take it then your grade would count regardless of the outcome (if you did poorly on the final, it would lower your grade). The professor kindly reminded us that since the final was optional, the time spent by the graduate TA’s proctoring and grading the exam wouldn’t put them in a good mood, which just might lead to lower grades (while this certainly wouldn’t be intentional, he was reminding us of both human nature and to think through our actions). With this in mind, I don’t believe a single person in this large lecture class decided to sit for the final exam.

I see this as almost a direct parallel to Cincinnati. They met the minimum number of games required by USA Ultimate to be eligible to earn a strength bid for their region. If their goal was to make nationals – as described in their statement – then they were in a position to help themselves by not playing in the tournament. Had they played and ended with poor results, then their ranking would have suffered, just like my grade had I failed the final.

In the comments on the Ultiworld articles, I see people claiming that we should hold ultimate players and teams to a higher standard and that their decision was unspirited, even going directly against the tenants of Spirit of the Game. However, I don’t think anyone would say that since I was attending college to become educated, I should be held to a higher standard and should have optionally sat for that exam instead of optimizing my ability to earn high marks in the course.

Others claim that if Cincinnati is truly deserving of their top 20 ranking, then they would have no problem defending that ranking by participating in the tournament. However, I feel that this, too, is a flawed argument. Personally, I have always struggled at essay-based exams, generally taking long periods of time to work on papers. All of the exams in my comparative politics class were, unfortunately for me, timed essays. Even if I knew the material, it still wouldn’t have been in my best interest to go prove it through the final, just as it isn’t in Cincinnati’s best interest to prove their ranking at Huck Finn – this is best reserved for regionals and nationals. Just as the right word often escapes me when the pressure is on and I have no access to the Internet, so too might injuries have plagued Cincinnati if they had decided to participate.

The cost-benefit analysis that I can only hope led to this decision is a sound one and is the sort of analysis and decision that I would bring to my boss’s office if I was asked to make a similar recommendation in the workplace. Cincinnati must have seen very clearly that their goal was within reach and made a decision to take at least one step toward achieving it. Whether this move pays off and Cincinnati remains the number two team in the Ohio Valley region remains to be seen. But I wanted to write this before we can look back and pass judgement with the kind of Monday morning quarterbacking insight that the players did not have access to while making their decision. It’s true that perhaps an additional weekend of playing high quality ultimate is what that team needs before conferences and regionals in order to help them secure their nationals berth. Perhaps they come out rusty in the post-season. Perhaps, as one voter pointed out in the ‘other’ category of our poll, this is “a huge mistake…[and the] team is wrecked mentally for [the] rest of 2015 now.” Perhaps some of their players will lose confidence in themselves since apparently the majority of the team (assuming they voted on this decision) don’t believe they could have held onto their ranking at Huck Finn. Perhaps other teams will have extra motivation to play harder, winning their games by larger margins in an effort to move up in the rankings, or, on the unsportsmanlike side of things, some teams will choose to lose or play poorly in order to wreak havoc on the rankings.

These things will only become clear in time, but after thinking about the subject and talking it out with others, I believe that Cincinnati, with the information available to them, made the best move that they could.

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