Long ago, early in my coaching career, we beat a pretty good team. We were lucky, granted, but we won – and they lost.
The next rankings came out, and they were ahead of us, and I was upset. “What else do we have to do to prove we’re better?” I asked a couple voters. “We played a game and we won. That means we’re better.”
In my heart of hearts, though, I knew we weren’t really better, and if we played that team a second time, our chances of winning were slim at best. But even though I knew that, I still felt we should be ranked ahead of the team we beat, at least until a) they beat us, or b) we lost to some other teams.
So now let’s shift gears to the here and now. Obviously, Stanford beat Baylor, and equally obviously, Baylor was without its all-American point guard for 35 minutes. Is Odyssey Sims going to produce two more points, offensively and defensively, over that span of time than the women who played instead of her? I don’t think there’s any doubt.
But the fact is that Sims didn’t play, and Stanford won. Or, to put it another way, the scoreboard doesn’t lie.
From my perspective, the fact that Sims was hurt cannot excuse Baylor’s loss, for a variety of reasons. First, do we know that every member of the Cardinal was perfectly healthy? Did anyone have the flu, or was anyone nursing a sore hamstring? Was anyone at less than 100 percent, and if so, how much impact did that have on the outcome?
Of course, we have no idea. And it could be that Stanford’s roster was all coming off 11 hours of blissful sleep, had the perfect pregame meal and then collectively played the best game it possibly could.
But it really doesn’t matter. Stanford won, and Baylor lost, so until further notice, Stanford must be the better team.
And here’s another point: Just because Sims has played this year, should her injury -- a hamstring injury of unknown severity, leaving her in day-to-day status, according to a team spokesperson -- be given more weight than an injured player who hasn’t stepped on the court? For example, 6-3 Aly Beebe hurt her ACL in the offseason and didn’t play for Stanford –- should that be factored into the equation? You may well claim Sims is better than Beebe, and I won’t disagree, but really, how do you know that Beebe wouldn’t have had an impact on this game? Or again, that some dinged-up Cardinal might have played better had she been fully healthy?
And then Saturday St. Joseph’s defeated Maryland, 50-49, in an ugly game that exposed the Terrapins as something less than the top-ten team they are ranked as. Terps’ fans will point out that point guard Brene Mosley tore her ACL in preseason and didn’t play, and if Baylor fans are going to write off the Stanford defeat because of Sims, shouldn’t Maryland get the same free pass because of Mosely’s injury? After all, the “real” Maryland team wasn’t on the floor, just as the “real” Baylor team was only out there for a few minutes.
But what is the “real” team? The roster as of Sept. 1? The roster as of Nov. 1? The roster as of March 1?
To me, the answer is clear: The real team is the one on the floor. The real team is the one that wins or loses that night, injuries or not, bad calls or not, flu-ridden or not.
And the scoreboard does not lie. Baylor’s “real” team might be better than Stanford’s, but the 40 minutes the two teams played in Hawaii will define which team is better until they play again, or until Stanford starts losing games to teams ranked beneath them.
Here’s the last point: The only standings that really matter, the only rankings that count, the only “real” games, are the final ones. Those are the ones we will remember, and there will be no excuses accepted then –- so why should we accept any now?