During my first year at college, BYU had a pretty good basketball team. Although I've never really been a big sports fan, I was exposed to quite a bit of BYU basketball that season, attending a few games live, and watching a few on the TV in the Morris Center.
Basketball, for those of you who don't know, is a surprisingly violent game. Each player is allowed 5 fouls (in college) before they are ejected, and the strategic use of fouls is an integral part of team play. Unlike penalties in football, for example, breaking the rules in basketball is often advantageous; players who "foul-out" are not met with scorn by fans, but with gratitude for having used their fouls to benefit their team.
The importance of fouling elevates the referees to an important position in any basketball game. They set the tone for how much physical contact is allowed, how assertive the coaches and players can be (before they are given technical fouls), and how much of the game is spent shooting free-throws.
I quickly noticed some disturbing habits of my fellow watchers. Whenever BYU was called for a foul, people would scream and curse the referee for his "bad call." Whenever the other team was credited with the foul, however, these same fans would clap, looking as if justice had been restored to an otherwise chaotic and cruel world. At first, I credited this phenomenon to my relative inexperience with basketball and its rules. Perhaps I just wasn’t seeing what really made some of the calls good and others bad.
I'm sure you already know the conclusion to this post. It only took me a few minutes of watching to realize what these fans were doing. They were very purposely conflating calls that they didn't like with calls that were patently unfair. When a pretty obvious call was missed in the MWC championship game against New Mexico, the BYU students cheered, claiming that it "made up for previous missed calls which hurt BYU."
There are bad referees. There are bad calls. I'll be there right with you calling a spade a spade when bad calls are made or when the system is actually unfair. Decrying everything which doesn’t go your way, however, puts the system in very real danger. NCAA basketball would not last more than one season if my fellow freshmen from BYU had the power to perfectly control referees.
Furthermore, I had less respect for these student’s opinions in other matters because of how they acted as basketball fans. If literally every call which went against them was necessarily “unfair,” I come to the conclusion that their unfairness meter is broken. I think that we should just stipulate that extremists are die-hard fans of their philosophies, that their opinions are hopelessly biased, and that we should ignore them, trying to build the fairest system possible without them.
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