Do Points Define Sport?

London-2012-Summer-Olympics-Womens-US-Soccer-Team-jumpingWith half of my brain occupied with the World Cup and the other with board games, I’ve been thinking about quantitative victories (points) versus subjective victories (judges’ scores) and what defines a sport.

One of the interesting things about soccer–or most professional team sports–is that the best team can lose the game. In the recent Belgium-US match, Belgium had 38 shots compared to 14 for the US…and they could have lost if Wondolowski had make a very basic play in the 92nd minute. In some games, a team will control the possession for 60-70% of the game and lose.

And that’s just the metrics. Imagine if the winner of a soccer game wasn’t decided by the score, but rather by a panel of judges who watched the game and decided which team was better. That sounds crazy, right? But that’s essentially what boxing does.

I don’t think that defining what a “sport” is really matters–just because boxing or many Olympic sports use judges to decide the winner doesn’t make them any less worthy of entertaining people than soccer and football. Plus, NASCAR uses a quantitative metric to decide the winner of a race (the first car to cross the finish line), and I still have a really hard time calling that a sport. It’s entertainment for millions of people, sure, but…they’re driving a car around in a circle, right? Am I missing something here?

Also, college football has such an interesting place in sports because individual games are decided strictly quantitatively, but determining which team is the “best” (to play for the championship) is determined partially by people who rank the teams.

I wonder if someday, the final winner of sports will be determined by computer metrics instead of final score. Even as I type that, though, I really hope not. While soccer is a low-scoring sport, it could end up being downright boring if teams were more focused on successfully completing passes than scoring. It might turn into a game of keep-away.

Though it should be said that the winner of so many board games is determined by who has more points at the end of the game, and it feels perfectly natural that way. Points are the de facto way to determine who the best player is in that particular game. It often feels quite disconnected from reality, but it works in tabletop form. Why is that the case, especially compared to how dry that would be in a sport?