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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Superstitions and Sports? That's just silly

Yesterday as I watched the Ohio State-Wisconsin basketball game, around the 14 minute mark I sent a text message to my buddy that Ohio State had the game at hand.  After all, they were up 42-32, and they had opened up the second half to the tune of a 14-6 run.  The Buckeyes would go on to score five more unanswered points to take what appeared to be an insurmountable 15 point lead.  Surely there was no way the Badgers could come back from such a deficit, even with the home crowd cheering them on, right?

Yet the game was not over, and the Wisconsin Badgers would mount what would become the one of the more impressive comebacks of the 2010-2011 college basketball season.  Led by the impressive outside shooting of guard Jordan Taylor and forward Jon Leuer, the Badgers would hand the no. 1 Buckeyes their first loss of the season, 71-67.

As the Buckeyes went through this second half collapse, my buddy became visibly frustrated.  In fact, at one point he would text-bomb me that I cost OSU the game, and a perfect season, by suggesting that the game was over with so much time (14+ minutes) left in regulation.  He was only kidding, of course, but that does bring up an interesting question:  do superstitions have any place in college athletics?  And, maybe more importantly, is it possible that one team, or school for that matter, has another school's 'number' in any given calendar year?

To suggest that any college athletic program's fate, of course, is tied to the superstitions of one or more of its fans or the media is ridiculous.  Even my friend would agree that despite the impressive effort Ohio State put forth yesterday, Wisconsin just ended up being the better team.  That did not mean he would let me off the hook, however.  He was frustrated at yesterday's outcome like most other Buckeye fans, and, seeing as I had started to run my mouth prematurely, it made me an easy target.

Even the media's attempt to throw superstition into the fray has little impact on the final result.  Sure, Ohio State had never beaten a Bo Ryan led Wisconsin team on the road(in five possible tries), as the media was quick to point out before the game and at several points during the contest.  At the end of the day,  Ohio State's record would drop to 0-6  against Bo Ryan's Badgers in Madison.  Yet it was more than likely the hot shooting of the Wisconsin players, over 50% from the field and exactly 50% from three point range, that doomed the Buckeyes.  It didn't help that Ohio State had the crowd against them, but it didn't seem like it really bothered them that much.  After all, they did hold a double digit lead at one point.

That Ohio State has now lost to Wisconsin both in football and basketball when the Buckeyes were ranked number one in each sport is a different matter altogether.  It is quite possible that many fans in Columbus now holds the city of Madison, Wisconsin, as public enemy number one.  They are certainly making a case to supplant Michigan as OSU's top rival in college sports.

Yet, having beaten Ohio State the last two times the schools played, and three of the last four, do the Wisconsin Badgers now 'own' the Buckeyes?  Does Wisconsin hold a mythical 'edge' over the Buckeyes?

Sorry to disappoint you, Badger fans, but again, the answer is no.  Yes, Wisconsin's victory over OSU last year in football was impressive.  Yesterday the basketball Badgers also put on an impressive display themselves.   That both of these victories occurred within 365 days of each other is just a coincidence.  That Ohio State was ranked number one each time Wisconsin played them was also just a big coincidence.

But as sports fans we tend to look too much into such coincidences.  From a Buckeye perspective, many of us are so passionate that we forget the games are played on the field and the court, and only what happens on that field or court will determine what happens in any particular game.  Of course those silly superstitions are also some of the things that make college athletics so great.

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