In college football, one of the pieces of conventional wisdom is, “If you must lose, lose early.” I wonder if that is why the S.E.C. (Southeastern Conference) tends to play conference games in Week One, so as to be able to let their ranking rise later in the year. I find this idea interesting, since there are some other situations where if you must lose, lose late.
The reason why I wrote this post: Northwestern lost their season opener to California in football, but I am not in despair for the team. Sometimes, an early-season loss can be the best wake-up call for a program. No matter what happens in practice, the fruits of one’s labor rarely show in Week One–another common phrase used is “Teams show the most progress from Week One to Week Two.”
Of course, most major-conference schools (i.e. teams from the Big Ten, Big 12, S.E.C., Pac-12, and A.C.C.) would be calling for heads if they open the season with a loss, particularly since many schools from the major conferences open their slate at home against overmatched opponents from the Group of Five (A.A.C., Sun Belt, M.A.C., Conference USA, or Mountain West, also called the mid-majors), or F.C.S. schools.
Northwestern, on the other hand, during my six-year tenure as a student there, opened on the road four consecutive years at major-conference schools (Vanderbilt, Boston College, Syracuse, California) and won all of those games. This year (i.e. yesterday), they lost to California. (In my first year, NU played Towson and it was an easy victory, but that was the day before I moved to Chicago.)
Lose early is not a good piece of advice in all competitions. Obviously, in a single-elimination tournament, it is never good to lose, and it’s always embarrassing to be knocked off in the first round (although that does happen to half of the teams). In a double-elimination tournament, if you lose the first round, although you are not toast, you then have to win two games in each remaining round (the game between losers’ bracket winners and then the game against a winners’ bracket loser). For example, in a 16-team double-elimination tournament, an undefeated champion will have won 5 games (round of 16, round of 8, round of 4, round of 2, and championship against the winner of the losers’ bracket). A champion that lost in the first round would have a 8-1 record (first round loss, wins in round 2 against Round 1 loser and Round W2 loser, wins against Round L2 winner and W3 loser, Round L3 winner and W4 loser, and two wins against the winners’ bracket champion).
And in a Swiss-system tournament (used in chess and trading card games), an early loss is detrimental to your standing, since most of the tiebreakers favor those that play better opponents. Since, each round, you face someone with a similar record to you, losing the first round means that your strength of schedule is always weaker than if you had won the first round. Later in the tournament, if Swiss is a preliminary, however, that may encourage intentional draws in the last round. That’s another topic into which I shall not delve.
In bridge, losing tricks early is sometimes a good thing and sometimes not a good thing. It may prove to be a hold-up play in order to remove entries to a dangerous defender’s hand, or it may remove a safe exit card for the defense later in the play. In fact, sometimes you have to lose a trick both early and late–early to prevent a certain defender from gaining the lead, and late to force the other defender to have the lead (so as to lead away from a broken holding). This is called an endplay.
Of course, maxims in general need to be taken in context. Losing is a fact of life in sports and games, but there are times when it is strategic to lose at certain times of a season, tournament, or segment of a game. But, don’t be like the badminton players of the 2012 Olympics!
Today is the two-hundred and forty-third day of M.M.X.I.V. That makes thirty-four weeks and five days.
Today is the forty-eighth day of the Character Building Trial. That makes six weeks and six days.