Sports are, at their very core, about competition. In every sport ever conceived, the general idea is for one person or group to compete against another person or group to see who can win given a predetermined set of rules. Given this definition, it is hard to say that ties are good for any sport.
To put it simply, the goal of any game is to maximize how often you win. Of course, losing occasionally is something that one must accept — you can’t win every game you play.
However, a tie is more deeply unsatisfying to the competitors than even a loss. A win or loss gives a sense of finality, and the idea that you gave your best effort that led to the result you achieved. A tie has none of these qualities — it has neither the triumphant feeling of a win nor the disappointment and resignation of a loss. It is simply nothing — and that, to me at least, seems to be the worst result you could possibly get out of a couple hours or days of effort.
It’s not just the competitors — the fans hate ties, too. Of course, if you’re a supporter of a certain team (or “side,” as my esteemed colleague Tom Taylor would say), you don’t want to see your team emerge from a match (“fixture”) with a tie — you want to see them bring home a win. In this case, I suppose a tie might be better than a loss, because it would at least come with the satisfaction that the opposing side didn’t get anything out of the game, either.
For unbiased viewers, however, ties are the worst thing that can happen. Ties are boring and uninspiring, and can elicit no emotional response from anyone. They also seem to suggest that the whole exercise was simply a waste of time. No one won and no one lost, so what was the point of playing the game in the first place?
For me, the World Cup best illustrates why ties are bad for sports. Apart from Team USA’s games, which are fairly small in number, I watch most World Cup matches as an unbiased viewer simply looking for an entertaining event. In these events, ties are always deeply disappointing. I have no way of knowing which team is better, nor is there any real joy or sadness betrayed by the players on the sidelines. The entire affair leaves a simple question hanging over it: why should anyone care?
To take another example that I’m sure will be cited by Tom, cricket test matches (which are played over five days) often end in ties because the teams simply run out of time and don’t complete two innings. As a follower of the Indian team, I find that ties are also just annoying, and sometimes can be even more disappointing than a loss. I remember watching a test series recently between India and Australia. The Indians were destroying the Aussies, but because they took so much time in amassing a gigantic lead, the Roos could simply stall until time ran out and the match was declared a draw.
I’m sure you will agree with me that this result was infuriating both for the Indian fans and for the impartial observers. One team was clearly superior, yet it will never gain that recognition because of how cricket cherishes the tie.
So, I contend that it is impossible for ties to be good for sport. Players and fans alike hate them simply because they lack any sort of decisiveness that one would like in a result.
Indeed, one league that has effectively moved away from ties recently is the NHL. As part of the new post-lockout rules, ties have been eliminated, and replaced with a shootout if an overtime period produces no winner. Fans love it, but some hockey purists have complained that the tie is a sacred part of the game. I don’t know about you, but I certainly prefer the excitement, drama and (most important) the actual result that emerges from them.
Ties simply betray the nature of sport –without a real result coming out of a match, I don’t see the point in playing it at all.