Sunday, January 10, 2021
Winter break includes the wonderful benefits of a work break, time with family, and college football bowl games. Media and fans began degrading bowl games again this year after numerous players chose to not play in their team's bowl game. Those media and fans clearly did not talk to my kids while we watched the Montgomery Bowl, Cheez-It Bowl, Liberty Bowl, and numerous other college exhibitions. I do agree with my kids that constant college football is awesome, so we watched games throughout the break.
Announcers talked about the impending playoff games throughout each of the games. A major storyline for the upcoming Ohio State-Clemson game was how Clemson coach Dabo Swinney ranked Ohio State 11th on his coaches' poll ballot, well outside the top 4. For context, COVID caused disruptions in college football like everything else. However, the disruptions weren't uniform. Individual conferences made different decisions based on what the conference thought was safe. The Big 10 conference, which includes Ohio State, originally decided not to play a fall season. However, the SEC, Big 12, and ACC (which includes Clemson) decided to start in September. Teams in the latter conferences played approximately 9-10 games. The Big 10 eventually reversed course, but the teams would play fewer games. Ohio State only played 6 games prior to the playoff. Swinney said a team that only plays 6 games shouldn't be ranked with the teams that played 9-10, so he ranked them lower. Then, the game happened.
The game proceeded like any MBE question or prime-time drama. Ohio State beat Clemson from the opening whistle. The game wasn't particularly close. Critics screamed from keyboards about Swinney's ridiculous ranking. Clearly, Ohio State was far better than the #11 ranking on his last ballot. He clearly couldn't evaluate teams, and he probably provided motivation for Ohio State to prove him wrong. Critics were quick to use the game results to prove Swinney wrong, but was he wrong? Is it possible that Ohio State is both one of the 4 best college football teams in the country and also not deserving the ranking because they hadn't played enough games? I don't think the two sentiments are mutually exclusive, but critics seem to rely too heavily on the game's results to disprove his ranking. If Clemson won, does that mean his ranking was legitimate? The post hoc analysis seems to rely heavily on the result to either prove or disprove his claim when his claim focused more on deserving to be there and not ability to win.
The playoff storyline wasn't the only instance of relying too heavily on results. In a pro football game, the Las Vegas Raiders were losing by 2 points late in the game. Instead of scoring an easy touchdown with a minute left, they proceeded to kneel down multiple times to kick a field goal with 19 seconds left. The coach said he didn't want the opposing team to have enough time to score. Statistically, it was the best decision. A team shouldn't be able to score in 19 seconds, but of course the opposing team scored in a few quick plays. Critics pounced after the game saying the Raiders coach made the wrong decision. He made the statistically correct decision that didn't work. Does the result inherently mean the decision was wrong? If they score a touchdown, and the other team also scores because they have more time, would that be the wrong decision. I would argue he made the right call, but the decision didn't work. That doesn't make his decision wrong.
The idea of relying too much on results applies to law students as well. Grades are about to come out, and some students will be disappointed. Those same students made decisions throughout the semester about what, when, and how to study. Do low grades mean the study decisions were wholly incorrect? I don't think so. Grades are only 1 feedback device to analyze. I help students create new plans every semester. Some of them integrate more self-regulated learning, quizzes, reading, and/or review. Integrating self-regulated learning isn't bad just because grades didn't end up exactly as desired. Making the right decision doesn't always lead to the desired outcome, but the decision to be a better learner is still the right decision.
I encourage all students to evaluate progress. Grades are a good place to start, but students should also look at how often they read, whether they made outlines, how many practice questions they completed, whether they sought feedback, and any other tool to determine whether they were prepared walking into the exam. Anything can happen during a 3 hour exam. Computers crash and fact patterns surprise students. Grades may be important, but grades are only a snapshot of performance during a 3 hour time block. Focus on the process before the exam to determine where to improve.
Results provide feedback, and I want everyone to continually try to improve. However, results aren't the full picture because bad results can sometimes come from good decisions. Focus on preparation to continue to improve through the law school marathon.