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Netball vs. Slamball - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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August 4th, 2002


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07:55 pm - Netball vs. Slamball
Netball is largely thought of in this country as a woman's sport. I'm typing this, for later LJ distribution, during the New Zealand vs. Australia final of the women's team netball competition of the Commonwealth Games. It's very exciting indeed, having been a tie at the end of four regulation quarters and a tie at the end of two halves of extra time.


I am not convinced by netball as a sport as such. It's non-contact to a fault, the three-feet-zone obstruction rule is very difficult to call and the game is interrupted by the referee far more than even basketball, the current reigning champion of bitty, intermittent sports. There are a number of other fouls which look technical at best and the rules about certain players only being allowed in certain parts of the court appear to be arbitrariness for arbitrariness' sake. (The rule about who gets the ball immediately after a net is scored needs work, too, or at least justification.) The extent of the involvement of the referee does much to promote the sport's reputation of being the domain of the most prissy, "just-so" frightfully-keen female games teacher.

However, there are many points in the game's favour. The major improvement over basketball is that the multitude of fouls are punished by immediate free passes rather than stopping the whole action to move up the court and take some free throws. This keeps the action fast and continuous, so the players must be insanely fit with fantastic stamina. None of your rolling substitutions cop-out here, as far as I can tell. The players were taking the game as seriously as would befit a CG final, with an inadvertent clash of heads and some fraying tempers. The scoring is very pure but the unpredictable, end-to-end nature of play keeps the result of the game perpetually in doubt.

Finally, the sport has an excellent tennis-esque past-extra-time tie-breaker; unlimited extra extra time until one team gets two goals (er, nets?) ahead. Wouldn't work for football, but absolutely in keeping with the rest of the sport. I've played netball in the past, once; I attended a boys' school with some ladies also appearing in the final two years and due to the absence of the regular sports teacher a co-ed (clothed) netball game took place. It struck me as being a bit of an academic exercise, relatively speaking, for a physical game.

Sometimes I try to ponder the pub-debate philosophical question of which sport is "best", for some definition of best. My current seven stances (axioms?) are:

  • The less arcane equipment a sport has, the better it is.

  • The more practical the possibility of people playing the sport at a beginner level and eventually working up to a world-class level, the better it is.

  • The fewer awkward rules a sport has, the better it is.

  • The less likely a sport is to produce an inconclusive result, the better it is
  • .
  • The more similar a game is in its play at the beginner and world-class levels, the better it is.

  • The higher the opportunity for spectacular play, the better it is.

  • The higher the opportunity for clever play, the better it is.


This final point is the one which stops running from being the "best" sport, because its lack of interaction (it's "multi-player solitaire", as we board gamers like to say) removes a vast part of the mental game. I'm not suggesting that there's no mental game there at all or that there's no interaction between the runners at all (viz D. Chambers and M. Lewis-Francis' strangely contemperaneous retirements in the 100m final last weekend) but there's so little there that running is clearly only "best with an asterisk" - and treated this way by the masses for a very good reason.

Different people will weight the importance of these different aspects to different extents. As a spectator, my biases are heavily towards the axioms I mention at the end. Many professional spectator sport presentations are heavily biased towards axiom number six; if you take this bias too far then you get into the murky realm of sports entertainment.

Which takes us neatly to SlamBall. Every now and again, some TV company effectively invents a sport for TV and the game show fandom debates the endless issue of the borderline between sport show and game show. SlamBall debuted last night on TNN, an American TV channel (not a network, despite the channel's name) that unsurprisingly I don't get to see. Accordingly, I haven't seen the show and so my thoughts about it are purely theoretical.

Imagine, if you will, a normal basketball court. Then surround the court by plexi-glass walls (presumably, people can then deliberately play off these walls). Change the shape and dimensions of things to make the overall effect slightly smaller, rounder and easier to film.

Then put four trampolines on the floor at each end. Players are able - even encouraged - to use these trampolines to achieve greater height. Oh, and players are given safety gear and encouraged to use physical contact upon each other. "The rules regarding illegal contact are clearly defined and not open to interpretation." (Parp!) "SlamBall fouls are called when players are... playing the man rather than the ball when in the air." ... "Fouls are remedied with a one on one Face Off. This gives the defence a chance to score in a penalty situation, and makes the foul remedy more personal." This doesn't sound like quite a big enough penalty for a foul to me, thus making a continuous-foul offence a possibility (which surely makes the game broken?) but I suspect I may need to see this in action to find out exactly what they've done. It certainly can't be as dull as the procession of free throws.

One fairly major creative error that SlamBall fall into is that they have split their talent pool into six extremely interchangeable teams with vaguely aggressive names. These teams do not represent anything, so it's hard to know who to shout for. If the six teams supposedly represent different towns or different parts of the country, then you've got your motivation sorted out in advance. (Compare with the strength of feeling engendered by the World Cup, the European Championships... heck, even the World League of American Football or NFL Europe.)

If the teams represented established stars from different sports (so we have a football team, a baseball team and so on) then that would work well too, except that the team with basketball experience would be obvious long-odds-on favourites. This leaves them a major job to establish personalities for the teams. Maybe they've done something clever like having all the people on one team being left-handed, all the people on another team being (relatively) short, all the people on one team being Hispanic and so forth, but there's no evidence of this based on the web site.

It would be impossible to form an informed opinion on SlamBall without seeing it, but it is possible to make a comparison between SlamBall, basketball and netball from the limited information we have. Point by point:

1) The less arcane equipment a sport has, the better it is.

SlamBall's a clear loser here. Netball should beat basketball on the grounds that you can move netball net posts relatively easily and you need to install a basketball backboard at height, but there are so many basketball backboards installed already that it has a natural advantage.

2) The more practical the possibility of people playing the sport at a beginner level and eventually working up to a world-class level, the better it is.

SlamBall is off the bottom of the scale here until, as is threatened, SlamBall courts are installed around the US... and I'll believe that when I see it. I guess it's possible that there might eventually be a chain of SlamBall-themed family entertainment centres, but the inherent nature of the sport is so dangerous that most people won't want to have to go through an extensive training session and hook up a load of safety gear just to play the game in the first place. Compare it to, say, Ice Hockey, Street Hockey or American Football. You don't get very many pick-up games of full-contact versions of those, do you?

3) The fewer awkward rules a sport has, the better it is.

Oh, crikey. SlamBall has the disadvantage that the full rules of the sport are not public knowledge - but I dare say there would have to have been some very unusual decisions for the game to be as clunky as its two competitors.

4) The less likely a sport is to produce an inconclusive result, the better it is.

All three sports are OK here. This is really to punish judged sports and sports like hockey where there's potential dispute over when the action exactly stops. (See India vs. England in the women's Commonwealth Games hockey final. *sigh*)

5) The more similar a game is in its play at the beginner and world-class levels, the better it is.

Can't see any of the three having problems here, but I may not be sufficiently well informed. Interestingly, SlamBall only has the one level of play, for now.

6) The higher the opportunity for spectacular play, the better it is.
7) The higher the opportunity for clever play, the better it is.

Hard to tell just how well SlamBall scores here, though if it doesn't do well at least the first of these then its design is very, very wrong. Basketball probably beats netball on spectacle and loses to it on cleverness.

In conclusion: no conclusion yet, at least until the experts watch at least one full season of SlamBall and see how it matches up to some pretty illustrious theory. However, despite all the gimmicks and glitz, it'll have to go a long, long way to be as exciting as today's netball game.

Oh, and the Australians won, obviously. :-/

Current Music: Sport earlier, now news

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[User Picture]
From:bateleur
Date:August 5th, 2002 03:50 am (UTC)

Axioms

(Link)
Completely agree with your proposed list of axioms, but would like to add:


  • The less scope for physical injury, particularly inflicted by other players, as part of legitimate play, the better.



Because I have no respect for sports which you have to be a thug to play.

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