Gamesmanship or cheating? Faking fouls, breaking unwritten rules debated

The flopping at the World Cup and some well-timed acting in other sports have prompted discussion ov
Argentina's Javier Mascherano, left, tackles German's Bastian Schweinsteiger, center, as Argentina's Lionel Messi, right, runs during the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 13. While such react...
Argentina's Javier Mascherano, left, tackles German's Bastian Schweinsteiger, center, as Argentina's Lionel Messi, right, runs during the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 13. While such react...

Rick Bennett, the Union College men’s hockey coach, hates diving — the practice of pretending to be tripped or hooked and collapsing to the ice in hopes of drawing a penalty. He seethed at the flopping in the recent World Cup soccer tournament, and will chew out one of his own players if he catches him embellishing with or without contact.

“We’re not a bunch of angels, but we don’t want embellishing and we don’t want any diving,” he said. “It’s embarrassing.”

But is it cheating?

Will Brown, the men’s basketball head coach at the University at Albany, said he doesn’t teach the art of flopping. But Brown concedes if one of his guys cons a ref into calling a foul in the final seconds of a close game, he’s not going to light up the player afterward — especially if it gets UA a W.

“A lot of people would say flopping is cheating,” Brown said. “There is a lot of gamesmanship — selling calls. A lot of coaches would call that ‘strategy.’ ”

“Crossing the line,” he added, “is different to a lot of people.”

The rules governing sports, especially the unwritten rules — which conversely enough even include some actual rules — change over time for better and worse. (Faking being fouled is actually a penalty and even subject to fine on the pro level, but it’s an infraction not called nearly enough for some fans.) The divide between gamesmanship, breaking unwritten rules and out-and-out cheating on the field is subjective at best.

The flopping at the World Cup, following instances of players role-playing in both the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup playoffs — looking at you, Dwyane Wade and Montreal Canadiens — as well as a handful of incidents this baseball season regarding perceived etiquette breaches, have prompted discussion over what players can, do and should try to get away with in a game.

(Off-field cheating, such as doping and recruiting violations are another topic, whether it be NASCAR or college sports. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby made news recently when he lambasted NCAA enforcement regarding recruiting, stating “cheating pays.”)

On the race track

Jockey Rajiv Maragh said there are etiquette rules in horse racing, offering one: “Don’t lie in a race: If you are second and a guy is in front don’t yell ‘Your bandages are loose.’ ”

In 2013, a rider in Ontario was suspended for 10 years for being found with an electrical device that could be used to spur horses. It is not unusual for a jockey to be suspended for a spell, say seven days, for careless riding. But Maragh struggled to come up with examples of jockeys trying to cheat, or at least upset fellow riders on the track. He said the self-policing nature of the sport contributes to the mind set.

“If you think about trying to win one race, you are being short-minded,” he said. “Everybody you ride with, you are going to ride hundreds of races, thousands of races together, over a period of years and years to come. We spend a lot of time together. Even though we are competing against each other we have the same locker room. It’s like a family inside.”

But there are examples when jockeys will cross a line. New York Racing Association Safety Steward Hugh Gallagher said a horse may “check,” or pull up early, costing another rider a race. Gallagher said some jockeys also will get upset with another jockey trying to slow a race down from the front. His response: Deal with it.

“Sometimes you will see pace-setting; they will really grind it down, much slower than the average,” Gallagher said. “Our response is ‘You have a hand.’ ”

On the diamond

As much as any other sport, baseball is full of unwritten rules that vary depending on who you ask. In the Major Leagues this year there have already been dustups over the appropriateness of bunting and stealing when your team is way ahead.

Tri-City ValleyCats shortstop Mott Hyde readily admits to the phantom tag of either a player or the base. This is an unwritten rule that actually supersedes the written rule: Get the tag down before the runner, or drag your toe close to the bag while turning a double play, and you will get an out call.

“Half the time I don’t even touch them. Get in and get out,” he said. “Same thing touching the base turning second base. Sometimes I go right around it. I think the umpires know it’s just kind of automatic.”

Cheating? No. Deceiving an umpire into thinking you were hit by a pitch? “You got to do that sometimes, play it up,” Hyde said.

ValleyCats catcher Jamie Ritchie says he doesn’t like when he sees other players do that. But what really riles him is the outright cheating by pitchers who hide a foreign substance such as pine tar on their hat, belt or neck. That is cheating.

“I don’t like the idea of pitchers touching their hat,” he said. “Pitchers already have an advantage anyway: They already win eight out of 10 times, seven out of 10 times” against the hitter.

Books can be written on baseball’s unwritten rules. Some have gone by the board. One that hasn’t is excessive celebration. That will get you drilled by a pitcher the next time up.

“The only time I would call for somebody to get hit is if they showed up a pitcher doing the home run thing tossing the bat,” Ritchie said. “But not at their head at all. Below the waist.”

It used to be you could throw at a batter’s head, but no more. That is an unwritten rule that has changed.

Reach Gazette reporter Mark McGuire at 395-3105 or @MJMcGuire on Twitter.

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