Danger or opportunity: Does your athletic department have a two goal lead?

There's nothing so dangerous as a two goal lead. I don't remember where I first heard this saying, but the moment I heard it, I committed it to memory. Its been running through my head over the past few weeks as I watched seemingly safe leads vanish in the blink of an eye during the just completed NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championships. The most personally difficult of these was Princeton's loss to Minnesota-Duluth. But the same scenario happened again to North Dakota the next night when their two goal lead evaporated into an overtime loss to New Hampshire. Finally, the national championship game had Miami (OH) surrendering a two goal lead in the last minute to Boston University who then sealed the deal in overtime.

Its hard to pinpoint the reasons from game to game but a possible combination of factors would include:
  1. the team with a two goal lead takes their foot off the gas just a little;

  2. the team who just went down two goals wakes up and realizes that they have to work harder or focus more (I would note that in all three examples above, the lower-seeded team - a slight to significant underdog - was the team that surrendered the two goal lead and eventually lost);

  3. when a two goal lead becomes a one goal lead the momentum swings hard in the direction of the team who scored. They know rallying is definitely possible;

  4. the team with the lead begins to play not to lose, instead of playing to win (sort of like the prevent defense in football - the only thing it prevents you from doing is winning); and

  5. late in the game the trailing team pulls their goalie in favor of an extra attacker, a calculated gamble.

The saying applies nicely to lacrosse and soccer as well, but in reality every sport has their equivalent example of an apparently safe but not-as-safe-as-you-would-think lead. Some two goal leads last and some don't, but the first step in keeping the lead is realizing its dangerous.

Athletic departments also have their equivalent of a "two goal" lead, some examples might include:

  • expecting to win in a particular sport with a team that has dominated conference or national competition for an extended period of time;

  • a long-standing, successful coach that begins to live off his or her reputation and stops paying attention to the things that built their reputation; or

  • maintaining obsolete operational practices out of fear or to avoid the challenges that come with change.

Within the economic restructuring that is taking place, athletic programs will evaluate what to cut and how to save. If your program has a "two goal lead", creating opportunities to keep or build upon a "two goal" lead exist. Simultaneously, teams and programs that are trailing their competitors by "two goals" have an opportunity to close the gap and pass them with their own strategic choices. Play it safe or increase the pressure? The decisions each department makes right now may go a long way in determining which programs keep their two goal lead, and which ones don't. Danger or opportunity - it all depends how you approach it.


Libby said…
Mr. Cross- I have started my own sports blog, if you would like to take a look. It has only one post at the moment--but that is because I simply started it this morning. The near future will include updates on the first Phils Mets game of the season in phillies park, a half-marathon, and the first yankees sox game in the new Yankees stadium. Hope you will take a look.