Tweaking the Rules

My favorite season, for many reasons is fall. One of those reasons is college football.  Love college football!  I played high school and small college football myself.  Any of you who know me, know my love of the Michigan Wolverines (regardless of their now 16-year slump with very few highlight seasons in that number).  Beyond that, I love Big Ten football. I’m interested in all the teams and how they do. I’m a mid-western boy and there is regional pride in being a part of the Big Ten.

But boy, what a year this has been for college football!  The Big Ten began by cancelling the season.  After three of the other Power Five Conferences decided to go ahead with their seasons, the Big Ten reconsidered and decided to have an 8-game conference only schedule that would conclude on December 19th.  The problem with this scheduling is that it left no room to reschedule any games that might be cancelled due to COVID-19 outbreaks in a school’s program. Every week this season in college football, there have been games that could not be played because of this. For conferences that anticipated that, they started their seasons in time to allow for making up postponed games by giving these schools some “wiggle room” in their schedules.

Well, because the Big Ten initially cancelled their seasons, by the time they got around to changing their minds, there was no room on the calendar for “open” dates that might allow for games not played because of COVID to be rescheduled.  As a result of that, the league made a rule that in order to qualify for the Big Ten championship (and a presumptive place in the college playoffs) a team would have to have played a minimum of six  games. They could only endure two cancellations.

Here is where it gets interesting. Ohio State, far and above the best team in the Big Ten and ranked #4 nationally, has had two games already cancelled. They have played a total of five so far.  Their next game is the annual “big game” against Michigan. But wait a minute, the Michigan program is currently shut down due to COVID.  Their game this past week with Maryland was cancelled.  No one yet knows if Michigan will be able, according to Big Ten rules on COVID, to play against Ohio State. The game is a sure win for Ohio State. But more importantly, if it is not played, again, according to Big Ten rules, Ohio State could not then play for the Big Ten championship game on December 19th.

This has become quite a discussion among sports pundits and fans.  And here is the reason for my blog today on “College Football”. The overwhelming opinion among those in the media who have written and commented on this situation, agree: If Ohio State does not reach the six game minimum, we need to tweak the rules by allowing them to play in the Big Ten championship game, even if they do not meet the threshold.

Now, let me be clear… I hate Ohio State (sports hate…which is allowed 😊). I don’t ever remember putting a bumper sticker on any car I have owned.  But there was one years ago with which I was tempted. It was simply one long “word” (Ohowihateohiostate). But my distaste for Ohio State has its limits. I want to see the Big Ten prevail in an ultimate national championship game and the only likelihood of that happening is if the Buckeyes are allowed to win the Big Ten (which they certainly would if they play Michigan next Saturday and then in the Big Ten championship game the following week).  Even though Michigan will get tromped if they play next Saturday, I hope they play because I want to see a Big Ten representative get a shot at the national title.

Given all this, there is an almost universal opinion, that the rules should be “tweaked” for Ohio State in this situation and few if any have any compunction with that. Do you know why this is?  It is because man is a “tweaker”.  When it makes sense to him or seems to benefit him, man likes to tweak the rules when the instituted rules are now going to create an “unwanted circumstance”.  It doesn’t matter if we have to be disingenuous. It does not matter if we need to be hypocrites. We will tweak the rules to avoid any overly “harsh” consequences of the rules.

Well, why not?  Rules are made to be broken, aren’t they? Here is why the tweaking mentality is a dangerous one. I have known of pastor’s whose position on divorce changed when their own daughter got a divorce, to a position that would allow his daughter to remain the church pianist. Parents often tweak their own rules with their children, especially when they get in trouble.  Employers “make exceptions” for key employees.  Coaches suspend certain rules for star players. Churches often do this with church discipline. They often do it with church policy, not applying it equally.

We do this in authority structures.  In general, the rules often “don’t apply” to those over you in positions of authority.  When I coached freshman basketball at the local high school when I pastored at Lakes, an assistant principle came in the gym during one of my practices to shoot around. I was happy to allow him to do so as long as we were not using the basket at which he was working out.  But once we went to drills which required all the baskets to be in use, I asked him for the ball and basket he was using. The man obviously went to the head coach to complain because the next day I was called on the carpet and “dressed down” by the head coach.  He said, “you don’t tell an assistant principle he can’t shoot around during your practice”. I didn’t know that.  I was foolish enough to believe that the rules were for everyone equally.

Now, is this such a big deal?  In most situations, probably not… unless this mentality is woven into your worldview and practice.

You see, one’s perspective of God can become that of a God who “tweaks” the rules for some “when it makes sense”. This has led to all kinds of incorrect views concerning God and his “rules”.  For instance, while God condemns anyone who willfully rejects Christ, certainly he would never condemn anyone who has never heard of Christ.  Certainly, there will be exceptions for extraordinarily “good” people who never heard of Christ. God will “tweak the rules” in these cases. This is also done with morals.  For example, numbers of evangelicals hold the position that “uncommitted homosexuality outside of a committed relationship” is what God condemns, not homosexuality itself.  He makes an exception for those in a committed relationship.

So, who cares if Ohio State has the rules suspended for it so the Big Ten can have a team in the national championship playoffs?  It is not a big deal, right.  I mean, I even want that. But the big deal is it shows a mentality and worldview that is contrary to the character of God and his Word. Is there ever a time to tweak the rules?  We’ll talk about that next time.

Terry

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