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Can playing to lose ever be the right thing to do?

Colts fans think so, if it improves the team’s chances next year.

Friday, December 30, 2011 - 12:01 am

Considering the dismal way this season has developed, the Indianapolis Colts are in a pretty good place. If they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, they can take a three-game winning streak into next season, something they haven't done since their 2006 Super Bowl run. Not bad for a team that lost its first 13 games.

But hold on there, sports fans. If the Colts are to have any chance of rebuilding a decent team next year, what they really need is the No. 1 draft pick. But that goes to the team with the worst record, so the best way for the Colts to salvage something out of disaster would be to lose the game Sunday.

This is one they ought to teach in ethics classes – call it the Colts Dilemma. Should we always play to win? Or is it acceptable to try to lose if that might be better in the long run? The fans know the answer to that: Who cares about that last game? Sit your stars down and put in the second-stringers. If a team not only can't win when it's supposed to but can't even lose when it should, then this really is the most hapless team in the NFL.

You can see their point. They pay good money for tickets and good money for all the team memorabilia. They give up valuable Sunday hours to cheer the team on. They sometimes even travel great distances to support the effort. They're entitled to seek, in return, more wins than losses. What does winning one more game this season mean if it risks not winning a majority of games next season?

The players don't see it that way, of course. They're paid good money – very good money – to do their best. And competitiveness isn't something you can just turn off without the danger that you might have trouble getting it back. Not giving your best effort seems to get easier the more often it's resorted to.

So there's the dilemma. The players aren't willing to make immediate sacrifices for the longer-term good. The fans are willing to cheat now to win later (tossing a game also deprives the other team of an honest victory).

The irony is that the No. 1 pick would likely be used to draft Stanford superstar quarterback Andrew Luck, who is so good the Colts would almost have to build the team around him. Then, if he got injured, everything would fall apart in a hurry. Seems that's how the Colts got to this dilemma in the first place.

Losing now to win later would be too clever and then some. The players are right to just keep their heads down and try to win games one at a time. Strategy may create wins, but it's attitude that makes winners. Not a bad idea for life in general, either.