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The Final Say with Zach McCrite | The Sensationalism Of The Must-Win 

By Zach McCrite

This is a “must-win” column. I must win this column or else something will happen, right?

Let me explain.

I would define myself as a lot of different things: I’m a parent. A husband. I’m a son and a brother. Go ahead and mark me down for coach, rabid eater and fan of Indiana University sports.

But when it comes to my career as a “sports media” member, it took me a long time to realize that what I was getting paid to do was to be an entertainer.

Sure, you’re supposed to know sports, but I know probably less about sports than you or someone in your immediate family.

“Then why are you still writing and on the radio, Zach?” 

Well, it’s likely because my goal isn’t to know more sports than you. It’s to entertain. It’s not to have the most accurate, no-one-else-can-even-possibly-be-right-unless-they-agree-with-me opinion.

It’s to make you think. It’s to make you laugh. It’s to make you feel something. Anything.

That’s an entertainer, I suppose.

And with more and more outlets out there for people to be sports entertainers and get paid for it, the opinions get more and more outlandish.

And that leads us to these “must-win” folks.

It seems like every game, these days, is a must-win for someone. So much so that it’s been a staple of my brand to call out the nimrods who call for them so unnecessarily.

Let’s start with the NFL, where each of the 32 teams gets 16 games to be one of 12 teams to make playoffs. In other words, when the season begins, each team has a 37.5 percent chance to make the playoffs.

So, forgive me when in Week 2 of the NFL season I roll my eyes a little bit when you have writers from USA Today penning a column with a headline of “Lions face must-in game vs. Giants on Monday Night Football.”

I refuse to click on these ridiculous stories. They’re click bait. And you’re the fish.

If you are dumb enough to think that anyone’s second game of a 16-game season is a “must-win” when 37.5 percent of all the teams are going to the playoffs, then me and you can’t be friends.

And I can do you one better.

How about when both teams in a matchup are facing a must win in Week 2?

On Sept. 18, I googled “must win.”

Result No. 2 on Google.com: “Backed into a corner, the Giants face ‘must-win’ game in September.

Well, Giants, you ended up losing this game, so I guess you really don’t have to play anymore this season. You can go ahead and start your vacation. Let us know how the golf games go.

I don’t want to take long on this, but let’s take one of these 0-1 NFL teams and quickly give this the time it doesn’t really deserve to explain why their second game isn’t a must-win.

Let’s play the role of the Giants that lost their “must-win” game in Week 2. Have you ever heard of any NFL team that hasn’t made the playoffs at 14-2? I didn’t think so.

Take college basketball for another example, where I hear every February how such-and-such team “must win this regular season game or they have no shot at making the NCAA Tournament.”

This is in a sport where these teams, regardless of what their regular season record is, have a chance to win their way into the tournament via the automatic bid given out at each conference tournament.

In researching for this column, I stumbled across a column from a Penn State basketball blog pointing out which games were must-wins this season. For crying out loud, we’re six weeks from the season even starting and we’re already pointing out games as “must-wins?”

I need a drink.

Look, if the goal is to win championships and you automatically get entered into a conference tournament at the end of the season, must-wins will certainly never happen months before the season ends.


There are exceptions, but not many. Most notably, college football, where there isn’t an “everyone is welcome” conference tournament to give out an automatic bid. So, the regular season does matter. You could, perhaps, consider a game against someone inside your own division as a must-win early in the season, since it means you’d likely have to hope those teams will lose twice down the road to fall below you in the standings (if they only lose once, they have the win over you as the tiebreaker … see Louisville against Clemson).

But in the grand scheme of things, “must-win” is more improperly used than a teenage girl telling you she “literally died” when she dropped her smartphone and the screen broke.

Speaking of “literally,” I’m sure I’ll get blamed for taking the “must-win” phrase too literally.

Perhaps I am. Or, perhaps you could not try to sensationalize a game that no one has to win to keep their season alive.

Find a different way to entertain your audience. “B.S. meters” everywhere will thank you for it.

Want to find Zach on Twitter? Just follow @BigEZ