Thursday, July 02, 2009

Rosters: Managing the list

This summer, I've been organizing pickup hoops at my university's gym. I'd heard that the pickup scene is usually pretty dead during the summer, so I spent the spring collecting e-mail addresses from the regular players and compiling them into a list. It's been great so far. I've got more than 40 players on the list and we get 15-20 out there every time I send out a basketball alert.

Overall, I like administering the list because I can virtually guarantee that any time I want to play, there will be others to play with. I also like the fact that I have some control over who gets on the list, and more importantly, who is excluded from it. Now don't get me wrong
this isn't some velvet rope thing, and it certainly isn't as exclusive as this basketball list. I invited almost all the regular players at the gym. However, I was also able to subtly exclude a few bad apples by intentionally failing to mention the list when they were around.

But now the list has grown beyond my control. People talk about it during our pickup runs and I am getting quite a few referrals via e-mail and in person. In principle, I have no problem with this, but the existence of the list is so well-known at this point that it can no longer be hidden from those that I wanted to hide it from.

This guy, for example, is one of the biggest doofuses in the gym and I had taken great pains to keep him out of the loop. But the other day I was running in a game and I heard him yell to me from the sideline, "How come I didn't get on the e-mail list?" Others must have been talking about it. I was overcome with two distinct negative emotions. I felt guilty for excluding him and I also felt annoyed that he was acting so entitled about getting on the list. Ultimately I had no choice but to add him and now he's coming almost every time (and acting like a fool).

On the one hand, I feel like a jerk for applying my own standards of play and personality to list membership, even if those standards are fairly lax. Isn't this the sort of anti-democratic elitism that we want to eliminate from our society? Haven't we all felt bad for being excluded from something? On the other hand, some dudes are meatheads and need to stop playing competitive sports with reasonable people. Moreover, I am constrained by my position at the university. If I were a student, I could probably be more of a hardass about restricting inclusion on the list. But as a professor (and the only one who plays pickup ball), I feel a duty to act charitably and promote harmony in the university hoops community.

I feel that this issue reflects a fundamental dilemma in the democratic process. In theory, democracy is a good thing because it is inclusive and fair. But at the same time, democracy is messy and inefficient because all voices demand to be heard. (In this case, all players demand court time.) Even America's founding fathers designed our wacko electoral system to limit the irrational and uninformed influence of the masses. Why shouldn't I be able to limit the influence of mean, unsportsmanlike players?