Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Bye" Week Goes Malignant

Just spotted NY Times use of "bye week" to describe an off week for a college team. The madness is spreading beyond the NFL. What's next? Are the Rangers enjoying bye days as they await the Yankees/Tigers winner?

Nothing wrong with a new word, phrase or usage that adds new meaning, brevity or even a little pzazz to the language, provided it doesn't cause problems that outweigh its pluses. Sadly, "Bye Week", used as a synonym for the older term "off week", adds nothing but problems. It has exactly the same meaning as off week, it's no shorter and, in my opinion, sounds no better. All it does is muddy the once precise term "bye'.

Bye used to refer only to the situation where a team or player would advance a round in a tournament without playing. For example, the top 16 seeds in a 48 player tennis tournament would get a first round bye, advancing automatically to the second round (and not coincidentally producing a second round of 32 which plays down nicely to a 2 player final). As used by the NFL, and now malignantly creeping elsewhere, bye's meaning is diluted - suddenly it's just a scheduled week off that doesn't involve advancing in any way. A team can be mathematically eliminated from contention during a bye week, what kind of advance is that?

What happened? As the NFL kept expanding the number of teams in the playoffs, it worried that fans would lose interest in the regular season. The solution? Spin the regular season as a tournament in which teams compete to make the playoffs (which it is, sort of) and use bye week instead of off week to add to that tournament flavor. What about the fact that NFL teams don't really advance on a scheduled off week? Not important to the NFL spinmeisters or the media who have parroted the NFL press releases, and even expanded the usage to college ball, without even noticing that "bye" used to mean something precise.

Next up - "Program Record"

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