Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Oregon State philosophy professor Lani Roberts focuses her research on "ethical theory generally and, specifically, understanding our human propensity to harm one another, individually as well as in social groups," according to her bio on the university's Web site.
Interesting, but what the heck does that have to do with football?
Thanks for asking.
Dr. Roberts happens to be the adviser for a philosophy major named Sean Canfield.
Canfield's social group is a Beavers football team that last Saturday lost to Cincinnati and thereafter inched slightly closer toward a harmful syndrome typically known as a "quarterback controversy."
Before the loss, Canfield was being celebrated as the nation's 14th-rated passer. After he threw an interception and was sacked five times, some folks started calling for Lyle Moevao to start against Arizona on Saturday, even though Moevao is still trying to regain his arm strength after offseason shoulder surgery.
"That goes with the territory with a loss," coach Mike Riley said. "What people don't often take into account is there are a lot of factors with pressure that cause some of that stuff. Sean has played well a good portion of this start of the year. We're not going to panic and throw Lyle in there if he's not ready."
And yet, said Riley, "I don't know exactly how or when or where or what, but there could be a chance [Moevao is] ready to play some or somehow in this game."
And so the curious case of a team with two successful senior quarterbacks who have won a lot of games becomes both a practical and philosophical question.
This is right up Canfield's academic alley. "Stuff like, 'What is right?' and 'What is just?'" he said. "That's the area of philosophy that I'm most interested in."
What is right and what is just when deciding who should quarterback the Beavers offense?
The symmetry here, as often noted, is bizarre. Canfield was the primary starter in 2007, with Moevao going 4-0 when he stepped in as Plan B. In 2008, Moevao was the primary starter, with Canfield winning two starts and also coming off the bench to lead the Beavers to a victory over Arizona State.
Canfield missed the spring and preseason in 2008 because of shoulder surgery. Moevao missed the spring and preseason in 2009 because of shoulder surgery.
Canfield is now 9-5 as a starter. Moevao is 11-4.
It's a complicated situation. Riley couldn't answer -- "I'm going to have to think about that," he said -- when asked if he planned to play Moevao in some capacity against Arizona.
Riley has previously said that Moevao deserves some type of role that is larger than that of a typical backup.
What is right? What is just?
And what is going to win games.
The good news is Canfield and Moevao appear to be working hard not to harm their social group. Both have been good soldiers throughout as far as anyone can tell. And, typically, if there is a locker room schism, that gets out.
Riley admitted that he's specifically addressed how one or the other probably will be frustrated with how he is being used. Or not used.
"There is a burden they bear for this team," Riley said. "I think it's important for them to know that, as far as how they handle it. It's important that it is brought up and talked about."
On the other side of the field, Arizona has its own quarterback, er, questions. Matt Scott started the first three games, but after he struggled in a loss at Iowa, the Wildcats are going with fellow sophomore Nick Foles against the Beavers.
Scott is a better runner, but the passing game has languished during the early going. Scott's charge is to give it a jump start.
"We gave Matt three starts, an opportunity to show us what he can do," coach Mike Stoops said. "Now we want to give Nick that opportunity. We'll continually assess where we are at at that position as we move forward."
Said Foles: "I know what I have to do. I don't need to force anything and I need to be smart with the ball."
Foles won't have the services of All-American tight end Rob Gronkowski, whose season ended due to back surgery, so he'll need the inconsistent receiving corps to rediscover its rhythm quickly.
In the end, coaches don't spend a lot of time debating the ethics of choosing a quarterback, particularly before the Pac-10 opener when the loser will find itself streaking in the wrong direction.
Their fundamental philosophical question is less nuanced: Who gives us the best chance to win?