[Note: A lot of people have mistakenly found themselves on this blog looking for the difference between standard and international measurements, which is not the subject of this blog. I have, however, written about that very subject here, if you wish to read about that subject:
The difference between relative and absolute standards is one that is of great interest to me, and one I have written about before in light of historical  conditions. I would, however, like to take some notice at this difference again through the light of culture, and to examine what the difference is between an absolute and a relative standard as they relate to our lives and experiences.
The Bracket: Relative Standard
First I would like to look at the bracket. Most of what we consider in the sports rule happens as a result of brackets. Where there are fixed competitors and a fixed number of slots, the rule for who goes to the playoffs is a matter of a relative standard. In examining the relative nature of this bracket, let us look at three different bracket approaches, that of the National Football League, that of NCAA basketball, and that of the English premier league (soccer). Though all of these approaches are very different, all of them have a very clearly relative approach. Let us examine how.
The National Football League currently has 32 teams, 16 in the American Football Conference and 16 in the National Football Conference. Each conference is divided into four divisions that are roughly geographical: East, North, South, and West, with four teams in each division. Each year six teams from each conference go to the playoffs, all of the division winners and the best two “wild card” teams in each conference, according to a set of sometimes complicated tie-breakers. Each division champion, no matter how bad, is guaranteed a home playoff game. This year that became an issue when the 10-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants were denied a playoff spot and the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks were given a home playoff game (which they won) despite being the first team in NFL history to go to the playoffs with a losing record (no mean feat). This is the essence of a relative standard. There is no absolute requirement of having a minimum standard (say, a winning record) but only the relative standard of being the best team in one’s division, which may not be a very high bar.
In NCAA basketball the situation is complicated by the fact that there are a lot more teams to consider (more conferences, for example, than the NFL has teams), and the fact that college basketball has less symmetry than the NFL means that a different approach is necessary. The approach that is taken is to make a bracket, which has been made somewhat more complicated this year. Whereas once 32 or 64 teams entered the bracket, now there are 68 teams, with four “play-in” games between the four lowest-seeded automatic qualifiers (conference champions, the rough equivalent of “division champions”) with each other, and the four lowest at-large teams (the “wild cards” of college basketball), and then the top 64 teams then play out their brackets. Despite the complexities, which have led to the development of experts at selecting the bracket , the approach is still a relative one. If you win your conference tournament, you get a spot in the NCAA tournament. Whether your conference is as noble as the Big East or as questionable as SWAC, you are guaranteed a slot regardless. Likewise, there are 34 at-large slots to be filled, and the best 34 teams (in the eyes of the selection committee, which makes this even more relative) fill up the remaining slots, even in years (like this one) where there just aren’t a lot of very good teams. Even when mediocrity reigns, the best 68 teams play it out and the rest hope for (more relative) selections into tournaments like the NIT and CBA. In any case, the relative standard means that no team has to meet a minimum requirement, merely to be better than the next team.
In the English Premier league (and in many other European soccer leagues), there is a twist to this relative standard. While American sports tend to have fixed leagues, with no movement, European leagues in soccer have more fluid ones where the worst teams in the league are “relegated” (or demoted) to lesser leagues and the best-ranked teams in lower divisions are “promoted” to higher leagues. This additional pressure allows for a greater fluidity, and greater consequences for winning lesser prestige leagues of a sport or losing in higher prestige leagues–instead of being rewarded for failure with the first pick of a draft, lesser teams are relegated to lesser leagues. Take that–Detroit Lions or Carolina Panthers. However, the spots for going to the Champion’s League, the Europa League, or relegation are all decided according to rules and standards . It is still a relativistic approach.
What all of these sports, and indeed, all of sports, have in common is that they are based on a relative standard. Someone must win the competition, and so the first person or team who can get to the finish line, or score points, will win the game. Americans tend not to like ties (it’s a cultural thing), and so even in sports like soccer and hockey, which often end “regulation” time tied up, will have an overtime period, and then a shootout so that a winner is decided. Other sports, like college football or basketball, (or professional basketball) will play on in overtime periods until someone wins. In any case, athletic competition is a relative standard. So long as you are better than your opponents during the time allotted to the competition, you win. If not, you lose. It is this relativistic standard that accounts in part for the “pagan” nature of many sporting activities 
The Requirements: Absolute Standard
In contrast, there are other aspects of life that have absolute standards rather than relative standards. If you do not meet the standard, you do not qualify for the position or rewards, regardless of whether you are the best or not. In areas where there is an absolute standard then the aspects of relativistic competition only take place among those who have already “passed the bar” of the absolute standard. Those who do not pass that standard do not even qualify to compete in the first place.
Jobs are notorious for minimum qualifications. For example, there is a virtual job fair going on right now in the Tampa Bay area, where I reside, and one of the jobs listed there for Bisk Education’s “Call Center Reporting & Analytics Manager” has the following minimum requirements :
- Demonstrated data analysis
- Advanced knowledge of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Access – Super User
- Working knowledge of SQL Reporting – Advanced Preferred
- Working knowledge of CRM platforms, (Talisma preferred – other examples would be SalesForce.com, Microsoft and Siebel) dialer platforms (Vicci and/or Asterisk platform preferred), workforce management programs to include volume forecasting and scheduling, (TCS or Blue Pumpkin would be examples), agent monitoring software and best practices (Pipkins would be an example) all in a blended inbound/outbound environment, preferably with multiple divisions
- Demonstrated effectiveness in defining, developing, and executing strategic initiatives
- Ability and willingness to work, as necessary, after hours and on weekends
- Demonstrated leadership and management skills
- Excellent verbal and written communication skills
- Strong planning, time management, and organizational skills
- Requires proficient knowledge in the following areas: organizational structure, products by each program, operating metrics, BIRT, Talisma, Asterisk, dialer, call monitoring
- Advanced experience with Word, Excel, and Access
- Working knowledge of SQL-advanced preferred
- Ability to analyze data and define trends
- Ability to define/develop and/or execute strategic initiatives
If you don’t meet these standards (I don’t), you are not even considered for the job. If no one at the entire career fair met the minimum standards, no one would get the job, or even be in the running for it. It’s as simple as that. To even compete you must meet the bar. It is only after qualifying in the first place that you have to compete through the interview process.
This sort of qualifying aspect is also found with regards to positions in the Bible. For example, Titus 1:5-9 gives the “minimum requirements” for ordaining an elder: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you–if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For an overseer must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine [teaching], both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” That is an absolute standard, a minimum requirement for an elder. If you are a polygamist, beat your wife, drink too much or too often, have children who party and carouse, are a hireling greedy for money, or cannot control your temper when dealing with others, then you do not qualify as a minister of God. Period–there’s no relative standard, no “I’m the best Cretan for the job,” no ordination under a godly application of the biblical standard period.
Even in personal matters there may be “minimum” qualifications. For example, one finds these often in dating. People have standards of the sort of people they will date, and if no one meets those standards, then a relationship is found with no one. Sometimes these standards are physical, sometimes they are with regards to personality traits or qualifications, but in all such cases it is only those who qualify under the standard (which may be scarcely less rigorous than the job standards examined above) who even get to the stage of the “interview” process. If you don’t meet the standard, it matters not a bit if you were the best that was around in all the earth.
What are the implications of these differences? At its heart, the problem of relative and absolute standards is the dividing line between the idealist and the pragmatist. Absolute standards are absolute because they do not bend for anyone–they are the bar that must be passed and are not to be set aside for any reasons. An idealist is willing to live by absolute standards–and if they must suffer, they suffer willingly because they will not compromise. A pragmatist, on the other hand, is not interested in absolute standards, but rather seeks the best of what’s around because “somebody has to win.” It is the gulf between pragmatism and idealism that forms the difference between job requirements and minimum standards and relativistic brackets and playoffs where somebody has to qualify, even if they aren’t very good.
How do we judge the matters of our own lives? Do we have absolute standards that will not be crossed, or are our standards flexible so that either we or someone qualifies under any circumstances? Do we stare into the darkness and examine ourselves according to a fixed and absolute standard of conduct and behavior, or do we take comfort in relative standards by which we may judge ourselves by what we see around us, to find ourselves superior even among less than stellar competition. This sort of choice can have eternal consequences–let us hope that as judges we have an absolute standard, with mercy (for we all fall short), rather than a relativistic standard wherein we do not know where we really stand or what level of excellence we must reach. Let us meet standards, and not merely fill brackets.