Vicki, My short answer is that there is no ‘correct’ answer. And personally, I don’t see why Safire and others think that sports teams require a separate set of rules differing in any way from standard usage (if there is any). But, of course, they may disagree. What we are generally talking about here is how to select the proper verb, singular or plural, for a collective noun, and the conclusion that I have reached after checking in several sources is that it doesn’t make any difference and that the main consideration is consistency. If you treat a collective noun as singular or plural, then continue to treat it that way throughout a particular discussion and don’t switch in midstream. Garner’s Modern Usage
(2003) tells us, and I quote:
Apart from the desire for consistency, there is little ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ on this subject: collective nouns sometimes take a singular verb and sometimes a plural one. The trend in American English is to regard the collective noun as expressing a unit; hence, the singular is the usual form. When the individuals in the collection or group receive the emphasis, the plural form is acceptable (e.g. “That deconstructionist school were not wholly in error”). But generally in American English, collective nouns take singular verbs, as in the ‘jury finds,’ ‘the panel is,’ ‘the committee believes,’ ‘the board has decided,’ etc.
Just the opposite habit generally obtains in British English, where collective nouns tend to take plural verbs. The British tend to write, e.g., ‘The board have considered the views of the shareholders.’
The Gregg Reference Manual
(9th edition, 1999) – a U.S. publication – expands on the guidelines for choosing a singular or plural verb under the heading ‘Collective Nouns,’ and I quote:
a) If the group is acting as a unit, use the singular form of the verb.
‘The board of directors meets Friday.’
‘The firm is one of the oldest in the field.’
‘The committee has agreed to submit its report on Monday.’
b) If the members of the group are acting separately use a plural verb.
‘A group of researchers are coming from all over the world for the symposium next month.
‘A group of researchers is meeting in Geneva next month.’
The Gregg Reference Manual
addresses the subject of organizational names (which is essentially a repeat of the above, but I include it anyway), and I quote:
Organizational names may be treated as either singular or plural. Ordinarily, treat the name as singular unless you wish to emphasize individuals who make up the organization; in that case, use the plural. Once a choice has been made, use the singular or plural form consistently within the same context.
‘Brooks & Rice has lost its lease. It is now looking for a new location.'
OR ‘Brooks & Rice have lost their lease. They are now looking for a new location.' (But not: 'Brooks and Rice has lost its lease. They are now looking for a new location.’)
For a discussion of collective nouns and specifically ‘sports teams,' see http://webster.commnet.edu/grammar/plurals.htm
,which provides us with their view on dealing with the subject, and I quote:
The names of sports teams, on the other hand, are treated as plurals, regardless of the form of that name. We would write that "The Yankees ‘have’ signed a new third baseman" and "The Yankees ‘are’ a great organization" (even if we're Red Sox fans) and that "For two years in a row, the Utah Jazz ‘have’ attempted to draft a big man." When we refer to a team by the city in which it resides, however, we use the singular, as in "Dallas ‘has’ attempted to secure the services of two assistant coaches that Green Bay ‘hopes’ to keep." (This is decidedly not a British practice. In the UK, the city or country names by which British newspapers refer to soccer teams, for example, are used as plurals — a practice that seems odd and inconsistent to American ears: "A minute's silence will precede the game at Le Stadium today, when Toulouse ‘play’ Munster, and tomorrow at Lansdowne Road, when Leinster ‘attempt’ to reach their first European final by beating Perpignan" [report in the online ‘London Times’].)
In a rare dictum-making mood, William Safire (in ‘No Uncertain Terms,’ 2003) declares that pluralized names like Packers and Yankees should take plural verbs (obviously), but that team names like the Jazz, the Heat, the Lightning, the Connecticut Sun should take singular verbs. This dictum seems to prevail in Safire's own New York Times
: "The [Miami] Heat, typical of its resilience at home, ‘was’ far from through. "But just about everywhere else in the world of sports reporting, this is not the case. Even in the Times
,’ an AP report asserts that "The Heat, down 2-0 in the East Conference semifinal series, ‘have’ won 16 straight home games." The Boston Globe
says that "the [New England] Revolution ‘are’ reestablishing ‘their’ reputation for resourcefulness and spirited play." and "the Heat ‘were’ in it in the first half." The Hartford Courant
writes that "When the Connecticut Sun ‘play’ an exhibition game tonight in Houston, coach Mike Thibault will have two more players." Finally, NBA Media Ventures
writes that "The Utah Jazz ‘were’ expected to follow the rebuilding mode… ." [All quotations are from May 10th and 20th, 2004, online sources.]
So, looking at all of the above, what can we conclude about dealing with the names of sports teams - and, again I say, why the heck should they be treated any differently than any other organization? What the above ‘experts’ are telling us in their disagreement is that there is no agreement (and certainly none between Britain and the U.S.) - no absolute right or wrong – on this question (other than maintaining consistency within a single context), in spite of what Safire or anyone else says. In some cases at least, a possible reasonable guideline for deciding which to use might be to determine whether the emphasis is to be on the group or on the individuals that make up the group. And, if that is not clear, it probably doesn’t make a hell of a lot of difference which we choose as I indicate in the following:
The Yankees converging on spring training came from all over the country. [considered as individuals]
The Yankees is/are a team with a winning history. [either way]
The Marlins was/were scheduled to play here next Tuesday. [either way]
The Jazz has/have attempted to draft a big man. [either way]
Ken G – September 20, 2005