Originally Posted by Heather
Well, from what I've read, they aren't really sure if it was the "winner" or "loser" who lost his head. Books/records of the Maya were destroyed by the Spaniards who invaded the land and this has made it difficult to know for certain what daily life was like for the Maya. Anna has written some terrific articles about the Mayan world, which you can find under the "read more" tab on this site.
Heather is right, nobody knows for sure. But I got this from a book I have quoted before, Arqueological Mexico by Andrew Coe (son of an arqueologist):
"The most common Mesoamerican versions... were played by two teams of one to 11 players wearing thick pads around the waist. No copies of the rules have been found, but the object of the contest seems to have been to hit a solid rubber ball weighing as much as 2.5 Kg (5 pounds) through the stone rings. The ball, wich could kill a man, could only be struck with the hips, buttocks or knees... The games were accompanied by vigorous wagering; the stakes could be money, valuables, or even human lives. Early Spanish eyewitnesses report spectators fleeing at the end of a game to avoid the victor collecting his winnings: their clothes.
The game was used to resolve disputes and as a means for people to assert their social or political status...
After a battle, captives were often taken to the ballcourt to play against their captors; after their defeat (it is unclear if they were ever allowed to win) they were decapitated. The blood sprouting from their neck was the ritual fertilizer for good crops. In some ceremonies, the decapitated head was used in place of the ball....
The Mayas also turssed captives into the shape of a ball and rolled them down the temple steps to their deaths... this ritual has its good and bad sides: the captive died a horrible death, but on the other hand he became a god."
So, is difficult to say if just the loosers would loose also their heads as this was clearly a great honor. And the sacrifice would not happen on every game, so that part remains a mystery.