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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

More on obscure rules, limiting rules, and the Super Bowl

Two items following on my post on the rules discussions following the Super Bowl:

First, here is a nice discussion of the fair-catch kick rule that the Niners might have tried to execute to tie the game had the Ravens punter shanked the kick. The author describes the rule as vestigial, a throwback to rugby's "try from mark" rule, which rugby subsequently eliminated, as did college football. But arguably the rule remains necessary to maintain a more even balance of costs and benefits on an intentional safety, by giving the trailing team another weapon with which it can counter the benefits the leading team gets from the intentional safety.

Second, a commenter to my prior post raises the situation that may have occurred in last year's Super Bowl: The offense needs a touchdown to win or tie while the the defense wants to stop the touchdown and run time off the clock, so the defense puts extra players on the field. The extra players obviously give the defense a better chance of stopping the offense on the play. And while the defense will surrender five yards and the down will be replayed on the penalty, time has run off the clock on the live play, meaning the offense will get fewer plays to run.

This seems to meet the three features that necessitate a limiting rule. The defense has an incentive to do something we ordinarily don't expect; the defense is in control and the offense cannot counter (because trying to score againt 12 or 14 is going to be exceedingly difficult); and the cost-benefit disparity has increased dramatically, because the offense is going to run out of clock on wasted plays.

And recognizing this, the NFL enacted a limiting rule: If the defense has 12 men on the field and the extra players are not attempting to get off the field, the play is whistled dead on the snap and the clock stops (if the defender is trying to get off the field, the play is live, since the extra defender does not hinder the offense). This eliminates the advantage to the defense--it cannot use extra defenders to stop a play and cause the offense to waste time because the clock stops--in turn eliminating the negative incentive for the defense.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 5, 2013 at 05:56 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink


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BTW, I think Dick Vitale is one of the nicest, kindest, most genuine men in what is capable of being a corrupt business. I think he glosses over much of the corruption in his adulation. I think he is almost unbearable to listen to. But in 2000, I had seats right in front of him at the NCAA Final Four, and I watched him treat every person (and it was continuous) who came up to him with courtesy, enthusiasm, and class. Nevertheless, I still groan when he's the color commentator.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Feb 6, 2013 9:52:36 AM

My previous comment seems not to have made it, so the one above looks like a non-sequitur. I don't want to retype it, but it was about the non-calls at the end of the Michigan-Ohio State basketball game last night.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Feb 6, 2013 9:54:34 AM

Back in 2006, then Wisconsin coach (now Arkansas coach) Bret Bielema exploited a similar time-eating rule by intentionally having his players run offsides on a kickoff. The NCAA had recently tried to speed up games by having the clock start when a kickoff is kicked, rather than when it is received. Thus, a penalized kickoff could waste several valuable seconds, with the added bonus that a player who is illegally downfield when the ball is kicked (i.e., offsides) has an unfair advantage against the kickoff returner.


Posted by: Paul Washington | Feb 7, 2013 11:25:38 AM

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