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Monday, February 04, 2008

How Not to Take Work Home with You

It's a real challenge to turn the last seconds of one of the most exciting Super Bowls in recent memory into a rather dullish procedure issue, but I can't help myself.  With one second left on the game clock and the outcome certain, Pats coach Bill Belichik effectively conceded by crossing the field to shake hands with opposing Giants coach Tom Coughlin.  He then quickly exited the playing area, a move for which others have excoriated him.

I won't comment on the normative propriety of his conduct; my question is, as usual, procedural.  Various commenters have stated that Belichik could not concede the loss without causing an official forfeit (I can't find that rule in my quick skim of the 2006 official NFL rulebook, but I don't doubt it to be true).  My question is: Why not?

Now, I understand that the goals of the civil litigation rule system, with which I am more familiar, are different than the goals of the NFL rule system.   Simplistically speaking, civil rules strive to balance the search for truth, justice, fairness, efficiency, predictability, and the adversarial system.   The NFL has similar goals (though perhaps it strikes a different balance) plus the additional important goal of entertainment value.

It is possible that the goals of the NFL rule system are furthered by preventing an opposing coach from conceding the game one second early, but I'm hard-pressed to see it here.  What overriding policy reason required the officials to spend several minutes ordering players, coaches, fans, and media personnel off the field and into their respective places just to have that one second tick off the clock, abruptly and tediously interrupting a well-deserved celebration in the biggest game of the year?

Posted by Scott Dodson on February 4, 2008 at 01:01 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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Comments

VEGAS BABY! When a game is conceded it remains "official" for Vegas so long as at least 55 minutes have been played. On the other hand, a forfeit is no action.

Posted by: CMW | Feb 5, 2008 11:03:08 PM

Howard,

That's awesome that you were there for such an event. I thought no one else would remember it. Coincidentally, it's known as "Miracle in the Meadowlands" by Eagle fans and "The Fumble" by Giants fans. Here it is on YouTube - note that the credits are rolling.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzUHvg6QbaU

Posted by: Jeff Yates | Feb 5, 2008 7:02:08 PM

There could be a line-drawing problem with any concession rule. At what point can a team concede when there exists some chance the trailing team could win, however miraculous it would be? How many seconds can a team concede? And is it more than timing? Could the 2007 Dolphins concede when down 14 midway through the 4th quarter on the road to the 2007 Patriots? They had about the same chance of winning that game as the Patriots did with :01 last night. Since prospective rules are notoriously bad at anticipating practical distinctions that may come up, rulemakers err to the far end of making everyone play every last play. I am not sure I would call it "sportsmanship" as much as encouraging teams to do everything necessary to win in the name of the integrity of the game. It even relates somewhat to concerns about bad teams "tanking" for draft position.

And I was at Giants Stadium for "The Fumble" in 1979. That was not the start of teams taking a knee; teams had been doing it for years. And everyone was expecting the Giants to take a knee, which is why what followed was so unbelievable. But it did ensure no one ever would try to hand-off again. That move cost the coach and the GM their jobs.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Feb 4, 2008 4:21:55 PM

It is true that the Patriots still could have won the game in theory, but that doesn't necessarily answer the question of why the Patriots couldn't have conceded it prematurely. Perhaps, though, there is an element of sportsmanship that the rule encourages (to the extent that conceding is unsportsmanlike). Thanks for pointing out the Rule!

Posted by: Scott Dodson | Feb 4, 2008 3:12:17 PM

I think that this actually happened back in the 1980s - to the Giants. As I recall there was one play left and there was a fumble that was picked up and run for a TD, winning the game for the Eagles. Admittedly, there was a handoff and I think that this may have been the beginning of QBs taking a knee.

Posted by: Jeff Yates | Feb 4, 2008 3:04:15 PM

The fact that the Patriots still could have won the game. Though extremely unlikely, it's possible that a bad snap would have caused a fumble that the Patriots could have recovered and run back for a touchdown. If the teams are within 8 points of each other, it's always possible for the losing team to win or tie the game on one play (coupled with the extra point or two point conversion), even if it doesn't have possession. Perhaps this is the reason that the NFL rulebook (Rule 17, section 1, article 4) states that, absent emergencies, "The NFL affirms the position that . . . all regular season and postseason games should be played to their conclusion."

As for the situation in which the teams are more than 9 or more points apart with only one play left, the only policies I can come up with are (1) consistent stat keeping across games and (2) ensuring, to the extent possible, that all fans who watch the game will actually watch a full game (obviously, this matters more to ticketholders than it does to TV fans).

Posted by: Stephen Aslett | Feb 4, 2008 2:32:58 PM

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