Sports Law Blog
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Monday, February 04, 2008
 
Super Bowl Law

Scott Dodson at Prawfsblawg wonders what procedural and legal goals or values were served by requiring the teams to run the last snap with :01 left in the game (besides the benefit of giving the media one more thing for which to criticize Bill Belichick). Why shouldn't the Patriots have been permitted, in essence, to concede the game one second early?

In comments to Scott's post, I wrote a shorter version of the following:

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? A similar situation occurred in Super Bowl XXXII (what happened to the Roman numerals last night, btw?) between Green Bay and Denver. With Denver up 7, Green Bay threw an incompletion on fourth down. There was more than :01 left there, but not much more; I think Elway only had to take one or at most two knees. So was a concession appropriate there? 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.

Prospective rules are notoriously bad at anticipating practical distinctions that may come up. Rulemakers thus 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, something that has been discussed before.





6 Comments:

There's also the gambling issue. The score wasn't going to change last night, but billions of dollars can change hands when the game's outcome is already decided but time remains on the clock.

Anonymous columbiaa -- 2/04/2008 6:05 PM  


Of course, surely the NFL is not going to admit that it makes its rules based on gambling . . .

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 2/04/2008 6:51 PM  


They may never admit it, but the rule is about gambling. The extra point used to be optional if a team scored on the last play of the game. Now, by rule, you must complete the extra point. And yes it has affected bets when the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/04/2008 7:25 PM  


I think your criticism of concessions misses a key point -- that the team conceding has the most to gain by any miracle finish. In other words, there is no need (or very little) to put some sort of hard cap on the amount of time a losing team can concede, because they are in the best position to make that decision. That decision will be informed not just by the realities of the situation on the field, but also by the realities of the profession. That is, no coach is going to want to face the fans after conceding with 8:41 left in the 4th, even if they're down by 50. He's not going to want to face the players, his GM, the press, his family . . . whatever. So what he'll do is use the opportunity to get some playing time for little-used players, maybe try some little-used plays. He's not going to concede because there is still some value in the use of the time left, and there's a hell of a lot of downside to walking off early.

By contrast, there is very little downside in conceding the last thirty, forty, even the last minute of a game when the other team is just kneeling down. But, again, it is the coach on the field who has the best sense of what the breaking point is.

Blogger Collin -- 2/04/2008 10:55 PM  


A hard fast mercy rule isn't needed. I've seen my alma mater rack up 21 points in 13 minutes to send a game to overtime and eventual win and 25 in 18:44 for a win.

My rule of thumb is mathematical possibility. Could the Giants have botched the victory formation, Pats recover and run for the winning score? Yep. Highly improbable but still possible.

The NCAA only addresses the matter when there is a score with no time left on the clock.

If you lead by more than 2 you don't have to attempt the try after touchdown. Many moons ago Arkansas State scored on hail mary at the horn to take a 23-21 lead. The insuing celebration resulted in the ball being placed at the 33 for the try. If Nevada had gotten the ball and advanced it to the other end zone they would have tied the game so they ran the victory formation and took a knee.

In New York it was "The Fumble" when the Eagles beat the Giants as they were trying to run out the clock.

Four seconds was enough for "The play".

If the outcome can still change no matter how improbable, you keep playing.

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