Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Saturday, September 15, 2007
A Situationist Account of the NFL, Bill Belichick, and Videotapes

Reactions over Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots videotaping the Jets have finally brought some humor: last night, New Mexico Governor and Presidential candidate Bill Richardson mused, "You know something is wrong when the New England Patriots face stiffer penalties for spying on innocent Americans than Dick Cheney and George Bush."

Most reactions remain sober and serious, however, and very critical of the Patriots' engagement in a practice that is apparently neither new to the NFL nor unique to the Patriots, but still against league rules and embarrassing for a franchise that had been so revered.

Over on The Situationist, Goutam Jois takes a different approach and examines the role played by the NFL in creating a situation in which wrongdoing could occur. Here is an excerpt from his piece:

Perhaps part of the explanation is situational. In an environment where competitive pressures and expectations are very high, incentives to push the envelope, cut corners and, yes, cheat outright are quite strong. Bad choices, to be sure. But powerful situations too. Consider the recent debacles in corporate America. Surely, none of the now-disgraced executives set out years ago on a quest to defraud shareholders. Instead, they faced pressures to meet analysts estimates quarter after quarter. When a division or department reported figures that didn’t quite seem right, they looked the other way. When accountants concocted unusual transactions and entities to hide debt and inflate revenues, they assumed “everyone was doing it.”

So, too, in football. Perhaps the surprising thing is not that Belichick was cheating; it’s that he got caught for doing it so obviously. And the pressure in this case comes not from investment bankers or shareholders but from sportswriters and fans. Sure, the cheating may not have made a difference in this game — but Belichick was looking for an edge in the next game and the next, and perhaps a playoffs rematch with the Jets. Indeed, Belichick implied as much in his “statement,” saying that the Pats “have never used sideline video to obtain a competitive advantage while the game was in progress.” Of course, as a commentator pointed out on CNN this morning, if it didn’t make a difference, they wouldn’t have done it. The risks may have been sky-high, and the benefits marginal, but in the minds of Belichick and the pats, every little bit could be the difference maker in their quest for a fourth Super Bowl ring.

* * *

Given the power of situation to compel choices, eliminating the possibility of certain choices may prove advantageous. The NFL could, for instance, provide for additional security in games to monitor for potential cheating, assess “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalties if it came to light during the game, and in extreme situations, require teams to forfeit tainted games. After-all, it appears that the NFL only responded to the Patriots’ videotaping upon being notified by other teams’ personnel. If the issue were so crucial to the NFL, as the league now alleges, why did the league allow for a situation in which it may exist until detected by opposing teams?

Belichick needs to be punished, no doubt. And a stiff punishment and public outrcry will influence the situation of all coaches who contemplate such options. Still, if we care about honesty and integrity, in sports as in business, we would do better than to rely on “the better angels of our nature.” Instead, we should be sensitive to shaping our institutions and our laws with a view to changing the incentives that our coaches, players, and CEOs face. Even without laws and rules that condone advantage-seeking, there are plenty of incentives, for corporations and for sports teams, to be and to remain highly competitive. A more accurate understanding of human nature just might change some of the incentives to cheat.

For the rest of Goutman's article, click here. For comments by BC Law Professor Alfred Yen, click here.


This is why I love golf. It's a gentleman's game. Even if no one is looking, you don't cheat. And even if you accidentally write the wrong score, you disqualify yourslef--you don't wait for someone to snitch on you.

What a wonderful game!


Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/15/2007 1:19 PM  

crime scene cleanup
auto refinance
plumbing code
crime mob
coach purse
primeval story true
cadillac deville
ameriquest mortgage
oakland museum
heater tahkless water
fabricators metal
indoor park water
drilling water well
alchemist full metal
Here good news from Google!

Blogger Алексей -- 9/24/2007 12:32 PM  

I'm glad to see a situationists point of view on this topic. I will start off by saying that I believe that Belichick should be punished, but I would be lying if I said that my dislike for him has nothing to do with my statement above. In almost any professional sport today, “advantage-seeking” is just as much a part of the game as playing itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if Belichick’s actions opens Pandora’s box as far as cheating allegations go. The competitiveness in the NFL breeds advantage-seeking, and it is just a matter of time before allegations similar to those against Belichick become commonplace. It happens, and in my opinion, the Professional Sports League’s foster this behavior.

Anonymous Alec Taylor -- 9/25/2007 2:29 PM  

I think this really affects the fan equity in sports.

Blogger rasdorfw -- 9/29/2007 2:09 PM  

This Blog is generally great, but I'm starting to wonder if 'situationalism' isn't just an old dog with a new name; lawyers creating a new title for old concepts from other disciplines. The same thing happens with a lot of the sports law literature on economic issues where you see a lot of parallel work in economics and the legal scholarship on matters such as antitrust etc. Few of the economists cite the legal work and few of the legal scholars cite the economic work and why would they? For if they do it might show up the reality that the lawyers have just been making a career in writing the same old stuff from a different discipline but publishing it in law journals.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/30/2007 6:02 PM  

Post a Comment