David Perry (Pox on All Houses)
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Date Posted: 23:36:50 12/03/21 Fri
As you might imagine, I have not been tremendously engaged by Ivy football this season (which is a pity, because before it started, I had the most anticipation I'd had for a season in a long time.) That being said, I have to admit this whole thing intrigues me, so at the risk of rushing where angels fear to tread, I'll give my opinions.
1.) The fundamental mistake the refs made was not watching for the timeout. In that situation, anyone who knows anything about football knows that there is a very strong likelihood that the defense will call a timeout once they see the offensive formation. How that crew could not have at least one person assigned to keep an ear cocked towards the Princeton sideline is beyond me.
2.) Once that mistake was made, the die was cast; there was no way to avoid someone getting screwed. Had the play been allowed to stand, Princeton would have the same right to complain that Harvard does now; they forcefully attempted to call a timeout they were entitled to and were ignored. The refs, through incompetence, put themselves in a situation where there was no good solution to the problem.
3.) The NCAA screwed up by writing an ambiguous rule. As others have pointed out, it basically says, "This isn't reviewable--unless it's really, really important that you review it." That is just begging for trouble like this. A similar situation occurred in the celebrated case of Brett v. Martin (1981), where one could reasonably make two interpretations: one, that having pine tar too far up the bat should be punished simply by requiring a change of bat, or two, that excessive pine tar should be grounds for ejection from the game and the nullification of any hit made on the play. In cases like this, I think there are two main factors to consider: precedent (what has the typical practice been) and equity (what is the fairest solution to the problem). In the older case, I think the the American League properly held that *both* factors favored the Royals: precedent said that no one had ever been ejected and had a hit thrown out for having pine tar too far up the bat, and equity argued that having too much tar did not give any competitive advantage; the rule was merely about keeping the ball clean. The current question, on the other hand, clearly set the two principles against one another. On the one hand, we know of no previous example of replay being used to determine if a timeout was called before a play started. On the other hand, the equitable response was that Princeton did everything they could to get a timeout, and should not lose the game because of the refs' failure to pay attention. Personally, I would have leaned towards equity in this one myself, both because the rule was ambiguous and also because ruling as they did still left Harvard with a chance to win, whereas going with precedent was guaranteed to screw Princeton.
4.) The League screwed up by not having their ducks all in a row. While I do think it was proper to point out that the refs messed up, they erred by not identifying the correct source of the problem, which was the failure to see the timeout being called, and also by not carefully reading the rules before making the statement and recognizing the ambiguity of the rules. As such, I think it was improper for them to them to suggest that the result was unjust, when it would have been at least as unjust if it had gone in the other direction.
5.) I do recognize what others have said about the potential to game the system with timeouts and replay, and in general I think that replay is becoming overused and is too much of a crutch for the refs. I would be in favor of the NCAA rewriting the rule to make it very clear that certain things are reviewable and other things aren't, and to allow no leeway for the importance of the situation. At the same time, however, I also think it would be appropriate to develop a Dick Tracy-type watch like the ones FIFA refs use to receive rulings on whether the ball has fully entered the goal or not, except that in this case it would be wirelessly connected to buttons on the sidelines, and when the coaches wanted to call timeouts, they could push the button, and the watch would display the name of the team asking for the TO.
6.) I have watched a lot of sports in my life and seen a lot of bad decisions, but in the absence of clear fixing or other blatant favoritism (which I don't think anyone is suggesting happened here), I have never fundamentally blamed the refs for my teams losing. My reason is this: there's always something you could have done better. If you win every game in a blowout, you never have to worry about the refs, but if you leave things to chance, sometimes that chance will go against you. The worst screwing one of my teams ever got was the infamous fog game between the Eagles and the Bears, but even there, the Birds had plenty of chances to take the lead in the first half when it was clear and did not do so; had they succeeded, it would have been Chicago who got jobbed by the NFL's pigheaded refusal to delay games. The fact is that Harvard, who had the second best offense in the league this season, failed to score a touchdown on offense in regulation, and therefore squandered a very good effort by their defense against the Tigers. Even after the contretemps, they had four more cracks at either winning the game or keeping it going and missed all four of them. I'm sorry, and it pains me greatly to take Nassau's side on anything, but ultimately, I can't be sympathetic to Harvard here.
Ceterum censeo Priore terminandam esse!
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