Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

02 Feb 2006

Leavy Named Super Bowl Ref

Referee Bill Leavy has been named to head the seven-man crew of game officials selected to work Super Bowl XL. You might remember Leavy as the referee who overturned the ruling on the field of a Denver first down with 2:01 left in the December Broncos-Chiefs game. That gave Kansas City the ball back and allowed the Chiefs to run out the clock. It was the right call and a gutsy call. Leavy is a good choice.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 02 Feb 2006

78 comments, Last at 05 Feb 2006, 11:55am by Trogdor


by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 3:57pm

Good choice. I don't Hochuli had a good game in the Seattle/Carolina matchup, and Carey made a fundamental error in the Sean Taylor spitting incident. It is not the role of a referee to apply his theories of justice regarding allowable retaliation. Absent instruction from the appropriate NFL committee to the contrary, referees have to penalize players who throw punches to the head well after the whistle. The ejection was a good call, but failing to call offsetting penalties was a gross error.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:08pm

Leavy is a good choice. While I disagree about Hochuli, when you get to the SB it's a tossup between the 2 or 3 excellent refs the league has.

I'd love to keep a review of sorts of refs as the season progresses, but I don't have directv so I don't get all the games :/.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:31pm

He's not as much fun to watch as Carey or Hochuli, and that's the real factor. Those two are usually fine refs, and refs only get noticed when they're fun (Hochuli reciting a PI in Spanish, anyone?) or bad (I'm looking at you, Triplett).

by Gregg (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:39pm

I could be wrong, but I'm almost certain Refs can't do the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. So Hochuli wasn't a candidate. Refs can do an earlier playoff game and the Super Bowl.

by krugerindustrialsmoothing (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:44pm

Will, I (respectfully) have to disagree with you on the outcome of the spitting incident. Referees are constantly required to use their judgement in applying the rules of the game to the events within the game. In that case, I think Carey righfully declined to punish a retaliation penalty that had no bearing on the events of the game, and more importantly, was a not unreasonable reaction to a blatantly unsportsman like act. Note also that the reaction was one punch, not a flat out brawl (which pundits would also have justified).

That being said, I think the NFL cannot go wrong picking one of the top 3-4 reffing units....Bringing up another thought, do crews work together during the regular season? what impact does an all-star crew have on calls? or missed calls.

by Craigo (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:53pm

4 - Until just a few weeks ago, regular-season crews worked the playoffs. The NFL has gone back to all-star crews for the playoffs following the Polamalu reversal in IND-PIT.

I think this is a good decision, personally - I think home-crowd pressure contributes to official error far more than incompetence or outright mendacity. All-star crews aren't necessarily working for their home team, and I would speculate, have a higher degree of professionalism in any case.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:03pm

No, kruger, Carey established a precedent, that in the games he calls, if someone spits on a player, the player spat upon gets one free shot to the head. This is nonsense, and the only reason it didn't result in a brawl is because Taylor didn't counter-retaliate, which Carey could not have predicted. An intentional punch to the head well after the whistle is unsportsmanlike conduct, period, and no exceptions, until that time that the appropriate committee instructs the referees that they are to allow retalitory blows to the head in response to egregious provocation.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:07pm

Will Allen, there are no precedents in football. It's always going to be a judgment call, and just because Carey called it that way at the time doesn't mean he won't call it another way in the future.

An intentional punch to the head isn't always a clear-cut penalty; ask the NBA players about that one. some times they're just playing. Refs are not just quantitative automata - they have to use reasonably good judgment for every specific situation, and there is no more vague of a situation than the unsportsmanlike calls. This isn't a matter of Bush pushing Leinart into the end zone and a penalty being missed; this is a matter of his using a one-sided penalty in order to make sure that the team whose player got spit on does not go ballistic.

by Justus (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:08pm

#6 - "home teams"? I thought NFL crews worked a different location every week. How do they have a home team?

I don't know why an all-star officiating crew would be any better than any other all-star team. Teamwork is the basis of most success and just taking the best individual contributors doesn't make the best team until they've had a chance to work together, to trust one another, to learn the tendencies of each.

by Keith Cockrell (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:10pm

Yes, Will Allen, if someone spits on you, you get to hit them. That's not only in football. And in the real world, it's often "hit them with something." The solution is simple. Don't want to get hit in the head? Don't spit on someone.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:21pm

Uh, Keith, guess what? In the real world, if you get spit on, and you respond by punching someone, when the police arrive, they ain't going to let it slide because you had some saliva tossed your way. You're not in the fifth grade anymore.

Kal, to say there are no precedents in football is simply a denial of reality. How do you suppose holding and pass interference are called? Through precedents on how the rules are interpreted. Players would not be able to judge how their actions would be penalized, or not, if there were no precedents in football. Finally, your concept of preventing escalation by allowing blows to the head is novel, if nothing else.

by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:29pm

I think in the realm of football, there are only a few things that are really frowned upon. Intentionally trying to injure someone is one, and spitting on someone is another. Little fisticuffs happen all the time (how many illegal hands to the face penalties could be construed as punches? i think a lot), I think in the football ethics hierarchy, spitting rightfully outweighs a slap to the helmet.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:39pm

jonnyblazin, give me an example of a blow to the head, as obvious as that which took place here, which did not result in a penalty, and I'll reconsider.

If the message is sent that blows to the head well after the whistle are tolerated in some circumstances, it is not going to have the effect of defusing situations which can escalate into brawls. It is going to have precisely the opposite effect, as highly charged situations blow up when very emotional players make judgements, or misjudgements, as to when they can get a free shot after having been provoked.

The correct way to call this matter was to have offsetting penalties, with Taylor ejected. Frankly, if one really wanted to discourage behavior such as Taylor's the correct way to do it is to follow the ejection with a one game suspension. That'll keep the spittle in the mouth far better than giving one free punch after the fact.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:43pm

Will Allen, I'm saying that you can't point to how one play was called and say that all plays will be called the same way from now on. PI and holding are GREAT examples of this - because these are two of the most inconsistently called penalties in the league. False starts would be good examples of penalties that are cut and dried, but PI? That's a judgment call more often than not.

As to stopping escalation by not calling a penalty - he was right there, he had the situation in hand, things were not escalated. The way you stop fights is by being there - it's not by calling penalties. I'm saying that after he had broken the players up and announced the penalty - two or three minutes after the players had been stopped - if he announced that Tampa got penalized for that as well, their players would have been pissed off all day.

As it stood, Washington players understood why he got ejected, their coaches understood, and Tampa Bay players were at least saying that the call was justified and reasonable and the results fair. If both players got penalized, you'd see a lot more chippiness.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:44pm

Uh, Keith, guess what? In the real world, if you get spit on, and you respond by punching someone, when the police arrive, they ain’t going to let it slide because you had some saliva tossed your way. You’re not in the fifth grade anymore.

Er? Yes, they would. Either they would, or the courts would. Being spit upon is assault. Responding is just self defense.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:01pm

Uh, no Pat, the law does not necessarily allow you to punch someone in the face in response to being spit upon, because the punch to the face carries with it a high possibility of bodily harm, while saliva does normally does not, absent a communicable disease, which is why incidents of spitting by HIV positive people are always prosecuted, and other incidents of spitting are usually not.

Even in the civil arena, if I were to put somebody in the witness box with their egregious facial injuries, and it was established that what provoked the injury was a few ounces of saliva, I'd have a pretty good chance of winning damages. Proportionality matters, as does whether somebody had a reasonable fear of bodily harm.

by Da Huuuuuuuuuuudge (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:08pm

Pat, if you can find the guy who sold it to you, I'd suggest returning that law degree for a refund...

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:10pm

Yes, kal, precedent only rarely plays a role in false starts, because it is so cut and dried, while in pass interference, precedent plays a large role, because how referees have previously called ambiguous situations is the single best indicator players have as to how they will call them in the future. In other words, precedent plays a large role in football officiating.

Carey has now established that in his games that players under some circumstances are allowed one free shot to the head. Why you think this will have the effect of defusing highly volatile situations is a bit of a puzzle.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:11pm

Surprisingly enough, in Indiana, if he'd have spat on a cop instead of a player, it would have been Battery by Body Waste (which is apparently okay if the target is not a cop or corrections officer). Aside from that, if it's something that would provoke a reasonable man to commit battery, then it's Provocation, a Class C "infraction." I'll leave it up to the judge to decide if a football player is acting as a "reasonable man."

But all this reminds me of a hockey forum. A head slap is a personal foul, unless the other guy deserves it, in which case it's perfectly fine. (Of course in football, it is perfectly fine if the other guy started it. "Offsetting personal fouls" is one of the dumbest situations in sports. Maybe they should try penalizing the offense immediately and the other team as soon as they obtain possession of the ball. Or maybe treat personal fouls like yellow cards - two in a game and you're out. A flagrant personal foul is a red card.) You can't penalize players for illegal actions because they'll get upset. The only arguments I haven't seen yet are "just let them play" and "let them settle it themselves." Oh, and one other: "You wouldn't understand if you haven't played the game."

Reading those forums, you'd think that cheap play originated about the time the instigator rule was created (prior to the 92-93 season, the NHL added a rule penalizing a player who clearly starts a fight with an additional two-minute minor and a ten-minute misconduct penalty. This doesn't include situations where both players drop their gloves at the same time), and that if you just let the players handle it, no cheap shots would ever be taken. Do you really think that punching a player in the head is going to serve as a deterrent? What's more likely, that he'll say "Gosh, I shouldn't do that again," or that he'll take a swing of his own?

by Da Huuuuuuuuuuudge (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:15pm

That being said, Will is making a false analogy by comparing a referee's application of the rules with the world of civil or criminal law.

There is, as Kal pointed out earlier, no concept of precedent or stare decisis in football. Each referee is entitled to apply the rules as he sees fit, and is not bound by interpretations of previous referees, other than (obviously) by pronouncements of the Rules Committee.

I totally agree that not calling an offsetting penalty is a mistake; that doesn't make it "dangerous" or a bad message.

by Craigers (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:18pm

Reading those forums, you’d think that cheap play originated about the time the instigator rule was created (prior to the 92-93 season, the NHL added a rule penalizing a player who clearly starts a fight with an additional two-minute minor and a ten-minute misconduct penalty. This doesn’t include situations where both players drop their gloves at the same time), and that if you just let the players handle it, no cheap shots would ever be taken.

Yeah, but looking for insightful commentary in a hockey forum is like looking for some top-caliber particle physics in the Gas 'n' Sip.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:25pm

Precisely, zlionsfan. The reason why the NHL has a decades-long history of career ending injuries due to clearly illegal violent behavior, in direct contradiction to the rules of the game, is because the people who govern the sport have chosen to give the players too much leeway in regulating their actions during the course of the game. It's one of the reason I've always been ambivalent about the NHL, while enjoying college hockey a great deal.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:27pm

How it defuses situations is simple, Will Allen - it means that players will understand that Carey has things under control and will do the fair and just thing in a situation, so they don't have to take matters into their own hands. It's the same principle that is behind why society accepts punishments of criminals and why mob justice steps in when they don't.

By making a fair call while not absolutely enforcing the letter of the law, Carey is showing that he understands what the unsportsmanlike call is about and that it isn't a matter of 'if any player contacts a helmet after a play is over that is a penalty no matter what'.

I understand that you believe that the only way that people will respect the law is if it is enforced fully and absolutely. I simply disagree with this and believe that people are more willing to obey the law when they view it (and the results of its enforcements) as just than if they simply fear the penalties of breaking it.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:32pm

Yeah, #20, the analogy is not apt. I only brought in the legal world in response to #10. I do think think, however, that the concept of "precedent" in the sense of what behaviors and actions that a player can expect to be subject to sanction, is important here, and that if it became acknowledged throughout the league that some provocations could be responded to with punches to the head withiout penalty, it would be a very, very, bad thing.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:39pm

kal, my exprience with mob justice is that it has almost nothing to do with the mob stepping in and applying punishments fairly to people who are desrving of punishment. Your position does sound rather like the traditional NHL position, and we can see where that has led.

by krugerindustrialsmoothing (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:46pm

Will brings up an interesting point which FO seems uniquely qualified to comment on. Do different officials call games in materially different ways, such that a player's behaviour is governed (in part) by who he sees making the calls? i.e. The biggest 'judgement call' typically made in a game is either holding or pass interference. Will corners play tighter based on who is responsible for making the calls? or is it based more on coaches decisions? Might be a question to add into the next outsider player interview.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:53pm

kruger, I've heard rumors for a several years now that some of the more obsessively detailed-oriented coaches (which is waaaaaaaaay out there on the right tail of the bell curve, compared to the general population), cough, belichik, cough, have game planned with the officiating crew in mind. I have no idea whether those rumors are true.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:53pm

I have no idea what the traditional NHL position is, but whatever it is it's crap. It's clearly ineffective and only makes hockey less of an actual sport and more of a thug thing.

I'm saying, simply, that understanding why a guy throws a slap to the head (and doesn't do anything more than that) is an important part of enforcing the rules. This isn't like the NHL where they're just letting the two players go at it. It's one punch, done immediately after the offending action (that is an ejection offense), and no problems from then on.

I don't know if offsetting or not was the absolute right call. I probably would have called it like Carey did because, well, he was right there and almost got spit on himself. I do know that calling this some horrible slide or saying that Carey's a bad ref because of this call is simply ludicrous, especially if your argument is that he was doing this and the game was more likely to get out of hand.

by krugerindustrialsmoothing (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:02pm

Before this turns into an NHL bashing thread, hockey is a great game when played real fast and tough. (see Tom Cochrane) My recolection of the 'olden' days had the fast guys playing that way until someone hammered them, then the tough guys from either squad had it out with the direct implication that you touch our guys, we'll touch yours.
This went on great until the sport decided there was more money in going mainstream, increasing scoring, decreasing the level of play and fighting was banned. Unintended consequence #1, fast players got cheap shots and penalties were rarely called (due to the speed of the game I beleive) leading to unintended consequence #2 where visors, face sheilds etc came out because players had to protect themselves and lo and behold, keeping your stick down becomes less important to you when you are fully visored.

Anyways, because of the dynamics of the game parallels between hockey and football do not have relavence. Sorry it took so long to say.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:18pm

kruger, I like hockey too, but I can go back decades and cite case after case where players had their careers ended by flagrant cheap shots; cheap shots which resulted from a culture in which players were encouraged to police matters themselves. It doesn't work.

kal, I never said Carey was a bad ref. I said this call was a gross error, because allowing some provocations to be responded to with blows to the head well after the whistle is a very bad idea.

by Collective Bargaining Bouillabaisse (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:20pm


Will's point is not that Carey is establishing precedent in the legal sense, but rather establishing a blueprint as to how he will or will not make a call in certain circumstances. Since he decided to ignore a bright-line rule (the epitome of lending subjective interpretation to the rules), it's reasonable for a player to assume that if the same circumstances hold, he could retaliate against a spitter without fear of recourse. This is dangerous.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:22pm

As I see it, here is the parallel:

The NHL has some of the same problems today that it had 30 years ago. Players do not respect each other enough to refrain from cheap shots, and the most dangerous behavior isn't penalized heavily enough to deter it. In the old days, the "solution" was to send an enforcer after the miscreant. You slash our scorer, we'll pound you. Justification was not always obvious, and games would occasionally devolve into 5-on-5 (or more) fights. Allowing players to break the rules to deter illegal behavior by other players did not work - if anything, it simply allowed situations to escalate.

To "fix" this, instead of increasing penalties for certain types of dangerous behavior, the NHL penalized players who started fights with guys who didn't want to fight. (Fighting isn't banned, you just can't brawl any more, nor can you leave the bench to join in a fight.) So, naturally, players still engage in dangerous behavior. The Moore/Bertuzzi incident in '04 is not only one of the worse examples of this, but it's pretty close to the old-time "enforcer" scenario: you took a shot at our guy, so I'm taking a shot at you. Unfortunately, that shot put a guy in the hospital and pretty much ended his career.

Unless you can come up with a system that attacks the problem from those two angles (increase players' mutual respect and severely penalize dangerous play), I doubt you'll find any other way of curbing that behavior. In the NFL scenario, I doubt that you can deter illegal behavior by giving players a "free" swing at someone who provokes it.

Of course, the parallel isn't perfect. Having someone spit on you is gross, and possibly dangerous, but if a punch to the head is acceptable retribution for that, what does a leg whip get? Or a horse-collar tackle?

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:34pm

Leg whips and horse collar tackles are not ejectable offenses. I'm not fully up on all the rules about ejectable offenses, but the ones I know about are after the play using helmet as a weapon, spitting, and contacting the ref - though I suppose anything can be used as justification. Spitting however is one spelled out absolutely - eject the player.

I just don't see this as a gross error, because the 'allowed' action - if it is that - was predicated on an ejectable offense. Furthermore, it happened in such a blatant way (the spit was caught on camera!) that it went way beyond the normal bounds. It's not like refs don't make subjective calls all the time. They do on any number of things. This isn't new or particularly special, and I don't think it sets any more of a precedent than the mistake PI call against Samuel or the Steve Smith ejection did. Think of it this way - Carey ejected the offending player. Do you really think that there will be an increased incident of players in his games getting into fights now or head slapping because he ejected the guy who caused the problem? Do you think that players are going to actively seek out being spit on or assaulted with a helmet so that they can get in a head slap?

by Jordy (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:35pm

Pete Morelli must be working the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. Pete, watch out for when they send the Terrier onto the field to spice it up. That's when the cheap shots and fluids start to fly.

by Aaron Boden (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:39pm

Will, one other thing that needs to be said is that the NFL as a league, rightly or wrongly (depending on your point of view), has backed Carey up on his judgement call in this incident, by fining only one of the players involved in the incident. While you may not like it, it is vindication of the ruling.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:01pm

No, Aaron, it isn't, because not all other unsportsmanlike penalty calls result in a fine. The ruling is only vindicated if the league has not communicated to Carey in their regular grading that there was nothing out of order with the way Carey ruled. The league does not normally release such communications to the public, especially if a call did not affect the outcome.

Kal, I really don't understand you now. I never said that Carey ejecting a player would cause an increase in fighting; I said allowing retaliating players a free shot in response to an ejectable offense would cause an increase in fighting, because one cannot defuse volatile situations by allowing more punching. The goal is to have less unsportsmanlike contact after the whistle, not more, and one of the best ways to achieve that goal is to not give any player reason to think he can punch somebody without being penalized.

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:35pm

I am going to go ahead and agree with Will.

by dbt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:38pm

I still think it was a pretty weak "push someone away who was assaulting me". Put it this way, if it were a facemask it would be 5 yards not 15. Not a huge violation, and certainly not a punch or anything.

by Led (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:39pm

The rules (Will Allen) vs. standards (Kal) debate has raged for centuries in jurisprudential circles and it will rage long after this thread is gone. I'm with Kal on this one.

And I think the chance of the police/prosecutor bringing charges against a guy for throwing a punch that caused no inury in response to being intentionally spat on is close to zero. Particularly if there was no other crinimal activity involved. The spitter could bring a civil claim, I suppose, but with no injury he gets no damages, and I wouldn't like his chances in front of a jury. There is discretion and fudge factors intended to effect substantive justice on a case by case basis wound throughout the legal system. Doesn't always lead to a fair result, but neither does blind and mechanical application of the law.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:40pm

Do you think a foul at that point is going to stop a player from firing back?

From a psychological perspective, it seems odd. You're saying that the fear of an offsetting will stop the fight from escalating. I'm saying that the ability of the ref to rightly assign blame and then move on with both sides satisfied with the outcome is more likely to defuse a situation - assuming that nothing other than what happened happened. Obviously if fights broke out or they started swinging or whatever, that's a different situation.

I'm saying that the high kinds of emotions are more likely to be defused by correctly giving a just action, and that penalizing someone for being so excessively instigated is just going to be more likely to cause a problem the other way. Justice won't have been served.

Eh. There were no fights or unsportsmanlike calls after that call in that game, and it was plenty chippy before that. I know it's a weak correlation, but I'd say that it argues in favor that it was the right call at the time.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:12pm

Well, kal, I guess your standard, to use led's term, is to allow punching after the whistle when the ref thinks it is o.k.. You seem to believe that tolerating more punching leads to less volatility. We'll have to agree to disagree on that.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:20pm

Also, as to the psychological perspective, what is odd is to assert that tolerating more punching increases the odds that a tense situation will be defused. All manner of studies of human beings in a highly emotional setting would contest that notion.

by Stevie (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:37pm

Kal's got it right and Will your really starting to get annoying man, let it go

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:40pm

I believe that tolerating a punch after being provoked can lead to an overall lessening of hostilities, especially - and this is the important point here - when that is a reasonable and lesser response to an action taken.

Plenty of psychological studies have shown that some outlet needs to be taken for a situation to be defused. One way to defuse it is to be fair in adjudicating the situation. And I'm not advocating tolerating 'more' punching. I'm advocating tolerating the response as long as it's not excessive and as long as it doesn't cause more problems. More accurately, I'm advocating judging each situations separately instead of stating they're all the same and blindly following laws. I understand that you're a firm believer in following the letter of the law no matter what, but I believe that is both too inflexible and will lead to further problems - including more fistfights - because players will have no reasonable legal recourse.

by Led (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:44pm

Here's what Kal said:

"the ability of the ref to rightly assign blame and then move on with both sides satisfied with the outcome is more likely to defuse a situation"

Here's how Will Allen spun that:

"tolerating more punching increases the odds that a tense situation will be defused"

Kal, I applaud your thoughtful and measured response in #44.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:00pm

kal, if you are not in favor of tolerating more punching, then don't tolerate more punching. Please point me to the studies which indicate that tolerating more violence which violates agreed-upon rules (in this case the rule is no violence after the whistle blows) increases the odds of defusing a tense situation. Now it appears you are suggesting that increasing the uncertainty with which punching after the whistle will be treated will lead to less punching after the whistle. Again, we'll have to agree to disagree.

Stevie, there appears to be more than one in this forum who believe I have it right. That doesn't prove I am, of course, but what is really annoying is somebody telling me to let it go, when, if they don't care for the conversation, the simple solution is to click to another thread or another site, given that Football Outsiders, to say nothing of the internet in general, provides for other options. Now, if you are among those who is paying for this bandwidth, I withdraw this statement, since I certainly don't presume to be able to override the wishes of the owners of this site. If not, however, why don't you let it go.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:10pm

No, Led, what is "spin" is to pretend that not penalizing a thrown punch, because one believes that doing so will allow for a wider agreement of whether justice was served, and thus defuse a tense situation, does not entail tolerating more punching.

Please, as a matter of logic, explain how refraining from penalizing some punches after the whistle does not entail tolerating more punching.

by asg (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:20pm

I just read this whole comments thread in one go and, for what it's worth, it seems to me that Will is not just right but *obviously* right.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:21pm

Will, you can go ahead and start the google search for those articles that show that not tolerating any violence by punitive action lessen the likelihood of continued violence.

I'll try and take this argument another way and see if I can show where I'm coming from, because I'm getting a bit tired of you putting words in my mouth after I've stated something.

When one player spits on another player in the NFL, that first player is going to get hit. I know of no NFL player - really, no sports player, but the NFL especially - that will tolerate that kind of behavior. The question is to what degree they'll be hit, not whether or not it'll happen. Can we agree on that?

If so, the next step is to assume this is going to happen and go from there. The question is not how to stop the action (or make it less likely to happen, because it's going to happen), the question is what to do about it afterwards. You can either not penalize the guy who just got spit on for reacting in what everyone would expect to be a fairly reasonable way, or you can penalize them. If you do not penalize them (and as we saw at the game) both teams understood. The coaches understood, the players understood. Hell, the fans basically understood. They knew why the guy wasn't penalized even though he hit the other guy. They were okay with it.

If, on the other hand, you penalize the team who hit back, you now have a team that does not agree with your ruling. That believes that what they did was justified and reasonable but justice was not served. What do people do when justice is not served, normally? When they feel that they have been wronged? And this is an important point here - what do people do when they feel that they are wronged and they do not feel that whatever legal system is in place reasonably represents their interests? They go outside the system. What does that mean in NFL terms? That means more retaliatory strikes, etc.

I am not saying that all situations are going to be this way. I'm saying that in this situation, the best course of action was to make it abundantly clear to all players what happened, what the penalty was, and not call the retaliatory strike. Even though this was not the absolute enforcement of the law, it was the right thing to do. Does that introduce some uncertainty? Perhaps. Or, perhaps, it puts more faith into the system and allows the system to bend when necessary, which gives the people relying on the system more trust that the system will do the right thing instead of making them take matters into their own hands. And when they do that, that is when things get out of control, and I think that's the situation you see in hockey more.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:44pm

Kal, you really need to to study the history of NHL violence, which is filled with the reasoning that you just advocated, of not enforcing the letter of the rules, in order to allow the players and referees to work out a standard of justice, in terms of how infractions are dealt with. It has been an unmitigated disaster, in terms of player safety from deliberate assault by other players.

Finally, to clearly state your postion is not putting words in your mouth. You favor not penalizing action X in some circumstances, because you believe it will lead to a lower overall quantity of action X. Now, this is logically possible with some actions that humans engage in, although I don't believe it to be the case in regards to violence in violation of agreed upon rules in highly charged emotional settings. It is not putting words in your mouth, however, to say that you favor tolerating more of action X, in order to decrease the overall quantity of action X. This is plainly true.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:51pm

Actually, it was this I objected to:
"Now it appears you are suggesting that increasing the uncertainty with which punching after the whistle will be treated will lead to less punching after the whistle."

I don't think it's a matter of uncertainty, and I don't think I brought that up specifically, which is why I clarified it later. Otherwise you're correct.

I would love to see if the NHL would ever, ever have someone get spit on and not have a retaliation. Or any sport, really. I just don't understand how calling a penalty on the retaliator here for one punch would do anything other than incite that player (or other players). Or, for that matter, how making sure people know you are going to call a penalty if the guy swings back is going to reduce the chance of that happening (or any other violence) in any significant way.

You may be right - I have no interest in the NHL, and one reason is the violence issue. It is hard for me to see a connection between enforcing the rules absolutely and causing more violence, but whatever. It's done, it's beaten into the ground. You can have the last comment if you like.

by Led (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:52pm

Will: Kal said referees should make judgments based on the totality of the circumstances viewed in context. You intentionally distort his statement by taking the one fact you care about (a punch was thrown), segragating it out from the surrounding context and deriving a general rule based on that one fact. If you want to discuss matters like a grown up, you engage the other side on the issue in dispute (here, whether any facts or circumstances other than the existence of a punch are or should be relevant in deciding whether to call a penalty), you don't set up a strawman like some political hack or two bit lawyer.

The funny thing is that there are good arguments on both sides of this debate, which is why thousands of fair minded and intelligent philosophers and legal thinkers have failed to settle it. So to be dogmatic about the question is just silly. It's one of those questions where if you think one side is "obviously" right (sorry, #48) you're just not thinking about it hard enough.

by Stevie (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 11:17pm

Will Im just letting you know that my eyes start to glaze over when I read your posts, as you are using any trick neccesary to "win" this argument including distorting what other posters have said. Its really tiring to hear from someone who just has to get the last word in. We understand your argument you dont need to post and double post to bludgeon it through my head. So ya let it go.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 11:42pm

Sorry, Led, what is like a two bit hack is to fail to plainly say what one's case is. If one believes that the tolerance of activity x in some circumstances will lead to an overall decrease in quantity of activity x, which I stated was a logical possibility in some instances, one should not be put off when it is stated one favors tolerating more of activity x, in order to decrease the overall quantity of that activity.

Unless, of course, one is not grown up enough (and this isn't leveled at kal) to clearly state one's case. I think any instances of tolerating violence which violates agreed upon rules, in highly charged emotional settings, increases the chances of more violence in violation of the rules. Kal thinks that tolerating more violence, in violation of agreed upon rules, in comparison to my standard, will decrease the overall quantity of violence.

kal and I were able to discuss this without engaging in ad hominem attack, something that you apparently are not grown up enough to avoid.

Kal, when you stated...

"More accurately, I’m advocating judging each situations separately instead of stating they’re all the same and blindly following laws."

...it certainly sounded to me as if you were arguing that more uncertainty in enforcement of the rules, since judging each situation seperately inherently injects more uncertainty, would entail a lessening of the quantity of rules violations. Again, there are circumstances in which I could see this happening, but I've seen this more plausibly advocated in circumstances which entail coldly rational actors, or as close to that as humans ever get.

Not to digress too much, but there were some interesting Cold War studies which advocated pursuing greater uncertainty in outcomes as a means to deter nuclear war. Happily, what we are talking about here is nothing very important, but I think where we differ is in our estimation of how people are likely to react when under highly emotional conditions. You seem to think that such conditions lend themselves to rational calculations of whether fair outcomes are being arrived at. My experience leads me to believe that people in a highly emotionally charged state aren't very good at this, and it is better to simply let it be known that no acts of violence in violation of the rules are going to be tolerated, while certainly penalizing the worse offender more harshly (in this case ejection) whenever possible. In any case, I appreciate the civil exchange

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 11:50pm

Steve, I'm just letting you know that my eyes are stating to glaze over reading your posts complaining about a thread that nobody is forcing you to read. It really is tiring to read your continued participation in a thread in which you find one of the other participants so distasteful, and to read your untruthful claims that I have distorted kal's argument, and you've bludgeoned us with your opinion via multiple posts. So ya let it go.

by Stevie (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 12:30am

Way to make my point with the double post there Will the last one was so totally neccesary to snip at me and gt that ever elusive last word in. Your entitled to your argument you just make it like a jackass

by Toby (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 1:36am

Will, your "spin" was in your simplification of the issue. To more fairly represent Kal's argument, you need to add another variable in your equation.
Let X=retaliatory violence
Y=initial acts of violence
Your argument is that penalizing X (and thus decreasing the penalty of Y) will lead to a lesser amount of (X+Y).
Kal's argument is that not penalizing X and increasing the penalty of Y will lead to less (X+Y). (Of course, Kal isn't arguing that this is always the case, but is a decision that the referee should make at that time.)
It doesn't seem like it is obvious to me which one of these positions is more correct, but they both seem better than the simple argument that may be true in hockey - tolerance of both X and Y will decrease (X+Y).

If you want to complain about a bad "precedent" of player self-help, what about the no call of the false start/encroachment in the Colts-Steelers game? How is it possible that there isn't a call on that play? Should defensive players jump on any possibility of an offensive lineman's flinch, since there might be a call against them and definitely no call against you?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 3:13am

Well, Toby, I think when you start letting people in a highly emotional state start believing that they might be allowed to self-adjudicate, and the normal rules might not be applied to them, when very angry people (who, do to their emotional state, are prone to making errors in judgement) start judging that their punch will be tolerated, a lot of self-control goes by the wayside.

If you've ever been around kids, you know the eternal question of who started it becomes quite fuzzy to the parties involved. Get adults emotional enough, and they ain't that different than kids, and the notion that the other guy started it, so I can get in a free shot, tends to lead things out of control pretty quickly.

On the other hand, people who are extremely sure of the non-forgiving draconian measures which will be taken against them when they break rules, tend to do a better job of adhering to said rules. If you've even spent some time in Bangkok, and then flown to Singapore, this becomes rather obvious, and please, don't take this as an endorsement of the government of Singapore, but rather merely a empirical observation as to how people respond to incentives, or to be more accurate in this case, disincentives.

We ain't depriving anybody of their civil rights here, only designing a system which minimizes the amount of violence which occurs in contradiction to the rules. The most sure way of doing that is to eliminate any notion that such violations of the rules will be tolerated under any circumstances.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 3:22am

To be more succinct, Toby, you presume that people in a highly charged state can exercise the judgement needed to dilineate between gradations of Y, which then may or may not make X tolerable, depending on whether the referee concurs. I think there is a lot of reason to doubt this.

Yeah, I know I've beaten this deceased horse unitl it is paper-thin, but, if you couldn't tell, game theory has always been kinda interesting to me.

by Kal (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 3:37am

But see, that's the thing I don't get. On the one hand you're saying that players have a hard time controlling themselves in the heat of the moment - comparing them to children. And then you compare this to the draconian measures of Singapore? People commit crimes in various stages of rationality, and not all crimes are committed in the same frequency under the same duress. People don't tend to deal drugs because they're angry. They don't tend to conspire to steal because someone spit on them. But they will assault others, and I doubt seriously that violent crimes of passion is at all reduced in Singapore despite whatever draconian measures they've introduced.

I'm not, and have never, not once, suggested that there be some self-adjudication. Again, I'd appreciate you not clarifying my position if you're going to get it more and more wrong. I'm saying that giving the referee the power to call the penalty as they judge is a way to make it more likely all parties will be satisfied with the outcome because it gives more potential outcomes. This is good because it means that future acts are more likely to be solely based on irrationality and not based on the idea of retaliation for a slight suffered.

It also means that the referee is more likely to be on the players' side - and if you've done any counseling, parenting or crisis management, you know how important it is to have the agitated person believe that you are doing what is best for them as well.

When you say when very angry people (who, do to their emotional state, are prone to making errors in judgement) start judging that their punch will be tolerated, a lot of self-control goes by the wayside., it's hard for me to understand you. You acknowledge that in the heat of the moment people don't act rationally, and then believe that enforcing rules to the strictest letter will allow people to act more rationally.

My argument is that it isn't the heat of the moment issues that need to be solved, because those are the ones that one can't reasonably control with punitive measures. What should be controlled - and from what I've read in the last hour is done excessively poorly in the NHL - is a player's desire for revenge after that heated moment. I don't think that you believe that anyone in the NFL is going to think twice about hitting someone when they've just got spit on. If you do, please let me know because that would go a long way towards understanding where you're coming from. I'm saying that it is more effective for the judge in this case to be able to ascertain blame and culpability. The heat of the moment penalties will happen, period, and it'll most likely be up to other players to help those be enforced. What you don't want to get into is a situation where players feel like the ref made bad calls and someone got away with something, because that's what leads to a cycle of retaliatory strikes.

by Browns Dude (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 4:15am

Bill Leavy strikes me as a guy who's capable of chopping people up and hiding them in his basement.

It must be the combination of his voice and that it looks like he's wearing eyeliner.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 4:33am

kal, it is you who have misrepresented my position. To say that players will be allowed to self-adjudicate is not identical to saying that players BELIEVE they will be allowed to self-adjudicate. When players think there are circumstances in which they will be allowed to engage in retaliation without punitive response, they will do a poorer job of exercisng self restraint, because in the heat of the moment they will rationalize that retaliation is justified, even when it isn't.

Yes, crimes of passion are lower in Singapore than in Bangkok, because people in Singapore have been highly conditioned to exercise more self control in nearly all aspects of their lives. Again, don't take this as an endorsement of Singapore's government, but merely as an observation of what modifies human behavior.

If a player knows well ahead of time that it is an undeniable fact that the penalty for an infraction is severe enough that violating it may put his livelihood at stake, and that retaliation will with nearly 100% certainty incur that penalty, he will do a better job of exercising self-control when angry, no matter how unfair he thinks it is. A player who thinks that there are circumstances in which he can get a tolerated punch in will rationalize that the circumstance has arisen if he is angry enough. Again, certain incentives, as opposed to uncertain outcomes, matter most, ESPECIALLY when people are angry, if the incentive has become well-ingrained ahead of time. Self-discipline is a habit, especially when under great stress, as any coach can tell you. It is when people think that retaliatory strikes are tolerated in some circumstances that they begin to find reasons to engage in them.

In any case, why do you think that ejecting a player will make someone else believe that the ejected player has gotten away with something? And if this is the case, wouldn't the more effective response be to suspend the ejected player for the next game?

by Kal (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 4:55am

So wait - are you now saying that the only problem was that both players were not penalized, but rather they should have been penalized, ejected and suspended?

You know what I'd do in that situation? I'd get my practice squad guys to go and spit in the faces of whatever big star another team had. Tom Brady? Oh yeah, you're getting spit. Chad Johnson? Joey Porter? Ptui. Get 'em both into a fight, and boom - no worries.

I guess from your statement above that you do believe that NFL players will restrain themselves from hitting the other guy if the penalty is severe enough. Unless it truly is something like a ejection/suspension level penalty, it will never be severe enough to stop that kind of retaliation. And if it is that severe, you get really stupid gamesmanship as a result.

I didn't say that it will make them believe that the player got away with something; I am saying that it is more likely they will believe that, and because of this it is more likely that repercussions in the future will happen. In the equations above, if X and Y are penalized equally then you might as well do Y, because Y is a lot worse than X. Furthermore, I'm saying that taking away the ability for a ref to make judgment call instead of enforcing the rules as written at all times on matters like this will be more likely to cause bigger problems because he is simply not able to do as much as he could otherwise.

Again, put yourself in the shoes of the guy who got spit on. You slap back. (Okay, because you are deathly afraid of being punished, YOU wouldn't, but just take the hypothetical, okay?) Now, you know what you did isn't cool most of the time but you're not going to stand someone spitting on you in front of your family, in front of your friends, and in front of 20 million viewers. Doesn't matter though - it's not really something that you think about. Someone spits on you, you hit 'em.

Then the ref comes and penalizes you for that. And yeah, you know you broke the rule but you didn't start anything and you sure as hell didn't do nearly as much as you wanted to to that guy. You actually restrained yourself some, but it didn't matter. The only course of action that would have been 'correct' would be to sit there and take this guy spitting in your face on national TV.

You tell the coaches who are livid that you swung at the guy, and they totally understand once it gets out that he spit on you. Your teammates are pissed as hell, especially since you got called for it (and in your system, got ejected and suspended). Now, do you really think that they would be as likely to be angry if they didn't get that penalty?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 5:22am

No, kal, I said ejecting TAYLOR ALONE was plenty, as far as differentiating his penalty from the 15 yards that should have offset what was assessed against the Redskins. I said in one of my very first posts that ejecting Taylor and offsetting penalties was the correct outcome. I'm asking you why you seem to believe that Taylor's ejection does not sufficiently differentiate him from the other player's penalty, a simple unsportsmanlike conduct call which should have offset the other unsportsmanlike conduct call.

Finally, to be clear, I don't care much about how people feel. I care about how they behave, and I know that there is a mountain of evidence to lead me to believe that I can get them to behave in the desired manner through the right combination of certain incentives, no matter how they feel about it. I also know that if I have uncertain incentives, based upon unknowable future judgements by third parties, that people will often miscalcualte what the probable outcomes are, especially if they are angry. Again, I don't care if they are angry per se, I care how they are likely to behave while angry, and know that certain incentives are better at modifying the behavior of angry people than uncertain ones.

by Kal (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 5:55am

Because it's not punitive enough and it unfairly punishes a person. That view of unfairness is what differentiates it.

My view is that from a deterrence factor, it is far more likely that you will not do something - angry or no - if your peers disapprove than if external sources disapprove, and it's much more effective of a penalty if Taylor doesn't have an offsetting there. Team mates are going to be pissed at you for getting ejected, but they'll be even more pissed at you if you get your butt tossed from the game AND hurt the team, and that's a good way to curb future behavior.

And yes, I'm aware that wasn't part of my original argument; consider it a reasonable bonus. An offsetting penalty is actually a lesser penalty after all.

by cliff (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 11:32am

I have to agree with others the spitting incident was a fine call. I have enjoyed leavy for many years as he has always shown a professionalism above and beyond the regular refs.

by cliff (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 11:40am

KAL get over yourself.
the call was right, It wasnt and never shouldve been offsetting.
lets meet KAL and ill spit in your face, and you can stand there and take it... all you seem to be is an irritated fan whose team lost

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 12:56pm

Well, yes, kal, if all one is concerned with is deterring the initial infraction, there is no need to take any acton at all with regards to any form of retaliation. That wasn't my concern, however.

by asg (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 1:19pm

It baffles me that anyone would think that changing a rule from "Throwing a punch is never allowed" to "Throwing a punch is sometimes allowed" would result in fewer punches thrown.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 2:26pm

I'm with you asg, but that's what makes life interesting; people don't see the world through the same prism. It's nice sometimes when the different views don't have any grand implications, though.

by Sergio (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 2:54pm

Wow. Well, I'll say this:

I thought the call on the field was right. Will makes a very good point, though.

I don't know. The law for the law itself calls for offsetting penalties (Will's side); common sense, as in weighting in the size of the particular offenses, calls for what happened on the field (Kal's side). I agree that for most people, "common sense" wins the battle, but then again, if that's the case, then the whole rulebook should be thrown out.

It's like Kreider on Tatupu, I'll tell you.

by Alan Milnes (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 5:02pm

Referrees are always taught to apply common sense and Mike P (Director of Officals) has stated that the non call was right. One of the first things that you are taught is NOT to throw the flag every time you see an infraction. Personally I would hate to see a game called the way Will wants it .

by Kal (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 5:28pm

cliff, I'm the one that was arguing that the call was fine as called. Get better at reading.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 6:27pm

Uh, no Pat, the law does not necessarily allow you to punch someone in the face in response to being spit upon, because the punch to the face carries with it a high possibility of bodily harm, while saliva does normally does not,

Assault isn't the possibility of bodily harm. It's the threat of it. Getting spit in the face carries with it enough malice to carry that threat. Showing someone a knife and gritting your teeth doesn't carry any possibility of bodily harm, but it does carry the threat of it, which is why it's assault.

Got me if there's significant legal precedent either way, though. In the only case I know about (through a friend who was in it) it was dismissed for exactly those reasons.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2006 - 10:51am

"Not to digress too much, but there were some interesting Cold War studies which advocated pursuing greater uncertainty in outcomes as a means to deter nuclear war."

I'm only familiar with the classic study by Broderick, et al, in which a computer was taught to not launch a thermonuclear strike against the USSR by playing tic-tac-toe against itself, and seeing that in such a match there is no possible way for either side to win. Since I'm not too familiar with game theory, would this be considered more uncertainty, because the possibility of a positive outcome is shown to be less with each scenario considered, or would it be more certainty, since the results of thousands of trials are shown to be consistent? At any rate, I love how I went through 70-some posts of legal debate and only got out one reference to the movie War Games. Deep thinker, I am.

For what it's worth, I come down more on Will's side. In general, vigilantism should be discouraged (a position Sam Waterston agrees with, and you don't wanna mess with him in court), and situations where acting outside the rules is sanctioned should be kept pretty rare. I guess I would say the burden should be on the one who wants to disobey the law to show why it's right to do so, rather than on the law to show why it should be enforced.

by Led (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2006 - 5:46pm

Re: 54 -- sorry, this is coming a little late.

Will: While you and Kal may or may not have engaged in ad hominem attack (it was your "fifth grade" comment in #11 that triggered my "grown up" comment) your posts #41 and #42 (not to mention #11 and, to a lesser extent, #46) were not in good faith nor intendted to advance the discussion in any productive way. Perhaps my post was a little overly aggressive and for that I apologize, but afterward you began engaging with Kal rather than dismissively distilling his nuanced and context dependent position into general proposition when it was clear that he was actually disputing the usefulness of such general propositions. The resulting discussion was pretty interesting.

The key point seems to me to be the degree to which a 15 yard penalty will deter retaliation to being spit on. I tend to agree with Kal that the deterrent effect would be minimal and any penalty harsh enough to actually have a significant deterrent effect would be unfair under the circumstances. So not calling offsetting penalties is unlikely to have any effect on the probability of retaliation in future games but is likely to have decreased the probability of further retaliation in THAT game. In any event, reasonable people can differ, so I don't think Leavy made a "gross error."

by Potomac .Drainage Basin Indigenous Person (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2006 - 8:39am

Maybe Kal is right. If every player owned a nuclear weapon, then nobody would ever use one! Hooray! Also, none of the rules should matter or be enforced unless the ref made the judgement call that he ought to enforce the rules.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2006 - 11:55am

While I think this guy and the other possibilities like Ed Hochuli are good refs, I think a better choice would've been Big John McCarthy. That guy can keep things under control! I would love to see how he would've handled the Taylor spitting...

(Yes, this post is based entirely on seeing UFC 57 last night. I'm pretty sure I enjoyed that more than I'll enjoy the game today, unless the Steelers manage to lose.)