Monday, August 5, 2013

Teaching basic legal analysis through college football.

Applying the rules of college football to in-game situations is like applying the law to legal disputes. The same process is used: abstraction, which is the application of written rules or laws to new and unique situations. American law is largely statutory. This is similar to the rules of college football, which are entirely based on a written rule book.

In legal situations, a client or prospective client comes to an attorney's office with a story. The attorney identifies the issues in the story and figures out the best way to proceed. For a situation to fit within a particular law or theory, specific criteria must be met. This is similar to college football. If you see a player break a rule, you must identify the infraction and apply the correct rule and penalty. With both, you cannot simply throw a flag when you see wrongdoing without knowing exactly what rule or law to apply.

Referees in football are like judges in the law. They are the arbiter of infractions. The coaches are like lawyers, arguing for their own particular interpretation of the rules. To illustrate abstraction of college football rules to in-game situations, watch this video from the 2013 Sugar Bowl. Here, the University of Louisville quarterback is hit by a defensive player from the University of Florida. The penalty called was "roughing the passer." Roughing the passer occurs when a defensive player "charge[s] into a passer or throw[s] him to the ground when it is obvious the ball has been thrown." Clearly, the correct call was made in this situation, because it was obvious that the Louisville quarterback threw the ball immediately before he was hit.

Here's another one to try. Is the running back a "defenseless player"? A defenseless player is "one who because of his physical condition and focus of concentration is especially vulnerable to injury." The definition provides examples of a defenseless player:

  • A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass.
  • A receiver attempting to catch a pass, or one who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball carrier.
  • A kicker in the act of or just after kicking a ball, or during the kick or the return.
  • A kick returner attempting to catch or recover a kick.
  • A player on the ground.
  • A player obviously out of the play.
  • A player who receives a blind-side block.
  • A ball carrier already in the grasp of an opponent and whose forward progress has been stopped.
  • A quarterback any time after a change of possession.

The running back was a defenseless player. The examples provided in the definition were not limited only to those situations. Referees have discretion in determining whether a player is defenseless or not. The running back's focus was on taking the ball from the quarterback. He was vulnerable to injury, because he could not protect himself. Accordingly, he was a "defenseless player."

Applying the law to a particular situation is rarely this easy, and is often much more complex. Nevertheless, abstraction is used in both the law and college football.

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