Waive that flag: Good news but bad news (NFL 2017 week ten penalty update)

nfl referee pleading for camera time

The good news on the NFL-watchability front is that the penalty-flag rate is decreasing as the season wears on. The bad news remains that NFL referees still are throwing their flags with historically high frequency.*

nfl penalty flag data 11-16-17

Incorporating last week’s numbers shows that we’re settling into that 9.2 range. With seven weeks of games remaining, there’s plenty of time for the rate to continue to fall, so it remains possible that 2017 will end up closer to historical norms. Without examining week-to-week data from past seasons, I don’t have a sense of whether that’s likely to occur (e.g., if it’s common for officials to call fewer penalties as seasons develop).

* The NFL Penalty Tracker has data going back to the 2009 season, but I’m pretty confident that we are witnessing the all-time high-water mark.

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Previously
Stability of a kind (NFL week nine penalty update)
People are noticing (NFL 2017 week eight penalty update)
Is this still a thing? (NFL 2017 week seven penalty update)

Alberto’s favorite things (NFL 2017 week three penalty update)
NFL week two penalty update (2017)

The NFL returns with zebras on parade

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What happened the last time the Lions played the Browns in Detroit

In a few ways, it’s irritatingly cumbersome to write about the history of the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns. Long synonymous with deep NFL failure, these two teams were very competitive and successful in that period of professional football that doesn’t count anymore (i.e., the pre-Super Bowl era), meeting in multiple NFL Championship Games in the 1950s. That lengthy historical leap isn’t quite a smooth one, though, since there’s a corporate continuity problem on Cleveland’s side due to team owner Art Modell’s controversial move and (sort of) transformation of the team into the Baltimore Ravens in 1996, with the “Browns” not returning to existence until 1999.

Additionally, for teams as old and geographically proximate as these two, the Browns and Lions meet only infrequently in the regular season. In the forty-seven NFL seasons since the NFL-AFL merger, Cleveland and Detroit have played each other just eleven times. Though they faced off only twice in the 1990s, there nevertheless was an effort during that period to drum up a rivalry of sorts in the form of “The Great Lakes Classic,” which was centered around preseason meetings– there even was a trophy, which, suitably, was modeled after the region’s most famous shipwreck, the Edmund Fitzgerald. The “Classic” fizzled, though, during a particularly unmemorable stretch for both teams:

Over the GLC’s 13-year run, the Lions and Browns were two of the three losingest teams in football, per Pro Football Reference. Over those regular seasons they ran out 29 different quarterbacks, gave 13 different skippers the whistle and posted a collective .339 winning percentage.

It obviously is tough to get excited about either of these teams on their own, much less when they’re playing each other. But a recent game in this series, the last one played in Detroit and the only one played in Ford Field, offered some real drama. Thankfully, the NFL Films crew captured it.

The 2009 season was Matthew Stafford’s rookie year, and he started ten games at quarterback for Detroit that season. On November 22, the Browns came to Ford Field, where, with 5:44 left in the fourth quarter, they found themselves with a six-point lead thanks to this blast-from-the-past play:

browns 11-22-09

Stafford now is the highest-paid player in NFL history, but, in 2009, Lions fans still were in the process of figuring out what the team had in its top overall draft pick out of Georgia. He’d soon let them know:

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The Lions will look to make it four in a row over Cleveland on Sunday. A win coupled with a Packers loss to the Bears (who knows) would give Detroit clear possession of second place in the division, which, in my opinion, remains winnable even if I refuse to buy into the hype train the national media runs out after Lions wins in nationally televised games. I’m thankful for the exposure, to be sure, but people are making way too much out of Monday Night Football wins over the Packers and New York Giants, two teams going firmly in reverse this year. The Sunday Night Football loss to the Steelers should serve as a strong reminder that the Lions have done nothing to demonstrate week-to-week continuity, and that red zone offense, in particular, remains a significant weakness. They’re only in the mix because of the poor quality of their divisional opponents. Here’s hoping they can capitalize on a weak nonconference opponent this week. In case you missed it, the Browns, at 0-8, are deep on the Road to XVI.

Waive that flag: Stability of a kind (NFL 2017 week nine penalty update)

ref bucs

It has come to my attention in the course of preparing this feature on penalties in NFL games this season that the chart I’ve been using to track penalty frequency doesn’t quite show what it purports to show. First, here’s this week’s chart:

nfl penalty flag data 11-9-17

The important number is the one in the far-right column. That’s the number that represents penalty-flag frequency in a given season. The column label, “Avg. Flags/Play (%)” is a little bit misleading, though. A better label might be something like “Flags per 100 Plays.” Even better might be to rework it to be a rough estimate of flags/game based on an average plays per game number of 125 or so. For the moment, and probably for the rest of this season, though, I’m going to continue using the same chart because there’s only so much time I want to spend documenting the historic* level of monotony that is plaguing this NFL season. If you’ve been following this series of posts closely this season, you’ll notice that, as we’ve passed the halfway point, the flag rate appears to be settling into the low 9.2 range. Again, that’s down a little bit from the first few weeks, which were up around 9.6, but it’s still well above prior seasons.

Last week’s post discussed the league’s late-breaking attention to the head-injury issue, which, I suspect, is the reason for the large jump in flags from 2013 to 2014. The other aspect reflected in these data points likely is the NFL’s attempt to grow its audience by increasing excitement by increasing scoring, something it did by enforcing more defensive penalties, which, as we’ve seen, actually decreases excitement and probably should’ve raised a flag or two prior to implementation.

* The NFL Penalty Tracker has data going back to the 2009 season, but I’m pretty confident that we are witnessing the all-time high-water mark.

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Previously
Waive that flag: People are noticing (NFL 2017 week eight penalty update)
Waive that flag: Is this still a thing? (NFL 2017 week seven penalty update)

Waive that flag: Alberto’s favorite things (NFL 2017 week three penalty update)
Waive that flag: NFL week two penalty update (2017)

Waive that flag: The NFL returns with zebras on parade

Sports Law Roundup – 11/3/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Soccer relocation: Citing a duty to taxpayers, a judge in San Antonio is calling for a criminal investigation of the Columbus Crew’s announced proposal to move the team to Austin. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff had been involved in San Antonio’s attempt to secure an MLS franchise, which includes a joint purchase by the city and county governments of an $18 million soccer stadium. According to Wolff, Mark Abbott, the head of MLS, was supportive of San Antonio’s campaign for an expansion franchise in 2015 and said that MLS would not place teams in both San Antonio and Austin. Wolff has asked the Bexar County district attorney to investigate the situation.
  • NFL hiring collusion: Last month, free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick filed a labor grievance with the NFL alleging that the league’s member teams are colluding to keep him out of a job because of his leading role in player protests during the National Anthem. According to a report this afternoon, team owners Jerry Jones (Cowboys), Robert Kraft (Patriots), and Bob McNair (Texans) will be called to answer questions under oath about Kaepernick’s claims and disclose their cellular telephone records. According to the report, “others owners, teams and league officials also will be deposed, but those individuals have been confirmed for now.”
  • NASCAR pit crew: In June, a judge allowed a wrongful termination case by Brandon Hopkins, a former NASCAR pit crew member to proceed against his former employer, Michael Waltrip Racing. Hopkins injured his shoulder when a race car hit him during a race. Treatment from MWR’s training staff was ineffective, and surgery was necessary. Surgery was delayed for reasons the parties dispute, however. Days before the scheduled surgery, Hopkins met with a supervisor, who assured Hopkins his job was safe. When Hopkins left the office to go home, he brought a particular tool– the design of which MWR considered confidential– with him, which, he said, was an accident. MWR did not believe Hopkins’ story and fired him the next day. Office security camera footage also showed Hopkins removing what may have been confidential documents from the office two days prior. The judge determined that there were sufficient facts that a jury could determine that Hopkins’ firing was connected to his injury, an impermissible basis for termination, or his misappropriation of confidential company information, which would be a permissible basis. The parties now have settled the case on undisclosed terms.
  • Daily fantasy sports: On Monday, Pennsylvania legalized daily fantasy sports, and Connecticut took similar steps on Tuesday. Pennsylvania will impose a fifteen-percent tax on operator revenue and other licensing requirements and makes it easier for that state to legalize traditional sports betting. The Connecticut policy, which includes a 10.5-percent tax on operators’ gross revenue, requires amendments to the state’s agreements with the two Indian tribes that operate the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun Casinos and will become effective only after those tribes approve the amendments.

Sports court is in recess.

Waive that flag: People are noticing (NFL 2017 week eight penalty update)

As often happens, a topic we begin covering here turns out to be a trend that the national media eventually comes around to cover, and so it is with the NFL’s penalty epidemic, which is the subject of Drew Magary’s weekly football column today:

What has changed are the rules themselves. It was back in 2013 when the NFL decided to look like it was doing something about brain injuries, so they instituted harsher penalties for kill shots on QBs and defenseless players, and that has led to a brand of football that is ostensibly “safer” in the NFL’s mind while not being particularly enthralling to watch. In other words, this increase in penalties is something of a necessary evil, at least as far as granting you, the NFL fan, the delusion that you’re watching a kinder, gentler sport.

They’re not gonna go back to 2011 and let those shots happen all over again (unless Cam Newton happens to be playing). But what the NFL can do is find a way to compensate for those extra stoppages in other ways. They can ease up on holding penalties for defensive backs and linemen. They can ditch replay. And, most crucial, they can take the goddamn microphones from the refs.

You and I have sat through miserable games where the ref has to announce so many penalties that they become the de facto emcee of the game. I have seen Ed Hochuli during football season more than my own family. And what is really the benefit of having him out there to give a 10-minute stemwinder on some dumb replay? I know the NFL thinks that explaining a call in detail will help provide clarity to fans, but fans are drunk and miserable and will disagree with any call that goes against their team, even if it’s a proper call (I know I do). All mic’ing the ref does is draw even more attention to officials who ought to be invisible during the telecast. Need to know the exact penalty and who it’s on? The PA guy and the TV announcers can do that on the ref’s behalf. Need to justify a ticky-tack call? Let the ref do that in the postgame. Need to overturn a call? Use a hand signal. There is nothing a ref can say that’s gonna make me happy. I want him fucking GONE.

If the NFL really needs this uptick in penalties, the least they can do is minimize the attention drawn to them. It’s a cheat, but muting the refs is an easy way to make these penalties less visible. It also eliminates the danger of any ref going full GLORY BOY and becoming addicted to the power of holding the mic, like they’ve anointed themselves god of the proceedings. If I were a ref, I’d treasure my time on the mic like it was the birth of my child.

And if there’s lingering confusion from a call because the mics have been taken away, that frustration usually goes away a few plays later, when there’s something new to be angry about. I can also assure you that hearing Jeff Triplette explain himself does NOTHING to ease that confusion. Basketball and baseball do fine with officials who are hilariously inconsistent but also gratefully silent. The NFL could stand to follow suit. This is a league that abhors distractions, a league that is pathologically obsessed with getting people to focus on the game. And yet, they allow distractions to pollute these very same games with near-constant whistles and speechifying. Get Hochuli off the mic, get the focus back on the players doing cool shit, and get the fuck out of the way.

Here are the numbers from week eight:

nfl penalty flag data 11-2-17

As was the case last week, the 2017 flag rate continues to fall while still staying well ahead of any in recorded history.*

* The NFL Penalty Tracker has data going back to the 2009 season.

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Previously
Waive that flag: Is this still a thing? (NFL 2017 week seven penalty update)
Waive that flag: Alberto’s favorite things (NFL 2017 week three penalty update)
Waive that flag: NFL week two penalty update (2017)

Waive that flag: The NFL returns with zebras on parade

Waive that flag: Is this still a thing? (NFL 2017 week seven penalty update)

The only thing tougher to keep up with than this penalty-induced stop-and-start NFL season appears to be this series tracking those penalties. After a couple weeks off, it’s time to find out whether (mixed metaphor warning) 2017’s historic* penalty trend is continuing or flagging.

nfl penalty flag data 10-26-17Although the flag rate this season is falling, it continues to be higher than ever. With penalties trending up and viewership ratings trending down, one continues to wonder when the NFL will get the memo and let the players play.

 

* The NFL Penalty Tracker has data going back to the 2009 season.

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Previously
Waive that flag: Alberto’s favorite things (NFL 2017 week three penalty update)
Waive that flag: NFL week two penalty update (2017)

Waive that flag: The NFL returns with zebras on parade

Sports Law Roundup – 10/20/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Penn State child abuse: A court has denied the request of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State University assistant football coach who sexually abused children, for a new trial. Sandusky contends his conviction on those charges was wrongful due to the claimed inadequacy of his legal representation at trial and the prosecutor’s failure to disclose potentially exculpatory information.
  • NFL hiring collusion: Free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick has filed a labor grievance with the NFL alleging that the league’s member teams are colluding to keep him out of a job because of his leading role in player protests during the National Anthem. Kaepernick identifies President Donald Trump as a significant actor whose public statements condemning protesting players motivated the owners’ decision. Kaepernick faces an uphill legal climb, though, because circumstantial evidence– the observable fact that no team has hired him despite his track record and apparent needs at his position– is insufficient to prove collusion. Under the collective bargaining agreement, “no club, its employees or agents shall enter into any agreement, express or implied, with the NFL or any other club, its employees or agents to restrict or limit” a team from negotiating or contracting with a free-agent player. To make his case, Kaepernick will need to demonstrate that the owners, together and not independently, made an affirmative decision not to employ him, or that the NFL itself directed or encouraged teams to take that position. Depending upon how this matter evolves, however, the stakes for the league and union could be high, as, under certain circumstances, proof of collusion could terminate the CBA.
  • Wrigleyville: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has denied a request for rehearing filed by owners of Wrigley Field-area owners of rooftop restaurants and bars who claimed the Chicago Cubs violated an agreement to prevent the obstruction of field views from the neighboring rooftop establishments when the team included a new, large, outfield video board in its updates to Wrigley Field. The court offered no explanation for its decision to reject the petition for a rehearing of its prior judgment that the agreement itself and MLB’s antitrust exemption barred the neighbors’ claims.
  • North Carolina academics: After spending more than six years investigating the University of North Carolina for academic fraud, the NCAA issued a final ruling subjecting the school to minimal sanctions that do not affect any of UNC’s athletic programs, a decision that, according to Mark Titus, “should come as no surprise.”

Sports court is in recess.

DirecTV will refund NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers who cancel due to player protests and possibly for other protest and protest-protest-related reasons

This afternoon, the WSJ reported on a new policy under which AT&T’s DirecTV, the exclusive provider of the NFL Sunday Ticket package that allows viewers to watch out-of-market NFL games otherwise unavailable due to the league’s regressive approach to broadcast rights, will grant user refunds:

DirecTV is allowing at least some customers to cancel subscriptions to its Sunday Ticket package of NFL games and obtain refunds, if they cite players’ national anthem protests as the reason for discontinuing service, customer service representatives said Tuesday.

Under Sunday Ticket’s regular policy, refunds are not to be given once the season is underway. But the representatives said they are making exceptions this season—which began in September—because of the controversy over the protests, in which players kneel or link arms during the national anthem.

Mark Hoffman, a longtime subscriber to Sunday Ticket, which gives sports fans the ability to watch every Sunday game, said in an interview he was able to cancel his subscription on Monday. The package costs around $280 per-season.

“I honestly didn’t think I’d get a refund,” Mr. Hoffman said. “I know their guidelines, I just wanted to make a point.” Mr. Hoffman, a former business editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said he made his case successfully to a customer service representative after sitting through a recording saying cancellations weren’t an option.

Intrigued, I wondered whether DirecTV would offer refunds to subscribers who want to cancel because of the historic rise in penalty calls that is making this season’s games nearly unwatchable. And what about those who now want to cancel in protest over DirecTV’s policy of providing refunds to subscribers who cancelled to protest the players’ protest? According to DirecTV, all of those options may be on the table:

directv nfl sunday ticket protest

I generally support any policy under which users can receive refunds for sports-broadcast services they’ve already purchased, and the more absurd and tangential the reason for the refund request, the better.

Waive that flag: Alberto’s favorite things (NFL 2017 week three penalty update)

jaron brown needle

The NFL landscape is littered with protests, protests of protests, protests of protests of protests, protests over the absence of protests, and coaches thinking everyone’s mistyping “pro sets.” The league needed a shot in the arm this week, and they got from a reliable source: referees, who continue to penalize players at historic* levels:

nfl penalty flag data 9-21-17

Players may be kneeling at the sight of the American flag, but it’s time we all stood up in recognition of that yellow flag, which, slowly but surely, is claiming its rightful place of honor in our country’s favorite television series.

* The NFL Penalty Tracker has data going back to the 2009 season.

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Previously
Waive that flag: NFL week two penalty update (2017)
Waive that flag: The NFL returns with zebras on parade

Sports Law Roundup – 9/22/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Dominican politics: A court in the Dominican Republic has convicted former MLB player Raul Mondesi on charges of political corruption in connection with his activities as mayor of San Cristobal, his hometown. The court sentenced Mondesi to eight years in prison, fined him the equivalent of $1.27 million, and barred him from holding public office for the next ten years. Mondesi, the 1994 National League rookie of the year, earned over $66 million in his thirteen-year career mostly spent as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Reports indicate Mondesi embezzled funds while serving as mayor of San Cristobal.
  • Penn State child abuse: A court dismissed a defamation lawsuit former Penn State University Graham Spanier filed against Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who investigated the the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside PSU’s football program and produced a report of his investigation that named Spanier and served as part of the basis for subsequent criminal charges against Spanier. In June, a court sentenced Spanier to two months in jail and eight months on house arrest following his conviction on a misdemeanor count of child endangerment. That conviction, the judge in Spanier’s defamation case explained, barred the defamation claims, although he observed that Spanier could revive the case if an appellate court reversed his criminal conviction.
  • Three on three on three on three: Ice Cube’s (real name: O’Shea Jackson) Big3 Basketball, a popular three-on-three basketball league for former NBA players with an FS1 television deal, responded to a lawsuit from new rival Champions League by filing a lawsuit of its own alleging that Champions League defamed Big3 by falsely telling investors that the reason Champions League had not yet launched was because Big3 has blocked its players from joining Champions League. Champions League’s previous suit against Big3 alleged that Big3 violated agreements to allow players to play in both leagues.
  • NFL head injuries: A Boston University study on the brain of Aaron Hernandez concluded that Hernandez had “stage 3 CTE.” Initial reports indicated that Hernandez’s family intends to file suit against the NFL and the New England Patriots and, on Thursday, Hernandez’s now four-year-old daughter, Avielle, filed an action against those entities. Her complaint alleges that negligence by the league and team resulted in a loss of parental consortium. Related filings state that she is seeking $20 million. The complaint further states that Hernandez had “the most severe case of [CTE] medically seen in a person of his young age” by the Boston University researchers. According to the complaint, there are four stages of CTE, with stage 3 typically being associated with players with a median age of death of sixty-seven. Hernandez was twenty-seven when he committed suicide.
  • OSU trademark: Oklahoma State University and Ohio State University have settled their conflict over the use of the “OSU” trademark, with both universities agreeing that they may use the mark nationwide. The dispute initially arose after Ohio State sought a trademark for “OSU” and Oklahoma State submitted an objection to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office claiming that it held rights to that mark. Under their agreement, each school will not use “OSU” in connection with the colors or mascot of the other and will use “Ohio State” and “Oklahoma State” in promotional materials to help avoid confusion. The agreement also includes a non-disparagement provision precluding the schools from using phrases like “wannabe OSU” or “copycat OSU.”
  • Beverly Hills Ninja Bikes: Make Him Smile Inc., a company that owns the intellectual property rights associated with late comedian Chris Farley, sued the Trek bicycle company over its marketing of a “Farley” bicycle designed with fat tires and a fat frame. Trek, the plaintiff alleged, paid nothing for trading on Farley’s name and likeness. The complaint seeks $10 million in damages.

Sports court is in recess.