De Minimis Redux

During the halftime of tonight’s NFL game between the Redskins and Cowboys, Bob Costas took a minute to discuss a play earlier in the day which cost Detroit a win in Chicago. Here is the play:

The rule governing the play states that a player must hold on to the ball all the way to the ground in the process of making a catch. Perhaps the officials correctly interpreted the rule, which Costas and others have conceded.  But to say Calvin Johnson did not “catch” the ball and score a TD there is simply wrong.  He had possession when he hit the ground and only lost the ball after using it to lift himself up from the ground.

I have never liked this rule and though I feel bad for Detroit, I am glad this happened because I hope that the NFL will revise the rule to accommodate a situation like the one that occurred today. But hearing Costas talk about it the way he did reminded me of a paper I wrote my last semester in law school for a Law & Sports class. The paper was pretty much exactly what Costas was talking about, which is that sometimes strict enforcement of a rule leads to unjust and unfair results. That is what happened today and it is a shame.

Here’s the paper if you care to read it.  Warning: It is a little over 32 pages long. And its a law school paper. So, I do not blame you for passing on this one…


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