The Process of Change: Professional Sports vs. College Club Sports

The amending of rules in professional sports is not something that happens quickly. When changes are actually made, it usually involves many months or years of methodical deliberation. If there was one person who I feel embodies methodical deliberation it would be Edmund Burke. He believed all decision-making should never be rushed and that a conservative approach is the best approach. When Major League Baseball (MLB) finally decided to implement instant replay challenging in the 2014 season, it was met with great jubilation because umpires had made very questionable errors leading up to this point. Although this augmentation might be thought to influence the traditional nature of the game, Burke would advocate that this decision would improve the justice of baseball.

Edmund Burke


Besides MLB, we read an article for class this past week about the NFL implementing three rules changes to improve the safety of the game. Those rules consist of banning ball-carriers from lowering their helmets into incoming defenders, no kick-off’s in the Pro Bowl, and no tackling during the preseason camps. Even though these rules are safety related instead of fairness related, they still signify a process that took many years and multiple meetings involving the NFL Rules Committee as well as players and coaches. But during the time they deliberated on whether or not to make these changes, numerous players were involved in gruesome collisions that leaded to season-ending injuries for players. The individuals in the NFL Rules Committee took a conservative pathway in route to implementing these changes. Although these changes in both the NFL and MLB steer away from the traditional sense of the game, they are slowly progressive changes viewed as the best choices for the immediate future.

Lowering of the helmet


Last spring, I went to see a Kansas City Royals vs Detroit Tigers game. I never thought I would actually see MLB’s new instant-replay technology implemented so soon after being put into effect. The game was tied 1-1 going into the 10th inning when a very disputable call was made at 1st base. The Detroit Tigers rightfully challenged the play and the call was overturned. The instant-replay challenge showed that the runner should have been called out at 1st base. Because of this new rule, umpires will make more right calls.



However, the justice aspect in professional sports vary from those in college. When I went to watch my roommate play club hockey three weekends ago, I noticed that the referees did not seem to care about making the most just call possible. The referees would never verify the calls with one another to reach a consensus. This observation clearly demonstrated to me that club hockey in general has no higher power to verify the calls being made. Even though club sports are not viewed as important as professional sports, the level of fairness should still be equal. I remember there being one instance during the U of M club hockey game when the puck crossed the line, but there was no way to verify it because there was no video evidence. If you consider professional hockey to be the same as club hockey, every regulation must be the same or else the sport is not the same in its entirety. Some people would say that club sports have a more traditional sense because they have not been altered as much as professional sports, but I believe the changes  made in professional sports are necessary to make the most accurate decisions possible.

In contrast to professional sports, the NCAA Rules Committee seem to me to be a little more “Burkian” than professional rules committees in terms of making various rule adaptations in sports. For example, the NCAAF Rules Committee just decided to change their postseason format to a 4-team playoff scenario, a change that in most people’s eyes should have been done many years ago. Instead, it was prolonged to the max because they wanted to make sure it was the most reasonable decision possible. This change gives two other teams the opportunity to compete for the national championship. The NCAA’s traditional sense is one that is very hard to alter, which leads to an even slower amendment process than the one at the professional level. Edmund Burke once said, “you can never plan the future by the past“. What I believe he meant by this is that if you maintain the traditional state of something in its entirety, one will never know its potential. At this rate, it could take another century before club sports get the justice they deserve right now.

A judge ruled Friday in favor of Ed O’Bannon’s landmark lawsuit against the NCAA. Commissioner Mark Emmert (above) was one of many NCAA executives who testified in the case.

Whether it is in the professional or collegiate realm, all rules committees take the same methodical approach to problem solving as Edmund Burke did over two-centuries ago. However, it is very debatable whether or not justice is being served in a sensible time period.





One comment

  1. kevingay3 · November 18, 2014

    While this was a very interesting blog to read, I think that you overlook the impact revenue has on the quality of officiating. NFL officials and MLB umpires get paid a hefty sum of money for doing their job, whereas the club hockey referees are being paid a minimal amount of money and have other occupations during the day. Similar to when you play sports in high school, you cannot expect the quality of officiating to be the same for all levels of sports. I think it is a stretch to believe your local Little League facility would have instant replay in case someone’s dad made the wrong call. As far as the NCAA goes, I think they wanted to make sure more profit would be made with a playoff system and that the loyal college football fans would not find something else to watch because they did not like the current system.


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