Thursday, April 28, 2005

fair play

I have to admit that the dreaded slippery slope is still unslid down (what the hell is the proper metaphor for not going down that slope, anyone?) after several years of Callahan Observers. Why is that?

You would think that once some personal responsibility for clean play has been removed, that players would start to change their behavior. If we've learned nothing else from economics, it's that people respond to incentives. There appears to be no incentive to play fair when an Observer is not looking, at least in certain circumstances where the Observer is likely to rule "no call, play on" rather than "didn't see it, do-over". So there have to be other incentives.

Of course, there is honesty keeping people honest. But that's not quite it, because an honest player plays by the rules as they're played. You wouldn't call an NBA player dishonest merely because he takes a few steps like every other NBA player. In just about every sport, there are the rules the way they are written, and there are the rules the way they are enforced. It's much better if the two coincide, but more likely you end up with a series of adjustments to how the players play and how the rules are called. As an example, consider the baseball strike zone. At some point, the batters began crowding the plate to get at the outside pitches, so the umps began calling an outside strike. The classic example is Eric Gregg in a deciding game of the Braves-Marlins series back in 1997, who rung up umpteen called strikes on pitches that weren't within 6 inches of the plate but were in his strike zone. Were the pitchers in that game "dishonest" because they knew the ump was calling a generous strike zone and so they threw the ball to it?

No, of course not, so there must be something in the game that continues to exert pressure. It's not "spirit of the game" in the sense that crazed Sectionals-level players (by this phrase, I mean people who devote their lives to ultimate but will never win or even participate in any big championship) use it, but maybe something closer to "good sportsmanship." Or maybe it's just that the fear of being stigmatized by a yellow card or team misconduct foul or of being humiliated by having your call overtuned causes players to behave (economically) irrationally. This is common. Managers might be afraid to go against the Book because if it doesn't work, they'll get fried in the press. A rookie might be afraid to throw a high-percentage huck because he'll get yanked if it fails. In these cases, the player's personal incentives are not in line with the team's incentives.

Or, it could be that the personal responsibility has not been removed with the presence of the Callahan Observers, because calls still originate with the players. I know that in the interest of fast play that discussion time should be limited if not eliminated, but I would still prefer a system where the players do have a chance to present their cases briefly to each other, and possibly to the Observer. (I add "to the Observer" because it seems that the Observers are told to rule on the call that is made rather than on making the call that they would have made had they been active refs. For instance, if a marker counts evenly at a 0.6 counts/second rate and gets to 10 a split second before the thrower throws it, the Observer is supposed to rule that a stall, even if that cheating marker skips the word "stalling", or like some of us tend to do, starts the count with "stallingone". Anyway, not sure this digression means anything.)

9 comments:

Justin said...

You are ascribing too much certainty to behaviour. It's often not clear to participants whether they are or are not being observed. As a result, a participant may perceive an incentive to playing fair even though the observer may not have been watching closely.

Also, there is a difficult to quantify value associated with a player's credibility with the observer. This may not have immediate impacts, but many players probably respond to signals that go beyond the immediate play.


> There appears to be no incentive
> to play fair when an Observer is
> not looking, at least in certain
> circumstances where the Observer
> is likely to rule "no call, play
> on" rather than "didn't see it,
> do-over". So there have to be
> other incentives.

luke said...

this is a nice open ended post with lots of meat for discussion, which will have to wait. i just want to say that the officiating in the braves/marlins game was attrocious. it's not that the pitchers were given a bigger strike zone, it's that the MARLINS were given a bigger strike zone.

"and i think the grapes are sour, anyway."

Anonymous said...

"For instance, if a marker counts evenly at a 0.6 counts/second rate and gets to 10 a split second before the thrower throws it, the Observer is supposed to rule that a stall, even if that cheating marker skips the word "stalling", or like some of us tend to do, starts the count with "stallingone". Anyway, not sure this digression means anything.)"

Actually, what they've been saying at college nationals the last two years is that the observer should look for both fast count and an actual stall when there is a call involving a contested stall. What the club observers are supposed to do, well, i have no clue.

In all other cases, yes, the observer is to rule on the call that is made. Player calls a strip, and the observer sees a foul, but not a strip, then it's a turn. However, you still aren't necessarily making a call on a specific individual when you call foul, in which case the observer is interpreting who made contact (esp. hospital situations).

Anonymous said...
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Tarr said...

The bottom line, I think, is extremely simple. The observer system does not incentivize cheating any more than regular self-officiated ultimate does.

I know that as an observer, if I truly don't see a call, I'm going to default to standard foul-contest. So I'm not sure how the "observer's not looking" case is really any different from the self-officiated case.

Now, if the observer *is* looking, there is the chance that an observer will give you a call that would have gone contested otherwise, but this is tempered by the chance that the observer could go against you, along with the chance that the observer will issue a TMF if you're consistently stretching the rules. And I don't think fear of getting hit with this sort of penalty is irrational.

In fact, the observer structure tends to prevent the ugliest sorts of call-fests from breaking out, since most of the bogus stuff will get overruled.

You're right that the fact that the calls originate with the players is a key point. Were this not the case, you would probably be able to get away with a lot of stuff that the observer/ref would miss, so the incentive structure would be significantly changed. But the beauty of the observer system is that it is fundamentally an augmentation, rather than a replacement, of the self-officiation system.

luke said...

if nothing else, refs/observers can take what should be objective calls (stall count/ line) out of the realm of the subjective...

parinella said...

I know that as an observer, if I truly don't see a call, I'm going to default to standard foul-contest.
Not all Observers do that. You have to admit that there is some pressure to make a call, any call, rather than just admitting your ignorance/poor positioning/laziness.

The TMF is almost toothless as a tangible penalty. Its value lies in its ability to calm things down or to let the players know that their transgressions are not going unnoticed. Teams could still continue to play the same way until a 2nd and 3rd TMF are issued. Even then, it might be worthwhile for them to get additional TMFs. I suppose there is the tournament DQ waiting in the wings, but has this ever been used? (It ought to be if teams begin to play the way outlined above, just to let them know it's a real threat.)

Anonymous said...

5/2/5
"You would think that once some personal responsibility for clean play has been removed, that players would start to change their behavior... "

I think we haven't started sliding down the slope yet because the players still bear the responsibility. They can initiate a call at any time and do in fact initiate most calls. With that much power in their hands abuse of it is still a massively guilt ridden endeavor. In other sports you have no power and thus bear no guilt for anything you do.

Henry Thorne

Julie said...

You are ascribing too much certainty to behaviour.
___________________
Julie
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