What The NFL Controversy Can Teach Us About the Law
As we hinted at in the most recent episode of "Law Talk", the controversy over the replacement referees' blown call on Monday Night Football is entirely justified. For the record, I think the Green Bay Packers 'was robbed'. But as a Philadelphia Eagles fan, I am glad that a potential rival in the NFC lost.
The dispute, however, raises an interesting issue about legal rules -- sorry, I couldn't resist. There is a tension between deciding something with the greatest accuracy and deciding something quickly. You could have a standard with a fair amount of discretion that leads to more accurate results, but takes a lot of time and resources to decide. Or you could have a rule that leads to clear and quick results, but can produce more errors. To reduce errors, you have to take more time and effort to decide.
In sports, the premium is on quick, final decisions. Otherwise, taking a long time to decide will interrupt the action of the game. It is more important that referees be final than right (this reminds me of Justice Jackson's quip that the Supreme Court is not final because it is infallible; it is infallible because it is final).
The only exception, though, might be when the last play of a game decides the outcome. In that case, there is a lot of time to review the play without interrupting the game. And if it decides the outcome, it's better to be right than quick. Thus, in the Packers case, I would create an exception to the NFL rules and allow appeals of plays at the end of the game that determine who wins.