Friday, April 22, 2011

What Am I Talking About?, Part 3: Competitive Rules

We all know intuitively that a ball falls when dropped, but we can’t understand the mechanics of gravity until we learn physics. In the same way, it may seem like a simple analogy to say that competitive rules are to a sport what laws are to a society, but just because we understand the concept intuitively that doesn’t mean we understand why they are so similar.

As I explained yesterday, and R.S. Rogers illustrated nicely in the comments, we derive competitive rules from the same sources as laws, though on a smaller scale. There are natural rules, the ones that make the game possible; and there are positive rules, the ones that make the game more fair or accessible to players. However, this is not the only similarity.

After all, its source is not the only defining characteristic of a law; the legal process is a complex one that requires input from all branches of government. In the United States, laws are administered in three ways: they are enacted through legislation, they are enforced through execution, and they are interpreted through judgment. This is where the three branches of our government come from and why their separation and regulation are controlled by the Constitution.

Sports, while following the same general format, are much less formal than the government, and so have a lot more crossover among the three branches of lawmaking. Rules are legislated through some process that can be as informal as an agreement among the players in a game of pickup basketball or as formal as the process used by the NFL Competition Committee, which gives notice of its intentions and takes public reaction into account when considering new rules. The rules are executed by players and referees, and outside the game by the enforcement arm of the governing body. Players, referees, and some part of the governing body also must interpret the rules as part of execution.

Over the next few days I will go into more depth about each of these branches of the sports rulemaking complex, starting with the legislative, then the executive, and continuing with the judicial. I will finish with a look at referees, who often must act as arbiters, both interpreting and executing the rules on the fly.

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