Sports

Sports and the Law: Appeals and ‘Do Overs’

Sports and the Law 3 Above the Law blog.jpgWhen the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks took the floor last Saturday at Phillips Arena, it marked the first commissioner-ordered “do over” in the past 25 years of NBA basketball. As per NBA Commissioner David Stern’s orders, the Phillips Arena scoreboard was re-set to 114-111 and the game clock was turned back to 51 seconds. The teams then proceeded to replay close to the final minute of a December 19 contest that the Hawks seemingly had already won 117-111. Neither team scored in the “do over” time, meaning the Hawks still utlimately won the contest but by three less points.
The Heat-Hawks “Do Over”
Commissioner Stern ordered this “do over” on January 11 because of what he considered to be “grossly negligent” conduct by the home-team Atlanta Hawks’ official scorers. With 51 seconds left in the original game, the Hawks’ scorers ruled that Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal had committed his sixth foul, meaning that O’Neal was ejected from the game. O’Neal, however, had really only committed five fouls.
Stern scheduled the “do over” for March 7, which was the next time when the Heat were supposed to play in Atlanta. This delay, however, created all kinds of problems. Most notably, the original dispute involved whether O’Neal was wrongly prevented from playing the game’s final 51 seconds. However, even though Stern ruled in favor of the Heat, O’Neal was again unable to play in the “do over” because he had been traded from the Heat to the Phoenix Suns for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks—both of whom Stern deemed eligible to play. Based on this logic, if the Heat had acquired Kevin Garnett and Lebron James in the intervening period, they too would have been eligible to play.
More do-over discussion, after the jump.


Baseball’s Pine Tar Game
Last week’s replay was not the first time that a much-delayed “do over” has created concerns about integrity. The most famous instance of this was Baseball’s Pine Tar Game. The original Pine Tar Game took place on July 24, 1983. With the Kansas City Royals trailing the New York Yankees 4-3 and two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett hit a pitch from Yankees pitcher Goose Gossage for a two-run home run, seemingly giving the Royals a 5-4 lead. However, as Brett crossed home plate, Yankees manager Billy Martin approached umpire Tim McClelland and requested that Brett’s bat be examined for an illegal amount of pine tar. With Brett watching from the dugout, McClelland measured the bat against the width of home plate and determined the amount of pine tar on his bat exceeded the amount allowed by Rule 1.10(b) of the Major League Baseball rule book. The umpiring crew called Brett out, and an irate Brett ran onto the field where he was ejected. The game was declared over.
After the original game, Royals management appealed the umpire crew’s ruling to American League President Lee MacPhail, who overturned McClelland’s decision and ordered the remainder of that game replayed with Brett’s home run reinstated. MacPhail specifically ruled that the amount of pine tar on Brett’s bat did not affect the distance of his shot, and that any challenge to the amount of pine tar should have been brought, if at all, before Gossage threw his first pitch.
When, on August 18, the Yankees and Royals finished playing Baseball’s Pine Tar Game, several members of the July 24 Yankees had already been traded, injured or otherwise released from the team. Because Major League Baseball, unlike the NBA, did not allow new players added to the rosters for replayed games, the Yankees resumed the game with first baseman Don Mattingly (a left-hander) playing second base, and pitcher Ron Guidry in center field. Additionally, the Royals were without Brett, who had been ejected for arguing about his home run. Even though MacPhail reinstated Brett’s home run, he did not reinstate Brett.
As a final note, during the replayed portion of Pine Tar Game, Yankees manager Billy Martin again challenged Brett’s home run, arguing that Brett had not touched all of the bases in the original contest. This was a question that the August 18 umpiring crew could not have answered because none of the umpires were at the July 24 game. However, umpire Davey Phillips brought with him an affidavit signed by the July 24 umpires, stating that Brett had touched each base. Thanks in part to this affidavit, the Royals went on to win Baseball’s Pine Tar Game 5-to-4.
Epilogue
Last week’s Hawks-Heat game lacked the excitement of the Pine Tar Game’s surprise affidavits, as the Hawks-Heat “do over” provided merely 51 seconds of scoreless basketball. The “do over” once again showcased, however, the imperfections with sports’ typical appeals process. Indeed, if Commissioner Stern really thought it was important enough to replay 51 seconds of basketball, why wait 80 days, and until after numerous roster changes have been made, to do so?
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P.S. Need an “instant replay” of a fantasy baseball ruling? Check out SportsJudge.com, where fantasy meets reality. Also, visit Sports Judge Blog for fantasy sports advice provided by lawyers, doctors and economists.
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Marc Edelman is an attorney, business consultant, published author and professor, whose focus is on the fields of sports business and law. You can read his full bio by clicking here, and you can reach him by email by clicking here.

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