Eighth Circuit rules in favor of NFL on Norris-LaGuardia argument

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit sided against the players and in favor of the NFL in ruling that the players’ lawsuit seeking an injunction against the lockout was barred by the Norris-LaGuardia Act. Of course, several news outlets erroneously said the Eighth Circuit “rules that lockout is legal” — it did no such thing (sorry Doug), but instead simply said a suit seeking an injunction could not be brought. Indeed, one of the significant aspects of the ruling was that it left open the possibility that the players could potentially sue for actual antitrust damages at some point down the line, just not right now.

This fact helps point in a direction every fan wants: For this ruling to be relatively meaningless because a settlement will soon be in place. I hope so too. But it’s worth revisiting briefly what was at stake in the actual ruling. As I previously summarized the issue (while predicting that the owners would win this case, as they did):

[T]he NFL’s argument is a straightforward textual argument: No injunctions may issue in cases involving “labor disputes,” and … this sure sounds like a labor dispute. The players’, by contrast, say that you have to read the Norris-LaGuardia Act in context; this language did not drop out of the sky and the NFL’s argument is not at all the way that the Act was intended to be used. [T]heir argument is one about the Act’s purpose and history.

The Norris-LaGuardia Act was passed in 1932, at a time of great strife between employers and organized labor. The principal draftsman of the Act was Felix Frankfurter, a Harvard Law professor who would go on to become a Supreme Court Justice. The problem the prohibition on injunctions was intended to remedy was that employees would go on strike and employers would frequently file a lawsuit requesting an injunction and often judges, who were perceived to be “in the pocket” of employers, would often grant them without hearings or without much process. Even if overturned later, these injunctions forced employees back to work and destroyed unions’ negotiating leverage…

Indeed, this is what I find so interesting about the case: Here we are, in 2011, talking about a dispute between — of all things — football players and owners of football teams, and the key legislation was designed to protect union workers back in 1932 who were being routinely jobbed….


Smart Links – 7/11/2011


This tattoo is very special, and is very Alabama.

Bill C. talks Texas Tech and baby faced OC Neal Brown.

How is Law School like the NFL draft?

Matt Waldman watches a lot of tape on Broncos receiver Eric Decker. But who will throw to him, if Orton is released or traded?

– Another good bit by Waldman: Evaluating the evaluator. Good outsiders’ perspective on how the heck to do evaluate talent well.

Ohio State: Keep the ring, but I’ll give back this trophy. Don’t worry about me. Really.

Will we drive self-driving cars? I’d happily outsource driving (assuming I won’t die).

Guided by Lit.

Mexico is doing better than you think.

Great Ken Auletta piece in the New Yorker about Cheryl Sandberg of Facebook.

Digital Love.

An old article, but a fantastic look at Karl Popper and the world (however bizarre and sheltered) of ideas.

The purpose of reason versus the search for truth?

From the NYT:

For centuries thinkers have assumed that the uniquely human capacity for reasoning has existed to let people reach beyond mere perception and reflex in the search for truth. Rationality allowed a solitary thinker to blaze a path to philosophical, moral and scientific enlightenment.

Now some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we’ll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth . . .

“Reasoning doesn’t have this function of helping us to get better beliefs and make better decisions,” said Hugo Mercier, who is a co-author of the journal article, with Dan Sperber. “It was a purely social phenomenon. It evolved to help us convince others and to be careful when others try to convince us.” Truth and accuracy were beside the point.

What are the implications of this for football, and football decisionmaking and strategy in particular?

Why Every Team Should Apply the Constraint Theory of Offense

What kind of offense should you (or do you) run? A typical responses sounds something like: “I run a system with bubble screens, play action passes, screens, and draws.” This is a nonsensical answer. That’s not an offense; it’s a collection of plays. An offense consists of what are your base runs, base dropback passes, base options, or whatever else are your base, core plays. The other plays I mentioned are not your offense, they are constraints on the defense, or “constraint plays.”

The idea is that you have certain plays that always work on the whiteboard against the defense you hope to see — the pass play that always works against Cover 3, the run play that works against the 4-3 under with out the linebackers cheating inside. Yes, it is what works on paper. But we don’t live in a perfect world: the “constraint” plays are designed to make sure you live in one that is as close as possible to the world you want, the world on the whiteboard.

Constraint plays thus work on defenders who cheat. For example, the safety might get tired of watching you break big runs up the middle, so he begins to cheat up. Now you call play-action and make him pay for his impatience. The outside linebackers cheat in for the same reason; to stop the run. Now you throw the bubble screen, run the bootleg passes to the flat, and make them pay for their impatience. Now the defensive ends begin rushing hard upfield; you trap, draw, and screen them to make them pay for getting out of position. If that defensive end played honest your tackle could block him; if he flies upfield he cannot. Constraint plays make them get back to basics. Once they get back to playing honest football, you go back to the whiteboard and beat them with your bread and butter.

In a given game your offense might look like it is all “constraint” plays: all gimmicks, screens, traps, draws, fakes and the like. Maybe so, if that’s what the defense deserves. But you can’t lose sight of the structure of your offense. Just because the bubbles, the flares, the fakes, and other gimmicks are your best offense for a couple of weeks doesn’t mean that it will be there. Indeed, the best defense against that kind of stuff is simply a sound one. Thus great offenses must be structure around sound, time tested core ideas, but have the flexibility to go to the “constraint plays” whenever the opportunity exists. Too often, the constraint plays are alternatively given too much and not enough weight. But they nevertheless are what make an offense go.


What are the basic principles of dropback pass protection?

Pass protection is a deep and varied subject, but at least a little can be said to understand the very high-level basics of how the pass rush/pass protection chess match plays out on a given play. Essentially, there are two types of protection schemes: (1) area or zone schemes, and (2) man schemes. Some protections blend these two approaches, either explicitly or implicitly.


(1) Area Schemes: An area scheme is where a group of blockers set up in a given area and then sort and pick-up whatever “trash” comes through. For example, if the center, guard, and tackle are responsible for one side of the protection, and the defense crosses and twists a couple defensive linemen and a linebacker, the blockers will take the one that enters their area. This is probably the soundest “protect-first” approach, and good teamwork will allow the line to deal with defensive creativity with a simple sound approach.


Problems with area schemes arise when you introduce runningbacks, tight ends, or H-backs into the equation. The problem is twofold:

(a) An area scheme could leave you with a terrible match-up, such as a runningback on a defensive end (or Lawrence Taylor).

(b) An area-assigned protector who is also a skill player (like a tight end, H-back, or runningback) has a difficult time releasing into the route if the defense does not blitz. So any of those skill players who you have assigned to an area scheme likely will not get out into the route, and you might only have three receivers trying to get open against seven pass defenders. For example, see the diagram below, where the tight-end and runningback (both skill players and potential receivers) end up in the pass route while the center and right-tackle end up blocking no one at all.

More specifically, the guard, tackle, and Y (TE) are playing an area scheme, making them responsible for the defensive tackle, the defensive end, and the stronside linebacker (Sam or “S”). Although we could handle a stunt or twist, with the middle and strongside linebackers dropping into coverage the tight-end and potentially the runningback have to protect, while interior linemen block no one. Indeed, the tight-end ends up blocking the defensive end, a potential mismatch. There are ways around this problem, but it is a definitely concern.

The most common “area” protection is slide or “gap” protection, where the line all slides to a gap. More on this in a moment.


Smart Links – 6/7/2011

Mike Leach wants everyone to chill:


The new British University model — academics for rent?

James Surowiecki on Elizabeth Warren.

Things continue to get weirder in West Virginia. Like silly NFL media with respect to the lockout, I’m not taking sides and my selfish interest is just Stewart, the AD, Holgorsen and co. finding some way to get a deal done so that I can watch that offense (and defense) on the field. And, speaking of defense, the X-Factor here is what defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel thinks. I don’t know him well but I have a hard time believing that he’s enjoying this between his old head coach and his new one, and I’m also not sure he needs either of them. And stuff like this fans the flames (though Holgorsen may well have been in the right if Stewart was being counterproductive; if the offense doesn’t work it’s Holgorsen’s future at stake.) Of course the best takes on this have come from Spencer Hall, per the ballad of Bill Stewart and College Coaches, Drinking, and the Two Men at the Rail.

Southern Cal stripped of title.

Profiles in profanity.

Isaac Asimov on what a library really is.

Taiwanese women “plank” for good.

Very interesting take on NFL v Brady arguments

From St. Louis University Professor Matt Bodie:

That’s why this injunction may not matter that much. Let’s say the court holds that Norris-LaGuardia prohibits the injunction. Well, that only removes the injunction against the lockout; it does not mean that the NFL won’t ultimately be liable for antitrust violations. In fact, Judge Benton seemed to indicate that antitrust damages would continue to accrue even if the lockout could not be enjoined under the NLA. Or, let’s say that the injunction is lifted because the nonstatutory labor exemption still applies. Well, even Clement admitted it can’t apply forever — so how long? Clement seemed to be pushing for at least a year, but Benton seemed comfortable with six months — which would be, according to his calculations, September 11. Would the antitrust violations and the injunction kick back in then?

So the hearing ultimately convinced me that (a) the players took a truly radical move by disclaiming and (b) this problem is not going away, even after the Eighth Circuit rules on the injunction. I had thought that the longer the lockout lasts, the more it favors the owners — players need paychecks after all. But what if the longer it lasts, the more antitrust damages that pile up against the league?


NFL and players argue in the 8th Circuit over the legality of the lockout

Listen to the oral argument here. I highly recommend doing this and not simply reading the summaries, if for no other reason than to hear two excellent advocates — Paul Clement for the NFL and Ted Olson for the players.

Update: I just finished listening to the oral argument, and I think, if there is no settlement, the NFL definitely wins this appeal.

The Associated Press summed up the argument thusly:

The NFL and its players went back to court Friday for a pivotal hearing before a federal appeals court on the legality of the lockout, now nearly three months old with no sign of a new collective bargaining agreement that would save the 2011 season.

The two sides each got roughly 30 minutes before a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, swapping sometimes-dense arguments over the lockout imposed by owners after labor talks fell apart in March.

The panel has twice decided to keep the lockout in place pending the full appeal. It did not issue an immediate decision and Judge Kermit Bye smiled as he told the attorneys before they left the courtroom: “We wouldn’t be all that hurt if you go out and settle that case.” . . .

At the heart of the hearing was U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s decision on April 25 to lift the lockout, saying it was illegal and agreeing with the players that they were suffering harm.

In a case Bye called complex, given its collision of antitrust and labor law, attorneys for both sides spent most of the 68-minute hearing arguing case law and legal precedent, at times pressed to elaborate by two judges – Steven Colloton and Duane Benton – whose earlier rulings sided with the league.


What I’ve been reading

The Complete Handbook of Clock Management, by Homer Smith. Maybe football’s only true genius, Coach Smith — of UCLA, the University of Alabama, of decades of major college coaching experience to go with his economics degree from Princeton, MBA from Stanford, and PhD in theology from Harvard — spent most of his time dabbling plays and recounting football history, but he also made big contributions to clock management. This book, like all of his others, is cryptic but great. (Famously, Georgia went 8-4 in Mark Richt’s first season, dropping several close games. Richt, unhappy with his own clock and down management, met with Smith that summer and the next year Georgia won almost all of those close games to go 13-1.) The only downside to the book is that there has been so much dabbling in the rules governing late game situations and when the clock stops — and those rules differ from high school, to college, and to the pros — that it’s impossible for this one book to provide definitive answers on everything, but, like everything else Smith wrote, it’s provides lots of food for thought.

Of course, Coach Smith recently passed away. (See also here and here.) Corky Simpson, of Tucson, wrote:

“Homer was grossly overqualified to be a football coach, let alone somebody’s assistant … the man was worthy of a higher calling — teacher or author or minister. But come to think of it, he was all those things rolled into one amazing professor of football.”

A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One, by George R. R. Martin. I bought this due to its excessive popularity. I am not a big fantasy guy, though I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings however many years, ago, like everyone else. Strikes me as a bit heavy handed early on, but is beginning to pick up. Will report later. (I was also told by a friend in the publishing industry, for what it’s worth, that they have the manuscript for the next book in hand. Is that news? Or has it broken yet? I know the next volume is heavily awaited.)

The Sun Also Rises, by Hemingway. I had never read this until recently and I’ve always liked Hemingway but I was shocked at how good this was. For Whom the Bell Tolls was good but I’m still not sure the love story was believable, and the short stories are fantastic but they are, well, short and sometimes unnecessarily cryptic, but this was just unreal. I read it over a weekend. I know this isn’t exactly news (“Thanks for recommending Ernest Hemingway,” signed Your Seventh Grade Teacher), but do read it.

Money. The rest of the reading list is a bit different than — and not quite as fun as — Hemingway or Coach Smith:

  1. Fooling Some of the People All of the Time, A Long Short (and Now Complete) Story, by David Einhorn. Einhorn is the hedge fund manager who is investing in the Mets, and is doing so on terms befitting a hedge fund manager: $200MM for a minority stake and to shore up the finances, and if in two years Einhorn wants to buy majority control of the Mets the only way the Wilpon family can block him is to give his $200MM back, but he’d get to keep a one-third interest in team essentially for free. Einhorn is well known in the fund and investing community for dramatic bets that have tended to pay off, his most famous one being his call to short Lehman Brothers in the spring and summer of 2008 (a call for which he was told was both stupid and immoral — yeah well how did that work out). This book is essentially a treatise explaining one of Einhorn’s short bets, this time against a company named Allied Capital.


How do NFL players memorize all those plays?

Dilfer said it’s a three-year process to own a particular playbook. Owning a play is different from memorizing it, Dilfer explained. “Owning it to me goes from knowing it to understanding it to it becoming instinctive,” Dilfer said.

How does one own the plays? “If you’re not spending an hour every day in your playbook, you’re cheating your teammates,” Dilfer said. He stated quarterbacks should study three hours per day, given their extra responsibilities in commanding an offense.

It can take a while just to lock down a playbook’s language. “A lot of coaches use numbering systems,” Dilfer added. He said odd numbers are typically used for plays to the right, even numbers for plays to the left. Many offenses use T and D words for formations: T for Trips, where three receivers are lined up on one side, and D for double sets, such as double tight ends.

Dilfer cited an example of one play with a different meaning in two systems. “Red Right 22 Texas is a West Coast play,” Dilfer explained. “In another system, it’s Split Right Scat Right 639 F Angle. What some players will do when they go to a new team, is when it’s Split Right Scat Right, they go, ‘Oh, that’s 22 Texas.’ They hear one thing and they put old language on it; you have to learn the new language.” Leinart admitted as much in his transition from the Cardinals to the Texans.


Dhani Jones, a middle linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, said memorizing plays isn’t as difficult as understanding their philosophy. “I don’t drop the language (from previous systems),” said Jones, who’s also been on the Giants and Philadelphia Eagles during his 10-year career. “It’s just different words that are used. Quarters coverage is the same as Cloud coverage is the same as strong-side rotated coverage. They’re just named differently.”