regulatory accountability

carrying a dagger in case of making a mistake

In sumo wrestling, the two top regulators (referees) carry a dagger at work.  The dagger indicates their willingness to commit ritual suicide (seppuku) if they make a mistake.  This is an excellent practice that regulators across a variety of fields and around the world should adopt.

overturning regulatory calls

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is the premier professional basketball league in the U.S.  Officiating in the NBA is roughly equivalent to working in a federal regulatory agency, with NBA officials get getting somewhat more public appreciation and a lot less heckling.

In the 2008-09 NBA season, the number of calls that officials chose to reconsider on video (at least 1033 calls) was not much less than the number of games played (1230).   Hence motions for video reconsideration were common.

NBA officials determine whether a shot attempt was a two-point shot or a three-point shot.  Requests for video reconsideration of such calls led to the overturning of 27% of those reviewed (140 out of 519 calls).  The calls for which officials request a review are close calls.  If in these circumstances officials calls were no better than random and the video review always determined the correct call, then 50% of the reviewed calls would be overturned.  With a overturn share of 27%, officials are overturning half as many reviewed calls as the random benchmark.   Officials’ calls stood up better in reconsideration of clock decisions: 6% of those decisions (31 out of 514) were overturned.

Deciding correctly all regulatory decisions is difficult even for highly experienced, highly professional officials.  Unfortunately, watching video is of no help in many areas of regulation.

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These statistics are from the magazine Referee, December 2010, p. 61.

regulations belong in the bathroom

toiletAt a training camp for basketball officials, a senior official emphasized the importance of rule knowledge.  He explained that he keeps a copy of the basketball rulebook in his bathroom.  Every time he spends time on the toilet, he reads the rulebook.

All regulatory officials should adopt this practice.   Rule books in some fields are quite lengthy.  But with electronic publications and e-readers, regulatory code books can easily fit into any bathroom.   Reading regulations in the bathroom could contribute significantly to improved regulatory practice and greater regularity.

regulating theater in eighteenth-century Paris

In pre-Revolutionary France, the French king awarded theater-process patents to particular theater companies.  The Académie d’Opéra, founded in 1669, received letters patent giving it exclusive rights to present to the public works with texts that were sung or danced.  The Comédie-Française, which incorporated Molière’s acting company, received the exclusive right to present drama in verse.  The Comédie-Italienne, a troupe of Italian actors, held rights to Italian comic opera and the commedia dell’arte.   Of course, just like U.S. communications companies argue over the boundaries between telecommunications and information services, Old-Regime French theater companies argued over the types of singing and dancing each had the legal right to do.

These three major Parisian theater companies found common ground in seeking to suppress theatrical entrepreneurs that built theatrical businesses within the annual Parisian trade fairs.  These trade fairs occurred at the St-Germain abbey in the Latin Quarter (late winter and early spring) and at the St-Laurent abbey on the right bank of the Seine (late summer and early fall).  The trade fairs were special trade zones within which many normal guild regulations and commercial privileges did not apply.  Trade-fair theaters developed performances that served popular tastes and were quite successful.  Concerned in part about audience losses, the major theater companies asserted their privileges over the trade-fair theaters.  The trade-fair theaters responded with a variety of jurisdictional arguments and clever legal forum-shopping.  These tactics gained the trade-fair theaters years of business, but ultimately the superior legal-political power of the major theaters prevailed.

The trade-fair theaters also responded with successful business innovations.  For example, Parlement in 1707  forbid the performance of any “play, colloquy, or dialogue” in French at the fairs.  The order did not explicitly forbid monologues, interpreted as having only one speaking actor on the stage at a time.   Hence fair performances had actors alternately run on and off the stage to speak their lines, or had one actor on stage and another actor speaking from off stage.   When the actors were forbidden to sing, stage assistants held up placards with written verse.  With the aid of these prompts, actors planted in the audience got the audience to sing the songs that accompanied the performance.   To skirt the category of play, some fair theaters offered productions with three acts rather than the classically inspired standard of five acts.

More dramatic freedom came with the French Revolution.  The Théâtre des Délassements-Comiques, founded in 1785, was soon restricted to performing pantomimes, with no more than three actors on stage, and a gauze curtain hung between the stage and the audience so that the audience could see the stage action only obscurely.  In 1789, after the fall of the Bastille, the theater director Plancher-Valcour reportedly tore down the veil and declared, “Long Live Liberty!”

Liberty lives long only with politically engaged citizens, good law, and innovative persons and organizations.

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Isherwood, Robert M. 1986. Farce and fantasy: popular entertainment in eighteenth-century Paris. New York: Oxford University Press (Ch. 4).

Ravel, Jeffrey S. 1999.  The contested parterre: public theater and French political culture, 1680-1791. Ithaca: Cornell University Press (Ch. 3).

Hemmings, Frederick William John. 1994. Theatre and State in France: 1760-1905. Cambridge: Cambridge university press (Ch. 4).

clarification of free-throw lane regulations

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has clarified two basketball free-throw regulations.  Regulation 9-1-3d previously stated:

9-1-3d: No player shall enter or leave a marked lane space.

It now states:

9-1-3d: No player shall enter or leave a marked lane space by contacting the court outside the 36-inch by 36-inch space.

This change clarifies that a player may not reach across the lane line and touch the court while maintaining his or her feet within the lane space.  Thus a player cannot touch the floor across the lane line to prevent herself or himself from falling into the lane space.

The second change added an additional provision to Regulation 9-1-3g.  This new provision states:

A player shall position one foot near the outer edge of the free-throw lane line.   The other foot may be positioned anywhere within the designated 36-inch lane space.

An earlier change in regulation moved players an additional lane space away from the basket.  This lane movement was designed to lessen rough play in competing for rebounds.  However, this regulatory change prompted some offensive players in the second lane position to move to the outside edge of the lane space to position themselves to cut quickly behind the defensive player in the first lane space and thus get a rebounding position in the extra space that the rule change had created.  The new regulatory change lessens possibilities for players to exploit the prior regulatory change.

Everyone wants clear, stable regulations.  But enacting such regulations is no simple task.

a new era of tighter regulation

The VHSL Basketball Officials Camp has a second session running July 20-23, 2009.  You will get much more out of this camp than your average conference where you just sit around and listen to presentations.  This is live regulatory experience under the guidance of some of the finest regulators on the planet.  Good regulation is vitally important.  It’s time to start making calls, and making them right.  I highly recommend this camp to all regulators for professional development.

games need regulation

To increase my regulatory expertise, I recently attended a four-day VHSL Basketball Officials Camp.  The camp included both class sessions with top officials and on-court practice.   The supervising officials provided extensive feedback on mechanics and calls.  One supervising official told me bluntly to drop my laissez-faire approach and put some air in my whistle.  By the end of the camp I was more actively managing the competition.  Overall, the camp was excellent.  It made me a better official.

Better officials benefit all players.  Better officials make for better games.