Despite what you may have heard, lawyers are, in fact, human beings with interests and hobbies all their own. They are not, I repeat not, robots sent from the future solely for the purpose of billing hours, drafting documents, and negotiating terms. Not all of them anyway.
In TGIF, I touch on some of my own interests primarily through the lens of the “Rules of the Game”, focusing on the rules and resulting incentives that ultimately affect all of us in pursuing our life’s endeavors. I may even crack a joke or two. Hard to say.
Critical Thinking and Jumping to Conclusions – Michigan Men’s Basketball’s Eventful Journey to the Big Ten Tournament
On Wednesday March 8th, the State of Michigan was buffeted by a wind storm so fierce that more than a half million homes lost power (and expect to stay that way until Sunday or beyond). Hoeg Law itself lost power 8 separate times (but fortunately for only a few minutes each). It was in this storm that the Michigan Men’s basketball team attempted to take off for their Big Ten tournament game in Washington D.C. The results of that attempt were less than ideal, as their plane failed to take flight amidst 60 mph+ winds before skid-crashing off the runway (Mgoblog, SB Nation). Players and team members would later describe the harrowing incident (including fuel pouring in the head coach’s face, exit door evacuations, and more) and admit to certain of them needing stitches and other medical care. Plane crashes are not minor things.
Despite this the “games”, as they say, must go on, and so Michigan’s 12 noon tournament game on Thursday was refused to be rescheduled. As it turns out, TV contracts are not minor things either.
Many Michigan fans took to the (Internet-based) streets and demanded that Michigan AD Warde Manuel or Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany do something to accommodate the team. Nothing was done. As of 10:30 on Thursday morning, the team had still not arrived at the arena. A short time after, they arrived wearing only their practice gear, and the public was informed that their game had been moved from 12 noon…to 12:20. 20 minutes for a plane crash. Fantastic. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. Why was the game not pushed back farther? Why could it not be swapped with one of the other handful of games occurring in the same venue on the same day? Why, oh why, was Michigan being treated so poorly.
Then the game happened and Michigan won (by twenty!), and all was forgotten.
Except that a strange thing happened afterward. ESPN reported the following:
The Big Ten said they left the game time decision today up to Michigan. They were willing to move it, but the Wolverines wanted to play as soon as they got to DC. They asked for just an extra 20 minutes to 12:20 p.m. ET. Big Ten officials told ESPN that Illinois, Michigan State and Penn State (which play in the 2 p.m game) were all very agreeable and would have done anything to help out. Michigan officials said all of the equipment is in the cargo of the plane and cannot be retrieved until the safety investigation is complete (re: wearing practice uniforms today).
Were Michigan fans unjustifiably upset? Was the Internet jumping to erroneous conclusions based on little or no evidence (never!)?
The truth is that neither I nor anyone else not directly involved can say, but the story itself is worthwhile to look at if only to really examine the incentives of the parties involved and how more serious stories with much higher stakes can be “influenced” by those with direct interests in them.
Consider the following: We know the Michigan team was involved in a plane crash. We have credible “noise” (see the stories linked above) that the University immediately tried to reschedule the game. This is a normal, expected response. We know that the game was not rescheduled, and that the Big Ten really made no comment in the pertinent hours of the story (late Wednesday, early Thursday). We further know that the ultimate result of any “negotiations” was a scheduled tip-off of 12:20 (the game would actually start at 12:28). We know that after the game, the Big Ten commented directly to ESPN that they would have been more than happy to reschedule, but Michigan wanted to play.
Is the Big Ten’s statement credible? Does it paint a picture of reality that could have happened? Of course it does, that’s the point, but its worth also considering the incentives of all involved.
Michigan wants to win a basketball game. This usually means traveling the day before, practicing, walking through strategies, and generally treating the game like the other 30 they had played prior in the season. It does not generally mean flying Delta the morning of, arriving at the gym in practice shorts, and basically rolling out of the bus and lining up for tip-off. But that’s what they did.
The Big Ten, for the most part, wants to meet its obligations under its TV contracts. I do not believe there was any greater motivation here, other than sheer institutional inertia (“The games are supposed to start at noon, so they start at noon.”) So their motivation is to keep the trains running on time, while at least hand-waving support for the team who’s players were in a plane crash the day before (because to do otherwise would look bad, right?). What is the best method of accomplishing that goal? Honestly, it’s probably silence.
The ESPN story does not make clear when the Big Ten “left the game time decision up to Michigan”. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that a large institution like an athletic conference could not even make a decision on an important point like this without deliberation and bureaucracy that took their process right up until noon on Thursday. The result would be, for all practical purposes, silence from the conference at least from Michigan’s perspective.
Once the Michigan team had woken up at 4 in the morning to make their 6:30 travel plans, once they were in D.C. at 11 AM, once they were actually on the floor, why wouldn’t they simply want to play? The Big Ten can say they offered them alternatives, perhaps shortly before tip-off, but that would have occurred only after the team’s entire schedule had already been compromised. The conference’s statement to ESPN would not be wrong, per se, it would simply be misleading. In this scenario, there would never have been a legitimate offer to Michigan to restore their sense of normalcy. Further, after the fact, Michigan would have no reason (and as a member of the conference every reason to avoid) contradicting the party line. The conference and school would both know this. In this light, the ESPN statement could be read as the Big Ten “saving face”: looking like they were ready to accommodate this “poor” team, but getting the result they really wanted, the trains were kept (relatively) on time.
The point of all this is not to get mired in conspiracy theory, it is to point out once again that in life (as in contracts) incentives make the world go round. When reading a story about Michigan basketball, video game timelines, immigration policies, and everything in between, it is important to try to suss out some of the motivations of the actors, the affected, and those that are reporting on both. Avoid jumping to conclusions, but don’t take everything ESPN, CNN, or any institution comprised solely of letters says (!) as gospel. Really consider what is being presented, and you’ll have a greater understanding of just what is going on. That’s a good idea for everything in life, not just business (or sports).
Events Around Town:
Southeast Michigan is a happening place to be for the start-up entrepreneur. Check out some of the links below and be sure to drop in to support some of the fantastic folks who are working tirelessly to help entrepreneurs and start-ups in Michigan and around the county.
Detroit Start-Up Week Kick-Off Planning Session – 7 PM to 8 PM, Wednesday, March 15th at Techstars Mobility. This is the initial planning session for 2017’s Detroit Start-Up week. If you can’t make it, you should also consider submitting proposed talks at the event. Last year’s inaugural session was quite well attended and really represented the entrepreneurial spirit of Southeast Michigan. The event itself is in May.
Connecting the Game Development Community – 7 PM to 10 PM, Thursday, March 16th at SPARK East. This is a fantastic meet-up of current and up-coming game developers in the Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and metropolitan Detroit areas. They often have wonderfully knowledgeable and interesting speakers (including Hoeg Law!), and are really trying to bring everyone in this burgeoning community together. Check it out.
Word of the Week – “Scofflaw”
A person who flouts the law, especially by failing to comply with a law that is difficult to enforce effectively.
Consider this: What effect does the regular flouting of laws have on people’s belief in the rule of law? If I regularly break the speed limit, am I more or less likely to shoplift or embezzle from my employer? When we are all scofflaws, what effect does that have on society?