TGIF: March 17th, 2017 – March Madness in Equipoise

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.

TGIF will be published regularly on (surprisingly enough) Friday mornings.  For more information, check out or drop Rick a line at


The NCAA Tournament and Perspective

Last week we talked about plane crashes, the Michigan basketball team, and the importance of looking at incentives when listening to differing perspectives on current events.  This week we carefully examine whether or not Jim Harbaugh would crash an airplane if he determined it gave his team a competitive advantage.  No, not really, but it is a fun thought experiment.  (My best tongue-in-cheek guess: He absolutely would if he could assure that there were no injuries greater than those experienced by the basketball team last week.  I mean they won the Big Ten Championship for heaven’s sake. If he can nail down that small “risk issue”, look out air traffic controllers.  Wolverine One is coming in for a landing.  Hard.)

No, this week we stick with basketball to celebrate one of my favorite things on Earth: “The Tournament”.

In 1993 or thereabouts my parents bought me a Super Nintendo game titled simply “NCAA Basketball”. Though primitive by today’s standards, “NCAA Basketball” was transformative for me, both because it featured some of the first 3D sports gameplay to ever appear in a videogame, but also because it framed The Tournament as something legendary, something epic, something not to be missed.  The game, you see, concluded on an ending cut-scene that I still remember to this day.  (One which I tragically have been unable to find on YouTube or anywhere else).

In this scene (if I’m remembering correctly), digital images of students on campus are accompanied by short bursts of text.  They describe the (then) 64 teams meeting at a dozen locations over three weeks with a single goal, the heroes’ welcome the Sweet 16 receive between the first and second weekends, the pride and pressure of making the Final Four, and the way the schools unite and rally behind the “warriors” they send out to these disparate “battlefields” to become true “champions” (in the old sense of the word).  To my young mind it was the realization of sport as JRPG, of the Final Four as the Final Boss, of The Tournament as the modern representation of the knightly contests of old.  I played “NCAA Basketball” over and over just to see that ending cut-scene over and over as well (this was before YouTube, kids).  My perspective on The Tournament (and honestly on sports in general) forever changed.

A few years later, another NCAA moment would again cause me to consider the question of perspective. As a junior in high school, my math class was studying combinatorics (in our case studying different ways to count combinations and permutations of events).  After a rigorous exam in which  all of our knowledge on the subject was tested (and the substance of which I can most assuredly not regale you with today), a bonus question, much simpler than those included on the exam proper, was posed:  “How many games are in the NCAA tournament?”  Though we had never dealt with a series of outcomes that large, I thought I had a relatively good handle on the problem.  I went to work, applying what knowledge I had, putting forth and solving (what I thought were) the necessary equations, and generally trying to prove to myself and the teacher that I was a math wiz.

The next week (week two of the Tournament), the tests were returned, and of course, no one got the right answer on the bonus question, for, as the teacher explained, we had not yet been given the correct math tools with which to solve it.  The teacher stood at the front of the class with a smile on his face, and admonished us for not thinking “outside the box”.  His interrogatory (though with details lost to the mists of time and memory) went something like this:

“How many teams are in the Tournament?”


“How many national champions are there?”


“And how many teams lose in a game?”


“So how many games does it take to go from 64 to 1?”

“63 (of course!)”

I’ve never forgotten that lesson.  Not through my economics degree.  Not through law school.  Not through negotiating multi-million dollar deals.  And not today.

There is real truth to the notion that when all you have is a hammer all you see are nails. In the context of a math test focused entirely on methods of counting, I was unable to see a question for what it was.  To use tools I otherwise had.  I was blinded by my knowledge.  I tell this to my clients, and I use this lesson both in drafting and in negotiations. Don’t be trapped only by what you’ve done before, or what you think must be done in every instance.  Be open to new perspectives and new ideas, because the answer to whatever problem you are facing may be leagues simpler than it first appears.  Don’t be a hammer, because that issue you’re facing may not be a nail.

Life lessons from The Tournament (and maybe the Twilight Zone in this narrative voice).

Have fun everybody, and may the best team dressed in maize and blue win!

Word of the Week – “Equipoise”

A balance or counterbalance of forces or power – Oxford English Dictionary

“Were the committee to seed the Tournament participants properly, the teams would stand in perfect equipoise.”

This word of the week comes to you completely unrelated to today’s events.  Completely unrelated.


Thanks for stopping by.  Feel free to leave me a comment down below, and be sure to check out the rest of Rules of the Game and for more legal insights, commentary, and hopefully helpful articles.  Have a great Friday everybody!

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