The expectation of comprehensive is a key difference between on-field sport jurisprudence and the rest of society. So it is as notable as it is rare to encounter an on field situation that falls outside the rules. It is notable for jurisprudential reasons, but also for reasons of probability, as the vast on-filed experience afforded by competition typically tests rules in all their dimensions.
Earlier this week a "rules hole" was revealed in the procedures of USA Track & Field, the national governing body, which has responsibility for overseeing the track and field athletes who will represent the US in the upcoming Olympics.
In the finals of the 100m on Saturday Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh (pictured above) finished in a third place tie. With the top 3 advancing to the Olympics, a third place tie is problematic. It turned out that the USATF had no procedure for resolving a third place tie, and needed to come up with one quickly.
The resulting policy, designed and implemented in a hurry, can be seen here. As Oliver Wendell Homes said, hard cases make bad law, and this situation appears no different. The new policy has already been panned and the participants are already gaming the new rule in hope of some advantage. I'd expect that it will be revisited after the Olympics and after the spotlight of a single case has dimmed.
Other examples of "rules holes" and fillers:
- The "tuck rule" in professional American football
- The four corners offense in college basketball
- The "groove rule" in professional golf
- The "Hack-a-Shaq" strategy in the NBA (no rules change, so maybe not really a hole)
- Sunderland's "beach ball goal" against Liverpool in 2009 (still debated, video above)
"Rule holes" show us that even in the most contrived situations unforeseen contingencies arise. How we deal with those contingencies -- in sport but also broader society -- is a hallmark of good policy making.