The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Hefferon: Best rules in sports (Oct. 10)

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In sports – and society in general – rules tend to get a bad rap. We see them as barriers, borders setting definite limits on the fun we are legally allowed to have. But just consider the chaos, looting, and anarchy that would ensue if our society was lawless, and it’s clear that we need a little pie crust to enjoy our pie, am I right?

Sports are the same way. Nothing grinds our gears like a decisive penalty, and nothing is less sexy than a football game ending in a ten-second runoff. But as we found out through the replacement referee fiasco, the guys in stripes are generally pretty good at their jobs, and playing the games without well-applied rules can be ruinous to a league.

So in honor of Ed Hochuli and friends returning to the sidelines, here are the five greatest rules in all of sports:

5. Football

“After a ball travels 10 yards on a kickoff, it can be recovered by the kicking team.”

Ah, the onside kick. It seems like a goofy gimmick that rarely works, but the fact that it can be done is enough to include it here.

As anyone who has played interhall football can tell you, without the onside kick, a lead of 10 with five minutes to play is basically insurmountable. But the onside kick keeps games alive longer, which leads to fewer kneel-downs and more two-minute drives and miracle field goals.

If nothing else, it lets fans keep dreaming of a comeback for as long as possible, as erasing a 20-point deficit is just three scores and two onside kicks away.

And when it does work, it’s only resulted in some of the greatest finishes in NFL history. This one’s a keeper.


“If a race finishes under caution, the cars will stay on the track and the race will be decided by a green-white-checker overtime.”

Lots of people hate NASCAR – and probably skipped over this paragraph – because apparently cars flying around corners at 200 miles per hour with less than six inches between them is boring. I just so happen to disagree.

But you know what everyone thinks is boring? The same thing, but at 50 miles per hour, and with no passing allowed. That just sucks. But that’s how a large percentage of races ended back in the day, as the winner cruised to the finish under caution.

In 2004, NASCAR wised up, and had cars line up again after the track was cleared, racing in a winner-take-all two-lap overtime.

The result? Awesomeness.

Drivers make their moves right away, and desperate passes and awesome wrecks ensue. Since the rule change, cars have crossed the finish line sliding on their hoods, the fans have left happy, and the best driver has taken the checkered flag – as God and six-pound, eight-ounce baby Jesus intended.

3. Tennis

“A player can challenge an official’s call on the Hawkeye system, with three unsuccessful challenges allowed per set.”
Fans hate bad calls. Players hate bad calls. Everyone does. But replays take too long, and still depend on the angles captured by TV cameras. So what do you do?

Well, if you’re tennis, you invent an all-knowing, instantaneous replay system that tells you where the ball landed down to the last fuzzy green thread. This has given tennis instant credibility, and has made it a much more watchable sport in the television era.

It’s probably only a matter of time until other sports follow tennis’s lead and embrace technology, as well (Soccer, we’re looking at you.).

2. Lacrosse
“If a shot goes out of bounds, possession will be given to the team that was closest to the ball as it went out of play.”
There’s nothing better in sports than a good hustle play. This rule provides a reward for those going all-out, and it’s a win-win situation.

Most of the time, the offense has a player backing up the play behind the goal, so teams can feel free to shoot and get the ball back easily if they miss. This extends possessions and increases scoring, which makes fans happy.

Occasionally though, if a ball is trickling across the boundary or an attackman isn’t backing up a shot, you’ll get a furious footrace between offense and defense, with players diving towards the endline as the ball leaves the field of play.

And watching a goalie stand tall in the net, see a shot start to sail wide, and take off into a Superman dive behind the goal to end a possession? That’s about as exciting as a turnover can get.

1. Hockey

“A player charged with high sticking will receive a two-minute penalty. Unless they draw blood: then it’s four minutes.”
This. Not only has this rule led to hilarious instances of 6-foot-6 enforcers arguing over what constitutes blood, it perfectly reflects the gritty, tough-guy culture of the NHL.

And this is the league that’s locking itself out for the second time in eight years?

Man, there needs to be some kind of rule against that.

Contact Jack Hefferon at

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.