Rulebooks and Nachos: Overview

I tried something this summer to get acquainted with the rule book.  I probably should have blogged about it as I went along, but instead, I’ll put up a review of it now.

It’s something I called Rulebooks And Nachos.  At the last meeting of last year, I asked if any of my colleagues were interested in heading to a sports bar once a month to discuss the rulebook one section at a time. We did just that. I had as few as two fellow refs join me and as many as 14 for the last one.  Typically, we had 5-6 refs present with our rulebooks.  I’d read the section–both rulebook and casebook–carefully the night before and write down anything I noticed about the section. Notes fell into general categories of:

–stuff I had been unknowingly getting wrong,
–stuff that I had been getting right, but now know why, and
–rules that we, as an association, have simply decided not to follow.

We would talk for 60-90 minutes about the rules. Nothing too serious could take place (after all, it’s hard to be serious when nachos and beer are involved). Conversations would wander, and I’d let them, but would always try to take them back to the rule at hand. Only in the last (and biggest) meeting did conversation go to the ubiquitous complaining about “this association is all politics” and the like. I was proud we had avoided that for so long.

I plan on doing this again.  Here are some tips I have if you want to try something similar with your association.

1.  The name is CRITICAL.  People wanted to call it a “rules clinic” or a “rules class.”  I was adamant that it was neither for two reasons.  One, I didn’t want to be in a position as a teacher, since I didn’t feel like I knew more about the rules than most of my colleagues (which is why I invented Rulebooks and Nachos in the first place).  Two, I wanted people actually to show up over the summer.  Making it a “class” would dissuade people…but who can say no to a piping-hot plate of melty, messy nachos?

2.  Location mattered.  I picked a popular sports bar because I wanted it to be really informal. That worked with some caveats.  One, I had to make sure that no refs under 21 wanted to attend, because if they did, we’d have to evacuate the bar area and head back to the “family area.”  Second, we had to be thoughtful about the night of the week: once football season started, we couldn’t do Monday or Thursday nights since the place would be too loud.

3.  I was clear that people should show up whenever they could: if they came only once, that was sufficient.  People have family obligations or are working other sports.  I get that.  Again, informality was pretty crucial.

4. That said, I do wish there were a way to convince people to actually read the section of the rulebook before arriving.  I’ve been in many book clubs in my life, and I am annoyed by the person who shows up without having read the book who still thinks their input means something. I guess it’s okay to have them there so their misconceptions can be shot down, but I’d like to find a way to gently encourage people to, you know, read the rulebook.

5.  Conversation inevitably turned to which rules we choose to set aside. I think there’s no more critical discussion than this. My conclusion after a summer of these discussions (and a Referee magazine article I penned, and the discussions I had with top-notch officials about that…but that’s another story entirely):  if a referee is going to say “I know what the rulebook says I should do, but I won’t do it,” he/she had better have a pretty irrefutable reason to veto the book. “I don’t like the rule” is not sufficient.

6. Next year, I will go for two changes. First, I may go for a quieter spot, especially if we’re going to have more people showing up (as I suspect we might). That said, I still want it to be a sports bar because…Second, I will try to always have a basketball game nearby. Our best meeting was the one we had before the Wisconsin/Kentucky NCAA Final Four matchup. We discussed the game as it was on. Now, of course, that was a game everyone wanted to see, but even to have a NBA D-League game or a WNBA game on in the background might bring up discussion. Third, I will want to have more people than just me come in with questions/observations of each rule. That way the show can go on without me, and if we wind up with more than 10 people present, we can divide up into separate tables to have separate discussions. Also, I don’t know that I’ll have different stuff to say next year. Maybe I will.

In any event, I feel like I know the rules WAY better this year than I did last year.  The proof of the pudding will be in the season, of course. But I was pleased with how a half-dozen or so refs from diverse experience and skill levels kept returning. It was a fine thing to do with the summer, and I think your association should try something similar. If you do, tell me about it in the comments: maybe you’ll come up with an angle I missed that would help out here.