Within the Rules

On an annual basis, most organizations look at the rules that govern them and examine if they continue to be relevant. In DCI, a recent rule change will add previously prohibited brass instruments to the potential palate this coming summer. In college football, a current proposal, supported, if not spearheaded, by Alabama coach Nick Saban and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, seeks to slow down the game. The proposal, which would limit advantages gained by uptempo offenses, would require teams to allow at least 10 seconds of the playoff to allow for defensive substitutions.

What do these two proposals have in common? Innovation, in one form or another. There are two ways one can innovate: One is to work within the rules as structured, and the other is to work to change the rules. Both of these aim for the latter, but while DCI's proposal offers more tools with which to innovate, the proposal before college football seeks only to stifle that which others have taken advantage of within the rules. In DCI, new opportunities will come in the form of new instruments, with new voices and visuals potentially coming in the form of trombones, french horns and sousaphones. While I don't mind this change, I said with the addition of electronics that I consider this less innovative than if they weren't in the mix. I'm more impressed if you can give me the feel of a helicopter using your battery rather than pulling up a sampled helicopter on a keyboard.

In college football, offenses have been giving us the battery-operated helicopter by using the play clock to their advantage. The new proposal would return balance - or advantage, depending on who you ask - to the opposing defense. Simply put it looks to curtail innovation by managing one of the elements that offenses can truly take advantage of: Their own clock management.

In each case, the rule change aims to gain traction by latching itself to something that the association holds near and dear. In DCI, the claim is that the new proposal gives corps the opportunity to educate a different kind of student, and creates a more inclusive environment. In the NCAA, player safety is the nebulous clarion call. The thing is, both have been refuted, either anecdotally or empirically. Musicians who play currently prohibited brass (or - gasp - woodwinds!) but seek the drum corps experience are forced to learn a new instrument. Many have, and performed at very high levels. How's that for education? And the College Football Matrix ran the numbers with regards to faster offensive play leading to more injuries, and the results may (or may not) surprise you.

I'm not claiming to be against change here; in many cases I support it, and in each association, there are rules proposals I'm fully behind - the Entertainment Effect caption in DCI (reportedly tweaked and being voted upon at a later date) and the removal of the 15 yard penalty from reversed targeting ejections. But if your goal is innovation, be sure you're on the right side of the fence.