King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Fifteen laterals and the truth: College football's play of the century (so far). Plus: The World Series D.H. rule.


Salon Staff
October 31, 2007 2:45PM (UTC)

If you haven't seen it by now, here's a link to the craziest college football play of the year so far. Oh, heck, of the century. Trinity University lateraled 15 times on the last play of the game to score a touchdown and beat Millsaps College 28-24.

Favre to Jennings in overtime is child's play compared with this.

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Trinity is in San Antonio, Millsaps in Jackson, Miss., where the game took place. Both teams are still in the hunt for the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship and an automatic bid to the Division III playoffs, with Millsaps leading by a half-game. DePauw is an additional half-game back, just in case you're really getting interested in the SCAC here.

Watch the play and try to imagine it happening in the NFL or even Division I with no penalty flags being thrown. The ball was in play for 60 seconds. An NFL official would have thrown a flag on general principle. "There must have been a block in the back somewhere in there."

To be fair, and I think I speak for all Millsaps Majors fans here, there must have been.

The broadcast that everyone's watching online came from the Trinity athletics Web site that was webcasting the game. Trinity sophomore Jonathan Wiener did a great job with the play-by-play, staying relatively composed and describing the action well as it happened.

I'd have paid good money to hear Gus Johnson of CBS make that call, but I don't know that any network's best announcers would have done a better job on it, and most wouldn't have done as well.

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Wiener's partner, a grad student and former Trinity player named Justin Thompson, suggested the lateral strategy just before the snap. Nice work.

Of course the play is reminiscent of "The Play," the -- seems so puny now -- five-lateral kickoff return for a touchdown by California to beat Stanford in 1982. Here was the wrap-up of Cal announcer Joe Starkey's call: "The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football, California has won the Big Game!"

Wiener gave it a little more of a soft sell, but his wrap-up echoed Starkey's: "That might be the most sensational, incredible ending in all of Division III! Oh my gosh, I do not believe it! This football game is over. That was one of the most miraculous plays in all of college football!"

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Today's post-World Series skull session: The designated hitter [PERMALINK]

Every year at World Series time -- you may have blinked and missed this year's -- the question arises of which league benefits from the World Series designated-hitter rule, which states that the D.H. is used only in the American League park.

A few years ago I did a little study of games played since the current World Series D.H. arrangement was created in 1986. I wanted to see how teams did playing on the road, using the other league's rules.

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I concluded that the rule favors the home team a little, though I wasn't too sure about that conclusion. It's a small enough set of games that the dominance of the New York Yankees in the late '90s may have thrown everything off.

This week it occurred to me to look at all games played using one league's rule since the D.H. was introduced in the American League in the 1972 regular season. For the first four years, the World Series used the National League rule, no designated hitter. From 1976 to 1985, the A.L. designated-hitter rule was used in even-numbered years, the N.L. rule in odd-numbered years. Since '86, the home team's league rule has applied.

Since 1972, in games played with no D.H., the N.L. team has gone 56-57, a winning percentage of .496. In games played under American League rules, with a D.H. in the lineup, the A.L. team has gone 55-32, a .632 winning percentage.

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That's a pretty stark contrast. The difference between a .496 team and a .632 team over the course of a season is 22 wins, from 80 to 102. I hadn't realized the American League has won 56 percent of all World Series games since 1972, 112-88. I wasn't even conscious that the A.L. had won 21 of the 35 World Series since then.

The A.L. advantage is even more pronounced lately. While it's true the N.L. has won three of the past seven Series, it's also true the Senior Circuit has won only three of the past 10. In that time, the A.L. advantage in games won is 34-16. The A.L. is dominating lately.

It would take a better statistician than I -- what I mean by that is it would take someone who knows something about statistics -- to tease out how much of that domination has been attributable to the relative quality of the leagues and their champions, but I suspect the World Series D.H. rule is giving some aid to the American League in the World Series.

At the very least, baseball should seriously study the issue.

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Previous column: NBA preview; World Series start times

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