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Circuit Court Rejects Maryland Ban on Spread Option

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Government 'powerless to stop impending bloodfest'

COLLEGE PARK, Md -- In a closely watched case concerning a touchdown-scoring tool adopted around the country, a Maryland appeals court has reversed a nine-month-old order banning the implementation of the spread option against state-sponsored universities.

The ruling comes just in time to allow West Virginia to employ the offense to the complete annihilation of the University of Maryland's defense tonight in College Park.

Maryland's Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a September 2006 injunction favoring the UMD defense, which had filed a lawsuit against West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, accusing him of violating the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment by unleashing the formation for 340 yards rushing in WVU's 45-24 rout in Morgantown.

In a decision issued by a three-judge panel, the court ruled that "the preliminary injunction ... burdens more expression than necessary to protect Maryland's strategic interest and was an unlawful prior restraint upon Pat White and Steve Slaton's right to humiliate an overpursuing defense on national television."

Court: No legal exemption exists for Maryland's defense to prevent a god awful massacre.
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The ban also imposed an undue burden on a coach's right to choose a pre-viability audible, wrote Judge Graydon S. McKee III, and is too vague because it does not adequately warn coordinators of exactly what it prohibits and because it permits arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.

"Is the traditional triple option still a viable tactic?," McKee asked rhetorically in his decision. "What constitutes a 'spread' option? If the quarterback is in the shotgun, but the formation still has two tight ends, or one tight end and two running backs, does the ban apply? Is it meant to cover any handoff that occurs on the basis of reading the upfield action of the playside end?"

The 2nd Circuit appeals court in Kentucky also struck down a similar law Wednesday passed on behalf of the University of Louisville, but only on the read-handoff basis; one judge dissented from a two-judge majority.

The Seventh Circuit went further than its peers by not only finding the law overly broad and constitutionally vague, but also by addressing a remedy in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Calhoun v. U.S. Air Force Academy decision on the academy's law mandating a minimum commitment to the option. After initially vowing to resist the court's mandate, Air Force coaches have nevertheless followed its dictates to a 2-0 record. West Virginia hopes to do the same tonight.

Despite earlier rulings in lower courts and plenty of chances to limit the ban's scope, the Maryland legislature caved to pressure from coach Ralph Friedgen and passed an overly broad ban it knew would likely run afoul of judicial review, McKee wrote.

"In so doing, the legislature left it to the judiciary to sort out which parts of the West Virginia playbook are constitutional and which are not. We conclude that the only appropriate remedy is to enjoin enforcement of the ban and we now affirm the Mountaineers' grant to cost another defensive coordinator his job in a point-a-minute beatdown the likes this state hasn't seen since it employed Ron Vanderlinden."

Eric Garner, staff attorney for the Associaton of Debilitating Offensive Formations of America, said his clients are pleased the court saw the harm to Heisman campaigns posed by the law's constitutional flaws and that the only way to fix the problem is to strike down the whole law, and with it any chance Maryland may have to move into the top 25 for at least the next month.

The law at issue threatens a two-year prison term for coaches performing what is known to defensive coordinators either as a "G&G" -- "Give and Go" -- or as an "intact R&K" -- "Read and Keep" -- in which the quarterback reads a defensive end to determine whether to give the ball  on the dive or keep the ball in the opposite direction. In a "disarticulated dilation and extraction," the decision to give or keep is made in the huddle without any reads at the line.

The U.S. Supreme Court's 2000 ruling in Iowa State v. Crouch deemed a similar Iowa law unconstitutional because its broad language imposed an undue burden on a quarterback's right to make a decision to keep or pitch, and it lacked an exception allowing the method even when it might be "necessary, in appropriate strategic judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the offense."

The Georgia legislature in January 2006 passed a law largely similar to Iowa's but with fact findings that any form of option, when executed properly, "is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never strategically necessary and should be prohibited." A string of court challenges have kept that law from taking effect.

"Certainly we're disappointed, and we plan to appeal," said a visibly shaken Friedgen after the decision. "We're confident we can win in the courts in the long run, because the spread option is cruel and inhumane procedure to perform against a defense.

"In the meantime," he added, "we'll just have to endure having the ball run right up our ass."