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The National Hockey League is considering a major rule change for the 2019-2020 season – one player from each team will be required to call penalties on his own team!

The size of an NHL ice surface – 200 feet by 85 feet – hasn’t changed in 100 years.  Yet professional hockey players are getting bigger and faster – for example, the 1965-1966 Boston Bruins roster averaged 5’10” and 180 pounds and the 2018-2019 Bruins roster averages 6’1” and 200 pounds, an increase of about 22%. And the game has become more international over the years, bringing in new styles, new languages, and new strategies. In 1978-1979, Canadian- and American-born players made up 95% of NHL rosters, and there were only 25 players from 6 other countries: in 2018-2019, Canadians and Americans make up 71% of the rosters, and there are 261 players from 15 other countries.[1]

Notwithstanding a number of rule changes, and the addition of a second referee in 2000-2001, NHL league officials have become increasingly concerned over the number of penalties that the referees have been missing. Faster, stronger players; not being able to clearly communicate with all players in all languages; a new “full ice” style of play; and greater stakes with bigger endorsement opportunities and higher salaries, have all contributed to more missed penalties.  And these missed calls are seen as contributing to dirtier play, as the rules-abiding (and often more skillful) players become frustrated, and those contributing the infractions don’t fear the sanction of a penalty. There have been a number of rule changes over the years, and others have been contemplated, all meant to encourage and promote fair play. And like other professional sports leagues, the NHL has been looking at using more video replay and off-ice officials. One notable fintech company has developed a machine learning, artificial intelligence-based system that relies on 120 micro-sensors embedded in the players’ equipment and 7 video cameras on helmets, jerseys, and skates to monitor the game and, when infractions occur but are not called, inform the on-ice referees in real time that a penalty occurred but was not seen or called.

However, instead of implementing more rule changes or adding off-ice officials – both of which were deemed to have too much of a negative impact on the game – and until any technologies can be deployed in real-game situations (notwithstanding the fintech company’s promotional materials, they have only deployed their system in a beta environment using a Finnish 12-and-under roller hockey team, and none of the equipment lasted longer than 1½ periods of play), the NHL has decided to require each NHL team to designate one player on the roster as the “In-Team Referee”. In addition to having his normal responsibilities as a center, forward, or defenseman (goalies are not eligible to be IRTs given they are often almost 200 feet from the play), the In-Team Referee, or IRT, will be required to call penalties on his own team. In order to ensure that the teams’ IRT programs are sound, and the IRT’s penalty-calling performance is up to the league’s expectations, each IRT will be examined and judged by NHL team examiners and, if found lacking, the NHL can impose penalties, fines, and suspensions against the IRT.

The NHL recognizes that the day-to-day life of the IRTs can become somewhat awkward. For example, if an IRT calls a penalty on one of the team’s highest performing, or highest paid, players that affects the game’s outcome or impacts that player’s bonus, the team could accuse the IRT of “not being a team player” or “being too close to the referees”. The NHL will watch for any possible retaliation, including overall situations where IRTs could find themselves changing teams every 2-3 years.

Pause.

Absurd? Yes. Real? No. The NHL is not contemplating such an absurd situation. Yet calling penalties on your own team is what the Bank Secrecy Act regulations require of BSA Compliance Officers: BSA Compliance Officers are “charged with … managing the bank’s adherence to the BSA and its implementing regulations” and they are “responsible for … ensuring that employees adhere to the bank’s BSA/AML policies, procedures, and processes” (quoting the 2014 BSA Exam Manual, page 32). And how does the BSA Officer do that? He or she should “regularly apprise the board of director and senior management of ongoing compliance with the BSA.”

BSA Compliance Officers are like In-Team Referees: they are required to “call penalties” on their own team mates when those team mates don’t follow the rules. It’s an incredibly tough situation to be in, and it takes tact and skill to be effective. But like the fictitious In-Team Referee, the dual-role of a BSA Officer – designing, building and running the BSA/AML program and calling penalties on his or her own colleagues when they fail to adhere to that program – make that BSA Officer’s life within his or her financial institution very difficult. Perhaps that’s why the average tenure of a BSA Officer is less than three years. My respect and admiration go out to all BSA Officers (and AML Officers and Money Laundering Reporting Officers in other jurisdictions): bravo for doing an impossible job!

[1] Yes, I did the research. For the Bruins 1965 roster, see https://www.NHL.com/bruins/roster/1965. For the Bruins 2019 roster, see https://www.hockey-reference.com/teams/BOS/2019.html#all_roster. For the nationality breakdown of NHL players for the last 50 years, see https://www.quanthockey.com/NHL/nationality-totals/NHL-players-2018-19-stats.html. Also, I’d appreciate it if the NHL’s lawyers have a sense of humor and don’t threaten any legal action against me for using the good name of the NHL: I’m originally from Canada and played hockey growing up … I can still hum the Hockey Night in Canada theme song, and love Don Cherry!