Jan 26, 2013; Lawrence, KS, USA; Kansas Jayhawks head coach Bill Self reacts after a call in the first half against the Oklahoma Sooners at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas defeated Oklahoma 67-54. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Instant Replay: Is Getting It Right Good For Sports?


Jul 30, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (4) slides safely into home plate before Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer (7) can catch the ball in the ninth inning at Target Field. The Royals won 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone who watches sports has their particular pet peeves. A certain announcer, the designated hitter, or “The Brady Rule”, all come to mind. One particular pet peeve of some is instant replay, and the use of it in general.

Fans against replay are not just traditionalists objecting for the sake of keeping the past alive, or some antiquated attachment to yesteryear. They argue against replay because it has not, and does not for them enhance the games it attempts to regulate.

If fact, replay has taken some enjoyment away from sporting events that are supposed to be a get away from the rigors of everyday life.

The argument most often stated in favor of replay is “getting it right”, so that no player or team is cheated out of a victory. Ask yourself how many times you have caught yourself screaming at your television because a call still was blown after being reviewed. We have all seen it multiple times, and it should bring into question why use replay if the calls are still wrong.

What is worse is the call that cannot be reviewed by rule. The NFL is absolutely the worst offender of misusing replay in this way. How many times have your heard, “the play was blown dead by the whistle and therefore cannot be reviewed”? Every time this phrase is uttered, the words, “it is about getting the call right” sticks further in the proverbial craw.

How often is the mantra “every play counts” followed up by “one or two plays did not win/lose this game” in a post game press conference? Does every play count? Maybe not, because in the NFL, only certain plays are reviewed, and which ones are reviewable can confuse even the most die hard of fans. One particularly maddening rule states all scoring plays are reviewed after the two minute mark and at the end of games. Are we not admitting then that every play actually does not count and only at the end of the game with two minutes left are calls so crucial they must be reviewed close or not? The very use of the rule seems contrary to the idea that the entire game matters.

Dec. 2, 2012; Orchard Park, NY, USA; A general view of a penalty flag thrown by an official during a game between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

It is not that replay does not have value at all, but on the whole is a broken system with a couple of notable exceptions. The coaches challenges in the NFL is an example of replay contributing a positive and interesting roll. What it does best is: one, allow a coach to challenge an egregiously errant call; and second, it only allows a coach two challenges per game ensuring the judicious use of the challenges. Third, it does add a compelling twist of timing and strategy to the game. It offers a nearly perfect example of checks and balances between the human element and the limited use of technology.

Another beneficial use of replay is ejecting players in the instance of a fight or throwing punches. In this way, replay is a great help to the officials, as well as league offices in penalizing those who have been caught not been playing well with others. The video tape does not lie, even if some of those who watch the videos do.

One of the biggest complaints about baseball is the length of the game and how it moves along slowly. First, it is a false argument and there are better ways to speed up the game but that is a debate for another time.

If the game is so slow, how can anyone possibly argue in favor of utilizing replay in baseball? Ask yourself how often you have had time to grab a cold beverage from the fridge and make a pit stop during a replay only to find an official still under a hood reviewing a call that is obvious to everyone! Most every NFL fan is in on the joke that “time limits” on replays are more accurately described as time suggestions than limits.

It also is amazing how often replay verifies the accuracy of the officials than not. At the speed the games are played it is astounding there are not more atrocious calls and it is a credit to officials everywhere that there are not. Of course, everyone remembers the particularly bad calls, especially the ones against their team but how many more calls are right than wrong?

How about the human element of the game and where is its place? The decision should be made to either allow human error to be part of the equation, or not at all, outside of the few aforementioned exceptions.

Most sports fans understand that bad calls are part of the experience. It is even part of what makes the games compelling to watch. How much more passion did a single call, good or bad, bring to a game you cared about and invested in as a fan? Odds are you have found yourself on your knees bent over the coffee table clutching a pillow screaming at people who can’t hear you over a call. How often have you found yourself jumping up and down scraping your knuckles on the ceiling because a human being made a call in favor of your team.

That kind of soul crushing pain or elation is what being a fan is all about. How much less dramatic are those calls and the emotions that go with them when you watch the back end of a referee under a hood or watch three umpires disappear into a dark dugout corridor for five or ten minutes? How often is the momentum of an NCAA tournament game halted and a hot shooter iced so three officials can huddle at the scorers table over a small video screen to determine a call? It absolutely can ruin the experience and the quality of the game.

It is a seemingly small minority who do not support replay, but for many it has soured the overall experience, and they simply watch fewer games as they once did. Could it be that the loudest voices behind the use of replay are the advertisers who enjoy extended air time to peddle their goods? Is the repeated cry of “getting the calls right” really what it is all about? Those of us finding ourselves in the anti-replay minority would have less irritation over this issue if the proponents of replay would be honest enough to admit it is only about getting the calls right part of the time.

Of course if they do that then they also have to admit that we might as well have humans make all the calls. Maybe more beverage runs, bathroom breaks, and mind numbingly dumb commercials selling junk none of us likely need, is more important than the actual game and “getting it right”. One has to wonder.

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