In his column last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot, Bob Molinaro had these two items:
“Two months after the Super Bowl, NFL draft palaver engulfs sports TV and radio. Two weeks into its season, what you mostly hear about Major League Baseball is that its replay system is a farce. Therein lies a problem for the National Past-its-time.”
“Don’t know about others, but I could live out my life perfectly well without official replays. Just as I lived a perfectly happy childhood absorbed by sports long before reviewing calls became a thing. I just wish all leagues and sports could keep things moving. Replay rules prevent that from happening.”
The evolution of “instant replay” from a technological panacea to an annoying presence is an example of the proverbial slippery slope. As technology became available to have at the ready replays of every molecule of action in any sporting event of consequence, several things became clear:
- Things look different when viewed up close and magnified than they do at full speed.
- Things look different when viewed from different angles.
- Game officials sometimes miss a call or three because they only see a piece of action from one angle and at full speed without magnification.
The vector heading of most thinking at the time when technology provided for “instant replay” was that technology was the knight on a white horse who could ride in and save sports from the dastardly situation of a blown call. Technology would allow for “perfection”; there would be no more “grey areas”. Technology would fulfill Superman’s quest for:
- Truth, Justice, and the American Way!
And here we are … with even better technology than back when “instant replay” was going to save the day … with more officials on the field/court … with more replay officials in more various locales … and what do we have?
- There are still plenty of “grey areas”. Officials in the NFL have even invented a vocabulary that conveys their level of uncertainty on a call after seeing the replay. A call is confirmed or changed when they are confident in doing either one of those things; a call is left to stand when they still are not sure what the “absolutely correct” call should be.
- “Instant replay” is anything but “instant”. Some replay events can take up to 5 minutes.
- “Instant replay” is used in far too many “instances”.
And, as Professor Molinaro points out above, “instant replay” chops up the flow of just about every game that it has touched. Let me suggest a few changes here that might speed up the game by changing what “instant replay” might be used for:
- MLB: Use it for “home run or not a home run” calls; use it for “fair ball home run or foul ball”; and use it for determining if a “fair ball down the line was actually a foul ball”. That’s it; I can live with an occasional mistake on the base paths.
- Basketball (NBA and NCAA): Stop using replay to adjust the time on the clock at the end of a game. The fact that every examination of the clock shows that it needs adjusting certainly means that every clock stoppage in the first 95% of the game needed adjusting. The game has arrived at its end point imperfectly before the final minute or two; live with it.
- Football: Lots of reviews can be obviated by changing one rule and allowing the ground to cause a fumble. Moreover, if the rules mavens cannot come up with a definitive definition of what is a catch and what is not a catch then maybe stop using replay to look at what is or is not going to be ruled as a catch. Just a thought…
[Aside: If you really want to turn the game of football into a boring 5-hour slog, just expand the replay rule to include “holding” or “not-holding” by the 5 offensive linemen on any given play…]
We got to where we are with “instant replay” because we looked at technological wizardry through rose-colored glasses and imagined that it would lead us to a land flowing with milk and honey. The premise sounded irrefutable; replay would always “get it right”. The problem is that it does not always “get it right” and that its scope has been expanded to too many aspects of the games such that it is an intrusion and not a godsend.
Perhaps we should not be so surprised to come to such a realization. Technology has been welcomed as a glorious blessing in many parts of our lives only to let us recognize down the line that it may not be all it was cracked up to be. Social media platforms would be one such technological encroachment in society that we now recognize is “less than a perfect addition” to our lives. Just because technology can do something does not mean that we need to put up with technology’s baggage as it does that something; sometimes less is better.
Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this to say about some other additions to our society courtesy of technology:
“Handy tip: The microchip they secretly implanted in your arm during your ‘vaccination’ can be de-activated by a quick blast from a Jewish space ray.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………