Archive for Friday, November 6, 2009

More replays are not the solution

November 6, 2009


Countless sports commentators and millions of sports fans have arrived at one conclusion after viewing hours of football and baseball playoffs this fall.

Officials need more replay help, they say. Nothing is more important than “getting it right,” they contend.

And they are dead wrong.

Our major sporting events already have enough use of replay in officiating. What they need are fewer replays by the networks, not more delays in pursuit of unattainable officiating perfection.

I am not anti-replay because of some old school “purist” sense of reasoning. I was against replay officiating when the NFL adopted it in 1986, and there were certainly flaws in its early execution.

But as time passed, replay officiating helped the NFL more than its seemingly endless delays have hurt. It’s not an ideal solution, but I think the NFL and college use of replay has given players, coaches and fans a sense that outcomes are less likely to be determined by blown calls.

Still, it’s far from perfect. The controversies that emerged from big Southeastern Conference games pitting LSU against Georgia and Florida against Arkansas resulted in the suspension of an entire officiating crew.

The calls under question were an unsportsmanlike penalty against Georgia and a personal foul against an Arkansas lineman. But a suspension fosters no real satisfaction among fans. The important thing is that those calls aren’t reviewable now and won’t be reviewable in the future.

I have said before that incorrect pass-interference calls, especially at the NFL level where they can move the ball half a football field, are as likely to alter outcomes as any calls that are reviewable. Because interference or unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties are considered judgment calls, they are not reviewed.

A suspension from SEC commissioner Mike Slive and perhaps the loss of a bowl game for SEC referee Marc Curles and his crew are all that you get.

In baseball, the focus has been on increasing the use of replay beyond home run calls. Blown calls by umpires as experienced as Tim McClelland have lent credence to those who demand more replay.

Some want plays at the bases to be reviewed. Others, citing the difference between networks’ strike zones and umpires’ calls, want balls and strikes to be called by computer, like the replay challenges that are used in professional tennis.

Commissioner Bud Selig says he wants to move slowly on this front, which, basically, makes it a lot like every other front he has been able to identify. But in this case, he and the cronies or “purists” he is listening to are on the right side of the argument.

Whether a new system would involve a replay-booth umpire or managers making challenges, I can’t imagine either solving baseball’s biggest problems.

There is something troubling about the idea that it doesn’t matter how much we tarnish the credibility of the officials or how long we extend these three- and four-hour games in order to “get it right.”

The national TV ratings for the World Series are strong. Fans are buying what they are seeing.

If the TV ratings are weak locally, changes that are guaranteed to add to the 3-hour, 25-minute average of these games aren’t going to create new viewers.


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