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Monday, September 10, 2007
Against Instant Replay

I always have been opposed to instant replay. This, of course, puts me in a distinct minority (maybe even minority of one) among sports fans and commentators. And it certainly puts me against the flow of history, as replay is becoming a part, and an increasingly greater part, of most sports. The NFL has raised replay use to an art form and college football is following suit. The NBA recently announced increased use of replay to review fights and flagrant fouls. And it probably will be only a few years before it finds its way into Major League Baseball.

But I stand by my opposition to replay for a number of reasons. I do not like taking the human element out of the game--if we accept inevitable mistakes by players trying their best, why not also accept inevitable mistakes by officials trying their best? I do not like the way it breaks the flow of the game for the ref to spend 10 minutes staring at a TV. How many times do we now have to wait to celebrate a touchdown while officials try to re-figure whether it was, indeed, a touchdown. I do not like the way challenges, at least in football, can be used simply for strategic purposes, to get the equivalent of a long time out and a chance to rest players late in the game. I do not like the effect it has on game officials--at least in the NFL, many refs seem hesitant to make firm calls one way or another, knowing that they basically can guess, then rely on replay to have the final word. I fear the same thing will happen in basketball on, for example, buzzer-beating shots. I do not like the inherent inconsistency in determining which plays or calls should be subject to review and which should not.

Replay supporters (which is to say just about everyone) insist that any of these drawbacks are outweighed by the increased accuracy that replay provides. All the drawbacks are worth it because, by going to the videotape, we get the calls "right" because the video shows the "right" answer.

But do we? And does it? My current writing project is an essay on the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Scott v. Harris, where the Court found that a video of a high-speed chase was such an omniscient, unquestionably accurate, and entirely objective (i.e., not dependent on any inferences, perception, or interpretation) depiction of events that the Court could ignore eyewitness testimony that differed from the video, because such testimony obviously was wrong, without the need to submit the case to a jury for factfinding.

In thinking through the question, I drifted to instant replay. Replay rests on similar assumptions about the objectivity and accuracy of what Professor Jessica Silbey of Suffolk Law School calls "filmic evidence." The video replay will reveal the "truth" to the referee, showing, plainly and objectively, what happened on the play--he controlled the pass or not, his knee was down or not. No interpretation or inference is required, no perspective or perception comes into play. The ref can play a clip multiple times, slow it down, even look at it frame by frame; in doing so, the ref will be able to see the unvarnished "truth" about the play.

The problem is that assumption probably is wrong. A video depiction of an event neither is the event itself nor speaks for itself about the event. It still requires an act of mental and sensory interpretation from the viewer (here, the replay official). Two people could view the same video and reach different conclusions in many cases, just as two people could view the same play live and reach different conclusions. Being able to slow down and speed up the video provides a different perspective, although it does not necessarily mean that this different perspective is "right." It means only that it provides a different narrative, and thus a different interpretation, of the events depicted. Silbey argues this is what happened during the state prosecution of the LAPD officers who beat up Rodney King in 1991. Defense attorneys slowed the video to frame-by-frame inspection in presenting it to the jury, which allowed for a very different narrative of the events depicted as to what was taking place on the video, who was the aggressor in the altercation, and what anyone's intent was. This was one key to the officers' acquittal. But that tells us nothing about which narrative is objectively correct.

It is worth noting that NBA refs will be doing something similar in using video to review flagrant calls--slowing the tape down and rewatching to figure out exactly where Player A hit Player B and when and what A's intent may have been. But the repeated viewing simply allows the reviewing ref to construct a narrative based on his perception of the tape.

This is not to say that a video never is accurate or that repeated viewing at different speeds will not provide a more accurate conclusion than a one-time look at the play in real time. It is to say that any increased accuracy does not derive from the fact that we are using video and video inevitably reveals the most accurate answer. It derives instead from the same reason that having an appeals process increases (or is thought to increase) accuracy in the judicial system. Having additional people (new "eyes") consider an issue, especially by spending more time with it (think about the time appellate courts have to analyze and decide issues compared with how long trial courts have), increases the likelihood that we will reach the best or most correct result.

But if replay functionally is an appeal, then the possibility of increased accuracy may not alone be sufficient to justify it. Within the judicial process, for example, accuracy is not the sole value; other policy concerns often outweigh accuracy in dictating the rules for appellate practice. This explains the "Final Judgment Rule" in federal court, under which only final decisions by a trial court are subject to immediate appeal, with certain limited exceptions. Go here for a good discussion of the ins-and-outs of appellate jurisdiction. Whatever increase in accuracy may come with appellate review, systemic preferences against piecemeal review of every discrete decision that the trial court makes and in favor of cases moving forward at the trial level expeditiously and without delay lead us to create a system in which most decisions are not subject to appellate review, at least not immediately. Accuracy becomes secondary to other values, at least when the accuracy benefits are relatively slight.

Similarly, whatever increase in accuracy comes from having another set of eyes looking at a play may be outweighed by the harms such review imposes in terms of delay, loss of flow in the game, risk of challenges to increasing numbers and types of plays, quality of on-field officiating, etc. That ultimately is a judgment call that turns on how one weighs competing values. I weigh them in favor of keeping the game fresh, moving, and human; others may disagree.

My point is that we should have the debate about replay without the assumption that the availability of video review necessarily will increase accuracy simply because it is a video and not the human interpretation of live events that lead to the original call.


I think your underlying assumption and your appellate review analogy are wrong for at least some calls.

Take, for example, whether a wide receiver has both feet in bounds when he catches the ball in the NFL. This is a very difficult call to make in real time because you have to simultaneously look at the ball (is the receiver juggling it?) and the receiver's feet (has the receiver stepped out?). Further, the relevant officials must have the right angle to see all the things they need to see. Often, that's not the case.

I do not see how it can be seriously argued that reviewing a videotape of such a play will not improve the accuracy of calls. First, videotape allows an official to slow the play down and go frame by frame to determine where the receiver's feet were when he obtained possession of the ball. Further, replay gives the official numerous additional angles, and thus more information. Both of these factors are likely to improve accuracy by using video qua video, rather than simply having more sets of eyes viewing the very same thing that the official viewed.

Both of these factors also demonstrate why instant replay is not like appellate review. Generally, appellate judges look at exactly the same evidence as the trial judge; they do not accept new evidence. Instant replay, however, offers new evidence, e.g., new angles and better "vision" from closeups and slow motion video.

Another example is tennis's new automatic instant replay system, which does not rely on video at all. As Andre Agassi noted during the Federer-Roddick match last week, this system ensures that all calls are objective.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/10/2007 9:49 AM  

Or, for that matter in:

> Basketball, on whether a shot beat the buzzer (get a shot of the clock over the basket and the player releasing the shot);

> Hockey, on whether the puck was all the way over the line or not (stationary camera over the goal);

> Also from football, on whether the ground caused a fumble or did a player step out of bounds before scoring [i.e. Utah-Air Force from this past Saturday).

Even soccer is thinking of using a system similar to tennis to determine goal/no goal--having already seen several matches in the top leagues (including a qualifier!) in the last month alone, in could help.

As long as there are set limits--what can replay be used for, how many times each team/player can call for it, how much time is spent on the review itself, etc.--and not on judgement calls (block/charge, pass interference, etc.), I don't see the problem.

Also, replay has already been used after the fact: Witness Kobe Bryant's two suspensions this past season (neither penalized at the time), Amare Stoudamire's suspension in the playoffs (tossed out of the game at the time, suspended later on), both in the NBA; and there have been several suspensions in soccer administered after the fact, without penalties or sanctions being applied at the time.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/10/2007 10:08 AM  

I think we have to remember the fans too. After the scandal of the NBA, but even before that, fans often feel they are victims to unfair calls on their team.

Some athletes are not likable. Who could forget John McEnroe? This lets the fan have more confidence that fouls/out of bounds/time out/etc. can be verified. There are limits on the number, and there is a time limit on how long the tape can be review. The best part is that the fan gets to see the review. It restores confidence and this good, because after all, they are the ones paying paying the bills.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/10/2007 10:31 AM  

In order for me to agree with you, I think I'd have to believe two things:

1. All referees are unbiased, and don't let their emotions/feelings or subjectivity to affect their calls, knowingly or unknowingly.

2. All referees are truly trying to make the correct call, and don't have such factors such as how much money they have riding on the game, who their son's favorite player is, and which coach gave them a sweet trip to Cancun.

Since I believe neither, I don't think I can agree with you.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/10/2007 2:45 PM  

Replay is not used for judgement calls in football. It's not used to determine whether or not there was pass interference, it isn't used to determine if a play should have been offsides rather than illegal procedure, it isn't used to determine personal fouls or illegal formations (sure could have used it in Austin on September 1 for illegal formation and wish it wasn't there on replaying fumble vs. incomplete pass).

It is limited to the hardest calls and those that are least likely to be distorted by slow motion. Possession of the ball, plays determined by the sideline, goal line, or end line, possession of the ball (and only the issue of complete/incomplete could be skewed by replay), resolving placement of the ball, resolving timing issues.

A quick whistle ruling a pass incomplete rather than a fumble or blowing a play dead rather than a fumble.

Replay is an important addition to the game.
1. It makes good public policy sense, especially in the college game where conference assignment of officials raises a perception of possible bias. It is better to delay a game a couple minutes and get it right than to not get it right and have it replayed all week or all season as an error that cost team X its shot at ______.
2. The video evidence has to be sufficient to show error. Replay begins with the presumption the call on the field is correct. In the NFL the man ultimately responsible for the call is the one who reviews it.

Blogger Mark -- 9/10/2007 2:51 PM  

Good comments all. I am assuming these comments are from four different people, despite the similarity in name.

Anonymous # 4:

My precise point is that video review is not objective. It is just as influenced by subjectivity, perceptions, feelings, and emotions, because all those things affect how the official interprets the video. So if officials bring those things to the table, video review, subject to the identical influences, cannot be the solution.

And as to your belief that some refs are corrupt (a belief I do not share): What makes you certain that the ref reviewing the video is not just as corrupt? So again, since video is subject to the same problems you seem to be trying to avoid, it cannot be the answer.

Anonymous # 1:

Everything you describe as an advantage to video review rests on the belief that what the video shows when we slow it down, go frame-by-frame, etc., reveals objective reality. And my precise point is it does not; it still remains subject to human interpretation, perceptions, and subjectivity, all of which will vary. Video is no more objective than live perception.

I stated in the original post that video can produce accurate results, but only because another set of eyes is looking, from different angles and for a longer period. But compare an appellate court judge, able to read a passage of testimony 10 times in understanding it, as opposed to a juror who hears it one time.

Also, I deliberately excluded tennis from the discussion because, as you said, that is a completely different system. It is a computer program that calculates, then illustrates, the flight and trajectory of a ball. And those reviews take all of about 15 seconds, between points, when everyone is standing around anyway. So tennis gives us the best of both worlds: It is, in fact, objective and accurate (assuming the program is installed and operating correctly) and it does not impose the same burdens of delay, interrupting the action, etc. No other sport has that, at least not yet.

Anonymous # 2:

I also am not a fan of post-hoc video review for purposes of changing calls and punishments. I think it has the same negative effects on game officials, in terms of making them gun-shy about making certain decisions. And it still is not objective; we simply are valuing Stu Jackson's perception of what Kobe did (and what his *intent* was) than Violet Palmer's perception.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 9/10/2007 3:12 PM  

How can you cite the Rodney King case - the acquittal there happened because of jury bias pure and simple. Identically the same as happened, by the way, in "Rodney King's revenge" a.k.a. the O.J. Simpson trial.

And how can you cite the United States Supreme Court on *anything* after Putsch v. Gore 2000?


Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/10/2007 3:17 PM  

Professor Wasserman:

Would instant replay in football work better for you if the penalty for an incorrect challenge were significantly higher than "losing a timeout?

Suppose when a team on offense lost a challenge, they lost possession of the ball wherever the previous line of scrimmage might have been. Suppose when a team on defense lost a challenge, they gave the offensive team first and goal at the defensive team's one-yard line. The penalty for being wrong in one's challenge here might be sufficient to discourage "strategic challenges" just to give players a breather, no?

Football does not use replay in some situations where it is probably well suited to "get it right". When a fight breaks out and multiple players are involved, replay is often very good at figuring out who started it and who retaliated and who left the bench to fan the flames and make the situation worse and ... That's when replay could be used very profitably as it would determine who really needs to be ejected from the game. The NFL doesn't seem to want to use it that way.

Instant replay isn't perfect by any means but it is good for assuring that some calls are confirmed or overturned when challenged. But if the price of a challenge were to be increased, there would be far fewer challenges "just for the heck of it"; and if replay were used more creatively, it might actually serve a real purpose on the field.

Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon -- 9/10/2007 3:36 PM  

Prof. Wasserman:

I do not understand your point. Video does reproduce objective reality. Officials then have to use their senses to interpret that reproduction of reality. The benefits of video, as you concede, are that it expands upon the limits of human perception by slowing down real events and allowing the same person to view things from different angles. Therefore, it produces, on average, more accurate calls. Though your post and comment are vague on this point, I do not think you disagree. Therefore, your argument seems to collapse into the claim that replay unduly interferes with the flow of the game. Have I misinterpreted your argument?

In addition, the benefits of replay accrue irrespective of whether the same official is also the official responsible for reviewing the replay. So contrary to your position, the benefits of replay do not depend on a different set of eyes viewing the replay. Rather, the same official who made the call could also be in charge of making the decision after reviewing the replay (though this would likely be more time-consuming).

Further, the benefits from instant replay do not come from spending more time on something, but from having better evidence. Instant replay simply comes from having different and almost always better evidence than the official had when he made the initial call. That's why replay is fundamentally different than appellate review.

Finally, an analogy to the Rodney King case makes no sense. Nobody cares about intent when examining whether a receiver is inbounds or not.

Anonymous #1

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/10/2007 3:44 PM  

Anonymous # 1:

Video reproduces one perspective or one view of reality, based on wherever the camera(s) happen to be situated and what they happen to capture. Move the camera two inches either way and you get a different view of reality (an important point that I left out of the original post). And then, yes, the video requires officials to use their senses to interpret that reproduction.

And that is my point: Replay relies on a human official (I never said anything about it being a different official, although that raises some interesting issues) interpreting events that he perceives on a video that, itself, is merely perceiving and recording events from one perspective. But that is very different from the belief of many replay supporters, which is that the video shows "what really and truly and objectively happened" on the play, that video does not lie and does not get it "wrong." Video just gives us a chance to look at the play more often and from more (still subjective) points of view. But we still are dependent on perceptions and perspectives. I still believe Ben Roethlisberger's knee was down before he crossed the goal line in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. I may be the only person outside of Seattle who does.

Yes, part of my concern is interference with the flow of the game. But there are other negatives that I list in the original post. My point is that the benefits believed to come with replay--an objective and true view of the play--do not exist. What replay gives us is additional and repeated subjective views. Beneficial, perhaps, but I do not believe, on balance, that those benefits outweigh the delays and other costs.

I never said anything in the original post about feet inbounds; that was your contribution to the discussion. I mentioned Rodney King to illustrate that slowing the video down changes the story the video tells--maybe to make it more accurate, maybe less. And intent determination will become relevant with, for example, the NBA's plan to use video to evaluate flagrant fouls calls.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 9/10/2007 4:16 PM  

I think you're arguing against a straw man somewhat. I don't think most people believe that replay will always give us the right answer because everyone (I think) has seen replays that are inconclusive. Rather, most people like replay because they realize the limits of human perception. In many circumstances, replay improves human perception by slowing things down and magnifying important areas. I will concede, as you point out, that replay is not omniscient; it only gives more information, not all information. Nevertheless, more information will generally lead to increased accuracy. So I think the debate really is about increased accuracy versus the downsides you raise.

There may be situations where replay does not increase accuracy (perhaps your flagrant foul example is one), but that's an issue of the proper scope of appellate jurisdiction, to use your analogy, rather than a dispute about whether we should have appeals at all.

As for how replay produces benefits, I understood the following passage from your original post to mean that it's important that a different official reviews the replay: "Having additional people (new "eyes") consider an issue, especially by spending more time with it (think about the time appellate courts have to analyze and decide issues compared with how long trial courts have), increases the likelihood that we will reach the best or most correct result." Perhaps I misinterpreted what you were saying.

Finally, I think most people (me included) would find the following comparison odd: "if we accept inevitable mistakes by players trying their best, why not also accept inevitable mistakes by officials trying their best?" Watching the success or failure of athletes is why people watch sports in the first place. Indeed, much of what we remember about sports could be characterized as mistakes, e.g., should Eckersley have thrown that backdoor slider to Kirk Gibson? I don't know of anyone that watches sports to see what officials do.

Anonymous #1

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/10/2007 5:09 PM  

Your argument sounds a lot like simple resistance to technology and change. Replay itself has been improved over the years, and several of the points you bring up are out of date. In football, replay is much faster than it used to be. Furthermore, there now exist (minor) penalties in football and some other sports for making incorrect challenges. Whether the current penalties are strong enough is debatable, but that's an implementation issue.

Bringing up the argument that video is not objective is, frankly, silly. I could easily make the argument that you are a tomato. Any argument you make to the contrary would also be subject to interpretation.

Video replay may not be the whole story, but it provides much more of the story than there would be without it.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/10/2007 5:49 PM  

Several years ago the NBA changed rules during the playoffs to allow review of buzzer beater shots at the end of a quarter or game. At the press conference announcing the change, the rep from the NBA explained simply that it was not humanly possible for an official to tell whether a shot occurred .1 seconds before or after time expired. Thus any call he made was simply a guess. The NBA did not want a playoff game to be determined by a guess at the end so they went to replay to give them the best opportunity to be right.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/10/2007 6:03 PM  

I'd like to start by adding a voice against all forms of instant replay. The officials are part of the game, essentially part of the field of play. Officiating errors are part of the game. A ball can bounce unexpectedly because the pitch was not level. A ball may be affected by a random gust of wind. We don't correct for such errors -- we just live with them. The same should apply to officiating errors.

Buzzer-beaters should be included in this. There is a measurement error inherent in the decision whether to allow the field goal or not -- but we should be able to live with it. If anything, the problem is the TV station attempting to second-guess the referee.

The Florida debacle of 2000 actually illustrates the problems of people who cling to notions of "objective reality". There is no "objective" result of that election -- the error of measurement (as seen by the differing results of all the recounts) is clearly greater than the effect that was to be measured (that is, the difference in votes between the two leading candidates). The solution is to abandaon the notion that "one of the candidates must have gotten more votes" [since we can't measure the number of votes gotten by a candidate to the requisite accuracy] in favour of the notion "we must have a definite procedure for selecting a winner", even if sometimes the result will not be very satisfying (I happen to dislike the candidate that ended up winning that election). As in sports, at the end one of the candidates had to win (but note that soccer used to have replays in case of draws), and just like the moments following a buzzer-beater there was an immediate rush to get various judges to decide who won. In reality, all the judges can do is declare that for _legal_ purposes, candidate X will be deemed to have gotten more votes -- the question of who "really" got more votes is meaningless. This is a bit different from sports where we expressly rely on the subjective view on the judge from the start. I'll end the analogy with the real divergence: that US appelate judges are political appointees, while sports refs are generally indepedent of the teams that play.

PS: The real issue with NBA officiating is the clear biases. Calls always go to the more famous player (the ``Dwayne Wade'' effect); there are different standards for fouls in the first quarter and in the last minute (the ''let the result be decided by the players'' effect); some rules are never enforced at all (the ''travelling is fine if you it leads to a dunk'' effet). Replays will never fixed that. I am not familiar with other US sports, but they likely suffer from similar problems.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/10/2007 9:46 PM  

Anonymous 9:46--notice the next time a call is made late in a game, that the people who are crying "Why did the ref call that NOW??" may also be the person who says "Why don't the refs call the game the same early in the game and late in the game?"
(Holding my hand up--I'm guilty of that!!!)

Further using a soccer analogy: Are you telling me that a referee would not mind better help--tech or other--trying to determine whether a ball completely crossed the goal line, than an assistant referee 50 yards away looking from the far sideline and the ref himself 25 yards away on the field, but looking through several bodies? If the modified "Hawkeye" system (what is used in tennis--pretty good idea!) does work in soccer, I'm sure referees in top leagues all over would celebrate. (After seeing at least half-a-dozen matches in the last two weeks where the question of in-or-out was called wrong by the referees, anything should help.)

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/11/2007 1:29 AM  

Anon 9:46:

Would you fix officiating errors if it were costless to do so?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/11/2007 10:06 AM  

The difference b/w the 2000 election and instant replay in sports is that it is far easier to reduce the measurement error in assessing calls in sports. In the 2000 election, there were simply too many people involved and too many steps involving transportation of ballots, ballot accuracy, etc. This made it effectively impossible to reduce the error to a level that would give a clear winner.

In sports, there are many cameras being pointed at the field already, and this makes it cheap to verify close calls. It would be incredibly lazy to not use such information.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/11/2007 10:18 AM  

We don't accept that the police officer at the scene is part of the game and infallible nor do we deem charging decisions by prosecutor's or grand juries to be part of the game and infallible, we have a trial system to review those decisions.

We don't accept that the jury or judge are just part of the game or infallible and have an appellate system.

In criminal matters we don't even accept the appellate courts as the final say and have executive clemency.

The standard of review for replay reversal is high and not a burden easily met. What makes the college system interesting to me is that it is for the most part not a challenge system but one where the replay official is essentially a member of the officiating team who can raise the issue of reversal sua sponte.

In the college game the replay official is rarely an appellate court but part of the "trial".

Blogger Mark -- 9/11/2007 10:23 AM  


Actually, we do accept that the judge is part of the game. The system of appellate review is not nearly so comprehensive. Most decisions that do not dispose of a case (decisions about evidence, decisions about discovery and exchange of information, decisions refusing to dismiss or end a case), which is to say the majority of decisions that a trial court makes, virtually never can be immediately appealed. In many cases, they never will be subject to appellate review at all. And the decisions that sports officials make (were both feet in bounds, was the ball fair or foul, was it a flagrant foul) are more analogous to these sorts of individual, non-appealable rulings than to a final decision after trial or granting summary judgment.

We have made a value judgment that, whatever benefits an appeal gives us in terms of accuracy are outweighed by the drawbacks of this sort of piecemeal review of multiple individual, non-dispositive decisions that interrupt the flow of the case in the trial court. It also may be that the end result eliminates the need to review a particular decision. If I win the case despite that evidentiary ruling, there is no reason to appeal; if I win the game despite that call, I should be satisfied). And it is not certain that the appellate court, if it disagrees with the trial judge, is "right" (in any objective sense) while the trial judge is "wrong."

And that was the precise point I was trying to make in the original post. The accuracy benefits that come with replay are not so great as to justify the interruption in the game and the other efficiency costs that come with replay.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 9/11/2007 11:18 AM  

"And the decisions that sports officials make (were both feet in bounds, was the ball fair or foul, was it a flagrant foul) are more analogous to these sorts of individual, non-appealable rulings than to a final decision after trial or granting summary judgment."

You've neglected to mention the collateral order doctrine. Even if your analogy holds up (and I do not think it does), why isn't the narrow category of calls currently subject to review on instant replay akin to the narrow category of appeals cognizable under the collateral order doctrine? (And why wouldn't a review system controlled by officials be analogous to certificates of appealability of non-dispositive issues in the federal system, another way around the final judgment rule? And what about review via a writ of mandamus of the types of decisions you mention?)

Trying to draw a direct analogy here is, I think, unhelpful, but the point is that even federal law recognizes many exceptions to the final judgment rule.

Interestingly, based on your last comment, Prof. Wasserman, you appear to favor the system of review that baseball has: playing games under protest. This system is, I think, very similar to the old writ of error, which examined only errors of law, rather than current right to an appeal, which also (narrowly) reexamines facts.

Anonymous #1

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/11/2007 12:21 PM  

Anonymous # 1:

I noted the exceptions to finality in the original post. But those exceptions or interpretations are limited to such a small number of cases that they do not defeat the basic rule of finality. For example, the collateral order doctrine is basically used only for orders denying official and government immunity in civil rights actions. Trial courts rarely certify issues for appeal. And mandamus is explicitly supposed to be an "extraordinary" remedy. Prof. Steinman's article (which I link to in the post) does a good job of explaining the appeals system.

Your last point is a good one. I do like baseball's system of playing under protest. And your distinction between law and fact review as to the two systems is a good one.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 9/11/2007 12:35 PM  

Baseball's rule is more similar to law because it is about issues of rule rather than fact.

Football though has limited the scope of review to only those plays where video can help establish fact (feet in or out, ball over the plane or not, possession lost prior to being down by contact or after).

In baseball though the nature of the game and the playing field makes it easier for an official with good mechanics to have an unobstructed view of the play. Most plays involve two people and the ball and the instant of a catch in the infield often determined by sound rather than sight. At most you will have three people involved in a play in all but the most bizarre circumstance.

In football you can't use auditory clues to determine a catch. It is not uncommon on short yardage situations to have all 22 players piled up in a scrum with at least two players between every official and the ball.

The biggest flaw I see in replay is that no one else has adopted the Sun Belt's fixed goal line camera arrangement. I've seen a number of games where the ruling on the field had to stand in ruling on possession or scoring because it is all but impossible to make a cross the plane determination without a goal line camera and often in that situation the official making the call is behind the play.

The only situation likely to produce the King style concern of slow motion creating a different impression is in a catch/no catch situation where the play has the ball briefly and loses it.

Blogger Mark -- 9/11/2007 1:15 PM  

Very interesting take on the instant replay issue. Personally, I think instant replay is by far the most objective way to go about review. Notwithstanding this objectivity, I agree that it slows down the natural rhythm of the game; especially in the NFL with coach's challenges, etc. It seems that you are attacking this idea from a historical perspective, relaying the idea that the game should stick to its roots, and be portrayed as American Pastimes, not riddled with technology to slow the game down. Obviously, different sets of eyes will bring opposing interpretations, but what other method exists that can compete with film. I don't know of any other that can compete with the objectivity of live film.

Blogger Jordan Bird -- 9/11/2007 3:37 PM  

And we recognize the value of another set of eyes. We don't use four man umpire crews in minor league ball but do in the majors and expand that to six in post-season.

The NFL and the colleges started with three man crews calling games and that has gradually increased to seven.

Basketball went for years with a two person crew and now three is the standard.

Blogger Mark -- 9/11/2007 4:44 PM  

In fact, I don't like instant replay review under any circumstances, because it has a negative effect on the perception of the referees.

It's true that some aspects of the game (when did the shot leave the player's hand?) might be reasonably decidable given good camera footage. However, many aren't and in any case not every call (or lack thereof) is subject to review. For example, failure to call a foul cannot be reviewed because the game has continued and the situation has changed.

When some calls are reviewed for "objectivity" but others aren't, the league is putting a message: "we don't accept errors in officiating", in the sense that they are willing to interrupt the game in order to overrule the call on the field. I prefer the message: "we stand by the calls on the field".

The situation with automated machines like Cyclops in tennis is different. There the machine is in effect an additional referee, and makes its calls together with the others. A soccer analogue would be a device that automatically decided if a goal has been scored or not. I'm not sure if I'll be happy with such a device, but it's something I'd think about.

As an aside, we should distinguish continuous games (soccer, hockey, basketball [more or less]) from stop-and-restart games (baseball, american football, tennis). When the game is a sequence of distinct plays with breaks it is much easier to reconsider calls and use replays. In case of uncertainty it's also easier to replay a disputed pitch/down/ball.

-- Anonymous 9:46

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/12/2007 8:07 PM  

Regarding the police/criminal court analogy. Note that I'm not arguing that referees are infalliable -- just that it's better to live with them making errors.

The remark that most "calls" made during a trial are actually never reviewed is insightful. Going further, even in the criminal justice system goals such as "finality of judgements" and "economy of resources" sometimes trump the error-minimizing mechanisms (who here doesn't love the AEDPA?).

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Blogger Алексей -- 9/23/2007 2:17 PM  

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