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Wednesday, November 28, 2007
More on instant replay

At ESPN, Jim Caple argues, on the eve of The Big Game and the 25th Anniversary of The Play, that it is a good thing there was no instant replay in 1982.

Three key comments from the story:

Nowadays, officials would review replays of The Play for so long that before they reached a verdict, Silicon Valley engineers would have developed another digital recording system that Microsoft and Apple would make us purchase in order to further analyze the decision. And then the refs would undoubtedly overrule The Play -- with more than two dozen players from both teams on the field, plus more than a hundred band members and cheerleaders, a replay official surely would find something objectionable -- and ruin the greatest play in college football history.
* * *
With today's video technology, we could review The Play from a dozen angles and use computer enhancements until we felt certain whether Dwight Garner's knee was down or if Mariet Ford's lateral really was backward. But, chances are, neither side would go away happy with the result.

But football is a game, not a court of law. And if you try to achieve perfection, you lose something more important. The beauty of sport is that it is played by humans, not computer programs. We are imperfect. We make mistakes. We fumble the ball, drop passes and trip over our own feet when there is nothing but open field ahead. And sometimes, Gary Tyrrell runs onto the field with a trombone. That's what makes the game unpredictable. That's what makes it compelling. That's what makes it fun.

[Editorial Comment: Even if it were a court of law, I remain unconvinced that video evidence necessarily gives perfection or even brings us closer to it].

What matters is that a group of trained, dedicated referees followed The Play that day as best they could, and they ruled on it as fairly and honestly as possible.

I have made before how I feel about instant replay. Looks like I found at least one person who agrees.



I can't stand instant replay.

Players play, referees ref...PERIOD!

the replay system is far from perfect, and constant replays kill the what is probably the most important variable in sports...momentum...what else can kill the powerful drive where the defense is to confused or to tired...what else can give the offense the time to regroup or get their head on straight when the D has gotten into their heads?

Buuuuuuuu for instant replay!

Blogger Jimmy H -- 11/28/2007 10:15 PM  

I tend to disagree, and not because I am a Stanford grad. I agree that video replay of The Play wouldn't be so great in part because the angles aren't there (but also note that the video footage was not nearly as good then as it is now). Stanford has been on the other side of enough fantastic finishes that I wouldn't want to remove The Play from history.

That said, there are times when the referees are just wrong - they don't have the angle, they have to look at two things at once, etc.

What's amazing to me is how often they get it right, but even so I would take accuracy over "momentum" any day of the week, even when it goes against my team (which happened in the Stanford v. Notre Dame game last week - Notre Dame's receiver made an unbelievable catch for a touchdown that was ruled incomplete; my wife - who is not a football fan - said "I know we want Stanford to win, but that was a catch." Alas, she was right).

Anonymous Michael Risch -- 11/29/2007 7:30 AM  

Many years ago, Arkansas State was at Arkansas-Little Rock in basketball. Foul called on a shot taken by Arkansas-Little Rock. Shot rims out, a UALR player (I think Derek Fisher) jumps up and tips the ball in. Offical turns from the foul call looks back and sees the ball going through the net and signals for the points to count.

Video can correct such a basic error and should.

While one could argue whether video provides truly reliable evidence long enough to make my head hurt, that is not the fundamental problem.

The problem is that at the college level if there is a close call on whether or not there is a fumble the official has two choices even if he thinks it is a fumble.
1. Let the play continue so that the defender grabs the ball and races to the end zone.
2. Call it like he sees it and rule the play dead.

If he chooses option 1. The burden of proof switches now there has to be some clear evidence it wasn't a fumble to take the points off the board. If the replay isn't "conclusive" then the play goes in the books as it happened but not as the official saw it.

If he chooses option 2. No harm if the video is "conclusive" the official was right or if it doesn't provide enough evidence to over-turn the call. However if the video provides compelling evidence it was a fumble... too bad. The play was blown dead. At least the NFL gives a half a loaf and will let the defensive recovery stand, just not the return. But in either case if the official chooses option 2 the defense cannot be made whole.

I watched that scenario play out three times this season on QB sacks. Arkansas State at Texas, the officials let the play go. Video over-rules correctly and Texas retains possession so choice of option has no impact. Arkansas State at Louisiana Monroe, official rules incomplete pass, video replay would have easily upheld a fumble ruling but couldn't be used to make that determination. Middle Tennessee at Arkansas State ruled incomplete video was not going to be sufficient to over-turn the play regardless of the call.

The mention of Arkansas State - Texas however brings about a failing of the system. A play easily reviewed such as illegal formation is not reviewable. Officials rule an illegal formation against Arkansas State on an onside kick recovered by them. Later review of the play by the Big 12 results in an apology, but that of course isn't helpful.

Personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct fouls are perfect for video review but are not reviewable.

There is a place for correcting big errors that are generally caused by an official not being able to get in the correct position but instead the system isn't used that way, and is all about second guessing close calls on bang-bang plays.

Blogger Mark -- 11/29/2007 9:40 AM  

I tend to agree with Michael Risch. I was always against replay, especially in college football because college football is the most exciting sport ever (in my opinion). Having said that, I would rather the refs get the call right than have my team lose the game and their season over a human error that could have been corrected with instant replay. Most people are against instant replay until their team loses the game based on a ref's mistake.

Anonymous Jordan Ash -- 11/29/2007 9:59 AM  

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General secretary of asian assocition of sport law

Blogger Kambiz -- 11/29/2007 3:08 PM  

I should add that some great plays in history are only great plays because they were allowed. Great plays are made all the time that aren't allowed (e.g. the interception return by Notre Dame last week that was called back due to roughing call).

In other words, if players could routinely pitch the ball with a knee down or forward lateral, we would see all sorts of great plays that would otherwise not be allowed. Replay takes some of those away. Yet, I would guess that for every great play taken away, there is a great play that is allowed - the ball that is NOT trapped, the second foot that lands inbounds, etc.

Anonymous Michael Risch -- 11/29/2007 4:51 PM  

But part of what makes these plays great is the spontaneity of the play and the immediate celebration that follows. That spontaneity is lost if you have to wait 10+ minutes to be able to celebrate it while the officials stare at a TV screen.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 11/29/2007 9:02 PM  

"But part of what makes these plays great is the spontaneity of the play and the immediate celebration that follows."

I would argue a small, small part. The Play is an exception, because of the band in the endzone, the trombonist, etc., but most great plays are not seen by everyone who will later talk about them. Not always (I recall watching "The Catch" with my younger brother), but I didn't see The Play until much later.

In my mind what makes a play great is that people:

a) name it, b) talk about it for years to come, c) even debate it for years to come.

If we can talk for years we can surely wait 10 minutes - the Music City Miracle is a good example - that play was reviewed and affirmed and yet it is still in our memory even though we don't remember the celebration.

If you take reason (c) seriously, instant replay can add to the debate to keep the play alive. The Immaculate Reception is a good example - the existence of replay keeps that play in memory and debate. Even now people disagree about whether replay would have changed the outcome, so I would venture a guess that if that play had been reviewed we would still talk about it today.

Anonymous Michael Risch -- 11/30/2007 7:40 AM  

Surprising questions no-one's asked after all these years: Remember, the game's at Cal, but STANFORD's band is on the field:

(1) Would Stanford have been penalized, and what would be the penalty? (Football referees, help!)
Or should Cal have been penalized?

(2) If so, what would the penalties be?

(3) Could the referees rule somehow under a catch all rule that allows them to rule on something not covered in the rules (similar to baseball's rule 9.01c/e [I forget the specific section)?)

Anonymous Anonymous -- 11/30/2007 11:35 AM  

Howard--where do you get this "10+ minutes" silliness? NFL limits reviews to 90 seconds--that's 1.5 minutes. NCAA reviews are similarly limited.

Given how complicated this play was, however, one team could easily ask for review as well as having a booth review, but you still wouldn't get close to 10 minutes.

(Evidently, Howard, you don't watch too many NFL games; how many TV timeouts run as long or longer than a play under review? Or, how many times have you seen this sequence: Turnover, TV timeout, play, 2-minute warning/end of quarter TV timeout, score, TV timeout, kickoff & return, TV timeout. Four plays in about 13 minutes real time. What momentum can a team get under these circumstances? And, how many NBA or college games turn into foul-shooting contests or timeout contests?)

Anonymous Anonymous -- 12/01/2007 1:24 PM  

I agree man, sometimes instant replay just shouldn't be around, especially in college football.

Blogger Chris Michener -- 12/02/2007 10:45 PM  

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