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Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Rock chalk, Law Talk: Finality, Accuracy, and Appellate Review

I am against the recent over-emphasis on video evidence in court, for reasons that I and others have discussed. For me, that objection has carried over (for reasons both similar and different) into a general dislike for instant replay in sports.

Well, the difference in last night's NCAA Basketball Championship, besides Memphis' horrid free-throw shooting down the stretch, was the use of instant replay and, in essence, appellate review of a single decision. With about four minutes left in the game, Memphis guard Derrick Rose launched a fade-away jumper from right around the three-point line, with two men in his face, that banked-in and initially was called a three-pointer. But during the next timeout, the officials went to the videotape and determined (correctly, I think, based on my perception of the video) that Rose's left foot was inside the three-point-line when he left the ground (although he released the shot and landed behind the line), making it a two-pointer and taking one point from Memphis. But for that changed call, Memphis would have lead by 4 with ten seconds left and the dramatic 3-pointer by Kansas' Mario (Superintendent) Chalmers that sent the game into overtime would have been meaningless. Memphis Coach John Calipari, while not necessarily disagreeing with the officials' conclusion as to what the video showed, said after the game he would argue that this use of video should be eliminated.

The instant-replay debate implicates the long-standing policy balance among accuracy, finality, the ef flow of "the game," and avoidance of piecemeal review that characterizes the law of appealability. At trial, we typically draw that balance in favor of keeping things moving along, making (relatively) few decisions subject to immediate review and deferring heavily to on-the-fly decisions about singular issues, such as evidentiary and discovery ruling. That does mean some legal decisions, even legal errors, escape effective review. Had video review not been available, it would have been cold comfort to KU to announce afterwards that the game should have been one-point closer.

But the loss of accuracy is thought to be outweighed by interests in efficiency and some deference to the competence of trial judges, a view I typically share. Even more so in sports. Instant replay in football--where we have to wait 10 minutes to celebrate a touchdown while the ref stares into a hooded camera--has, I think, badly disrupted the rhythm of the sport. We did not have as blatant an interruption last, but I still would rather let the refs make their decisions and have them stand, any human error simply being part of the game.

And, by the way, I was rooting for Kansas. So pelase consider this principled, rather than results-oriented, jurisprudence.


Down by the extra point Kansas would have likely approached the game differently so there is no assurance that the changed scoring changed the outcome.

I'd love to have had a replay available several years ago when Arkansas State and Arkansas Little Rock were playing and a UALR player was fouled on a shot. The shot was rimming out and was tipped back in by another player. The official looked up just in time to see it fall through the net and counted the basket.

Blogger Mark -- 4/08/2008 11:02 AM  

Mark's comment points out one of the main reasons replay should not be used as it was with the Rose shot. That is, after the shot was ruled a 3, play continued, and both teams made decisions based on the assumption that Rose had made a 3-pointer. Suppose Rose's shot had immediately preceded Chalmer's 3pter that sent the game to overtime. Should the refs have still reviewed Rose's shot, called it a 2, and ended the game in favor of Kansas? If not, why not?

Also, the value of replay in basketball is limited because unlike with football, in basketball any single play has only a very small impact on the game. The ref's missed call of Rose's shot represented an error of 1 point in a game where 143 points were scored. Hardly enough to justify stopping a game everytime there's a controversial shot.

Anonymous Dave -- 4/08/2008 4:33 PM  

The error was less than 1% of the points scored but 100% of the points needed to win in regulation.

Scoring errors (which this was) are correctable at the first dead ball. The request to correct can come from any of the game officials, table officials or coaches.

Here's the rub, and here's why replay is actually merited.

Back before looking at the TV monitor was permitted, the disagreement between officials over whether or not it was a three would have first involved the three game officials. They then could consult with the table officials AND play-by-play broadcasters.

In the scenario I described from a real game in the first comment it was treated as a scoring error. The referee went to play-by-play personnel and asked did the shot go in. The response was "Yeah but..." and the official cut them off without hearing the but.

Simple situation as I see it. If your choice is polling the three game officials, the six table officials (two scorers, two timers, one clock operator, one shot clock operator) and however many play-by-play people are present when all but three of them are limited to a court level seat, I'll take the replay.

Blogger Mark -- 4/08/2008 5:27 PM  

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