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Cory's Corner: NBA Proves Why You Can't Trust Replay

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Cory's Corner: NBA Proves Why You Can't Trust Replay

I have always toyed with the idea of employing instant replay for pass interference. 

I quickly changed my mind after watching the NBA Finals debacle on Thursday night.

The refs originally ruled that Kevin Durant had committed a charge when there was contact between him and LeBron James. The crew then wasn’t sure if James was in the defensive restricted area and decided to make sure by looking at it on replay. Since they were looking at it, they decided that James wasn’t in the correct defensive position and reversed the call.

The reason why this is so egregious is because the NBA is taking the whistle out of its own referees on the floor. So with 36.4 seconds left, technology won the day.

The problem I have with that is, there is an inherent difference between what a ref sees in live game action vs. what someone sees in a frame-by-frame replay. The refs did get the call right, but the ruling still feels dirty.

Just imagine it’s the Super Bowl. The Packers are playing the Patriots. It’s tied 35-35 and Tom Brady throws a deep ball to Rob Gronkowski down the seam. The ball falls incomplete, but the refs huddle and say the proverbial, “The previous play is under review.” After a few minutes, it is deemed that Gronkowski was interfered with and the Patriots instantly get a 40-yard gain, which propels them to the 38-35 win.

That’s a terrible way to lose because it falls outside the spirit of the game. Plays like the block/charge and pass interference happen so fast that it is very hard to make the call. But at the same time, you cannot flip that logic and opt for instant replay because refs cannot see live action on a frame-by-frame basis.

We have all been too concerned about getting calls absolutely correct. I mean, if that’s really the end game, the NFL might as well review every holding call and every block in the back. That will never happen because nobody wants games to last four hours and there would be no flow whatsoever.

It’s noble that leagues want their games to be called with ultimate precision, but at the same time, it has to realize that games were founded with the human element folded in.

The moment the human element gets swallowed by the eye in the sky is when confusion turns to anger which eventually turns to apathy.

Fans are fine with humans getting the call wrong as long as the league is consistent in how it comes those conclusions. Not every call can be reviewable. People just have to understand that fact.

And if you want your game free of officiating mistakes, then you’re coveting a game free of the human element. This may sound odd, but a portion of the charm of sports is seeing the emotion from each team after a pivotal call is made. You get to see how a team responds to a bad call and you get to see how the referees give makeup calls when they miss one every now and then.

You’re not going to find that stuff in the boxscore, but it’s all part of the game. And believe it or not, it matters.


Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (16) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Savage57's picture

If it's fundamentally wrong to employ the granular perspective technology provides to overrule the fallibility of humans in real time on pass interference calls, why would it be any more legitimate on any other call?

Pandora's Box was opened a long time ago, and if anything, the lid's going to pried open further before anyone tries to close it.

Thebearsstillsuck's picture

I agree 100 percent. Replay changes fumbles, catches, touchdowns, and I'm pretty sure you can even challenge the 12 men in the huddle call/no call. Those calls are no more or no less split second judgement/human element calls. Most people are already devoting their entire Sunday to football, I don't care if the game takes 15 minutes longer to make it right.

TheVOR's picture

Overall I agree with having replay, it's made far more rights than wrongs. I was far more frustrated watching a non-reviewed NFL than Ive ever been watching it reviewed.

Turophile's picture

i agree. Look at Tennis where you can have a slo-mo video review after the event, to see if the ball (when it bounced) was in or out, compared to the umpires call. There is even an audio system (I assume it is built into the ground under the tennis boundary line) that runs parrallel with that (it beeps if the ball is outside the line) and helps tennis umpires make the right call.

This is even more prevalent in cricket, where you can continue the likely track of the ball on a call of out, or not out lbw (leg before wicket - its ok if the bat comes between ball and wicket), to see if the ball would have gone on to hit the wicket. It tended to validate the umpire's calls as mostly good calls, when reviewed. It also is a tool to weed out poor umpires.

They go further (in cricket), with a very audio-sensitive dish pointed at the batsman to pick up the slightest 'snick' of ball on bat or glove, which, with slo-mo camera synchronised with a 'snickometer' reading, can decide if a catch behind the stumps is a genuine catch (ie glove or bat HAS touched the ball).

Now there is also talk about putting a chip in (soccer) footballs, so you can tell if a ball has gone over the goal line.

This is the future. Like all sports, American Football evolves and changes over time. Slo-mo replays and other tech innovations are here to stay and more than that, will continue to evolve.

The one thing you DO have to watch out for, is holding up the game for too long. minimal interruption is a good thing, and is dealt with in football currently by allowing few challenges to a ref's decision.

Since '61's picture

First, when sports were initially created/invented etc., the radio had not even been invented never mind the technology for instant replay. Therefore there was no choice but to include the "human element". If we were starting the NFL or NBA or any league today we would probably include replay and other technology from the first day forward.

As for the Gronk example, an official with or without replay can make a PI call that would change the outcome of the hypothetical SB in your article. Also, think of your sample play the other way. The Packers TE is interfered with and the official doesn't make the call. We as Packer fans would be screaming for review/replay.

The problem I see is that the officials are depending on replay to cover them. So they make a call or not and they let the coach challenge and then allow replay to sort it out. We see it all the time with plays in the end zone and within the last 2 minutes of a half.

The purpose of officiating is to ensure that the games are played fairly and by the rules. In our current environment that means human and technological intervention. With the legalization of sports betting we may see more technology involved to mitigate the opportunities for corrupt officials.

The bottom line is that with today's athletes becoming faster and faster we need replay to assist the officials to get the calls correct and keeping the games fair. If the games are not fair what is the point of playing? Therefore when it comes to replay we need to accept the good with the bad just like we have when it was just humans officiating the games. Thanks, Since '61

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Perhaps the refs should have the option to not make any call on the field and just indicate that instant replay is necessary. That would mean no presumption in favor of or against the call is available. To review some calls, one often has to be made. Can a team challenge that no pass interference call was made in the first place? I don't think they can. So the ref is forced to make the pass Interference call just to allow a challenge and replay. Also, in making the call, the presumption might be given to the wrong end of the call.

Nick Wright's take on the LeBron block is more interesting. Apparently, the refs could only use replay by declaring that they needed to look to see if LeBron was in the restricted zone, which then allows them to look at the play as a whole. LeBron wasn't all that close to the restricted zone. That reminds me forcibly of Special Prosecutors in the real world. The purported reason for the inquiry is X, but looking at X allows the prosecutor to look at A-W, and Y and Z for that matter. The prosecutor never thought X was really an issue, he or she just wanted to get to A-W. That's probably what happened in the basketball game: the refs just asserted they were looking at the restricted zone when in reality they just wanted to review the whole play.

CheesyTex's picture

IMO it brings an unnecessary level of technical complexity (insanity?) to the game when such plays as Lebron's block would not be reviewed earlier in the game but only at crunch time.

I want to watch sports but the NBA is giving me Judge Judy. Bye, bye NBA.

Bearmeat's picture

I'd allow coaches to challenge literally anything in the field of play - called or uncalled. But there are 2 in the game only, and a 3rd if you get your first two right.

No official replays allowed. Then, you're looking at a maximum of 6 replays a game, and unless the refs are absolutely terrible, everyone is happy.

Oppy's picture

Up to 6 TD's would be eliminated in every game, because every coach would call for a review for holding on the OL anytime the opposing offense scored. ;)

Bearmeat's picture

Yeah. Good point. lol. I dunno then.

HankScorpio's picture

"and unless the refs are absolutely terrible, everyone is happy.'

So people are happy 1 game of every 4. :)

Spock's picture

Just saw that CM3 apparently got his nose broken during today's charity baseball game. OUCH!

Handsback's picture

I've broken my nose every season I played football or lacrosse....Clay can handle it.

kevgk's picture

In the packers @ vikings last year I remember there was a vikings play dump off to a guy at the line of scrimmage that hit the ground during the catch. McCarthy was out of challenge flags, and the field call was ruled complete. Reviews can get the call wrong, but never a call so clearly wrong like this.

Lare's picture

There are simply too many times in pro sports that officials are dictating the outcomes of games. I don't know if replay is the answer, but they need to do whatever is necessary to make sure that the players/coaches/teams are dictating the outcomes of games, not the officiating. And when officials are making the wrong calls, they need to be held accountable.

We have 325 million people in this country, we ought to be able to find a hundred or so that can be consistent and competent sports officials.

HankScorpio's picture

I think it is written into the Constitution that sports fans have the right to complain about officiating. It's somewhere in the back but it's in there, I'm pretty sure.

And that is one Constitutional right that is exercised rigorously by citizens from all walks of life. Nothing can be done to change it, short of amending the Constitution. And we all know that is designed to be very hard to do.

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