The use of instant replay by officials to determine calls actually dates back to 1986 in the NFL, but it was pretty short lived and only lasted five seasons. Then, in 1999 the NFL introduced coaches challenges, and the rest is history. Since then, every professional sport, as well as the most prominent college sports have adopted a replay review system to determine whether or not officials got a call right. While these systems have accomplished the goal of making sure crucial calls are correct, they have also caused unintended consequences, such as delays significantly disrupting the flow of the game.
This week, we will debate whether the extended replay review systems we have in all sports today are really all they’re cracked up to be.
I’ll always be a staunch supporter of video review, as it allows officials to make the right call, and greatly limits the number of injustices that occur in each respective sport. Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I said the amount of time that is spent on these reviews does not bother me to some extent, as this stoppage can either kill the momentum of one team, or give life to a side that has no business being in the contest. Even so, this is something I am willing to concede for the sole purpose of making the right decision. For example, most people do not like the long, dragged out process of legal cases, with pre-trial proceedings taking weeks, months, or even years. Despite this, the reason as to why society accepts that is because they’d rather see the correct decision be made, instead of a rushed process that may come to an incorrect conclusion. Additionally, the reality is that the courts can also make the wrong decisions, but, once again, we are willing to accept this possibility in order to bring justice to one side or another. While sports may be quite trivial when compared to the legal system, it makes little sense to get rid of a tool that strives to assist officials in making the right decisions.
I was a huge proponent for officials to use replay review in all sports at the beginning of this decade after consistently seeing botched calls. The most famous example of this was when Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers had his name robbed from the history books when a bad call at first base ruined his perfect game in 2010. However, how I pictured replay review then is not what it has become. The reason I wanted to write about this topic this week is because on Sunday, I tuned into the end of the Boston Celtics-New Orleans Pelicans game. The final three minutes of regulation and the five minute overtime took about an hour and 15 minutes to complete. That is not an exaggeration. Eight minutes of game time took 75 minutes of real time, and the reason for it was that every 30 seconds, there was a close play that was either challenged or that the officials decided to review. That’s unacceptable in my opinion, and it really makes the games brutal to watch. What I anticipated as the great answer to solve injustices in sports has turned into analyzing five angles of slow motion for 10 minutes to see if Jaylen Brown’s thumb grazed the basketball as it was going out of bounds. Replay review is wonderful in theory, but it needs to be scaled back somehow to make the viewing experience more enjoyable.
If there is one thing I agree with, it is the need to scale back, but not in the amount of replay that is used, rather in the time it takes for a decision to be made. Specifically, all major sports should allot a certain amount of time that is to be used for each replay, or a maximum number of repetitions an official may see for a specific play. If this scenario was to go through situations like the one that occurred in the Celtics/Pelicans game, where the contest was unnecessarily dragged out, would be greatly reduced, or cease to exist altogether. In addition to the issue of time, one of the massive problems that video review has failed to address is the inconsistency they have as it relates to what they choose to review. For example, in soccer, video assistant referee may choose to review one potential penalty decision, but flat-out ignore another valid penalty claim for the opposing team. This perpetuates the mistrust and sour attitudes towards VAR by supporters, as they begin to believe that the system is out to get them. One situation that demonstrates how irregular VAR can be occurred back in August of 2020 in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 between Juventus and Olympique Lyonnais. Lyonnais were awarded a penalty after center midfielder Houssem Aouar was brought down by opposing midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur. However, replay clearly showed that Bentancur’s tackle was clean and legal; despite this, replay review was not consulted, and Lyon converted the penalty that ultimately gave them the win. These inexcusable lapses in judgement by those not only in the VAR booth, but all replay booths across each respective sport, need to end in order for the system to thrive.
I don’t watch nearly enough soccer to have a strong opinion on VAR, but it sounds like the problems with it are similar to the problems with all replay systems. Unfortunately, for as long as we have human officials, there will be human error when it comes to calls. I feel like the goal of instant replay should not be to eliminate human error completely — because that’s literally not possible. Rather, the goal should be to not let human error clearly and drastically affect the result of a game. That’s why I believe instant replay should only be used on a major play where the game potentially hangs in the balance. Even in this case, there needs to be a time limit like you said. I’m thinking around 30-45 seconds. They should look at it once or twice. If it’s obvious the officials screwed up, change the call. If not, let the call stand and keep the game moving. Replay review is a really tough thing to manage. People want every call to be right, but they also want the game to move at a normal pace. Unfortunately, the only foolproof way for that to happen is if the officials are perfect. That’s not possible as long as we have human officials because like it or not, humans make mistakes. I feel like with the way replay review is being used now, the officials are trying to get every call on every play perfectly correct, and the enjoyment of watching a game is suffering as a result. There’s really two options if you want to keep sports watchable: Make all officials robots (probably not feasible) or learn to live with some human error. I vote for the latter, and if my favorite team gets screwed because of it, so be it. I just want to be able to watch a game without 100 stoppages again.