Instant replay leads to laziness

By Kevin Spitz

Technological innovation is a great thing. With the Lexus LS you don’t have to know how to parallel park anymore; my TI-89 graphing calculator allows me to laugh at the hardest integrals in the world of engineering; and most importantly, without the popcorn button on the microwave, the kernels would be burnt every time.

The only problem with each of these innovations is that they allow people to be dumber and still complete their assigned task. Sadly, the same goes in the world of the football officials. With the addition of instant replay at the collegiate and professional levels, the officiating on the field has progressively gotten worse.

At the college level there are 22 separate instances that can be reviewed. Such instances include whether the ball crosses the plane of the goal line, whether a pass is ruled complete or incomplete in the end zone, or whether a player was in bounds on a fumble recovery.

It is interesting to note a few things in the replay rules, though. Consider these scenarios:

If it is unclear whether the quarterback threw an incomplete forward pass or fumbled the ball, it can be reviewed only if play was not stopped and it was ruled a fumble.

If it is unclear whether a ball that hit the ground was a forward pass or a backward lateral, the play can be reviewed only if play continues because the officials ruled it a backward lateral.

If it is unclear whether a player’s knee hit the ground, it can be reviewed only if the runner was not ruled down.

That all makes sense, doesn’t it? If the officials blow their whistle and call a play dead, you can’t just review that and make up what you think the outcome would be. Once the whistle blows the players stop.

That in itself makes referees second-guess themselves. If the referee has the choice to blow his whistle and end a play, or let the play continue and have instant replay at his disposal, instant replay is the better choice.

That might be fine if instant replay was judged on a preponderance of evidence; but it is not. According to the NCAA rules: “In order to reverse an on-field ruling, the replay official must see indisputable video evidence through one or more video replays provided to the monitor.”

I don’t know if most officials understand that, though. I think in the above situation most officials might take that as a cue to let play continue on.

That could be one explanation for what happened in the Louisville-Connecticut game on Friday night. For those of you who did not get to see it, Connecticut’s Larry Taylor waved his arm above his head to signal for a fair catch, caught the ball and then ran it back for a touchdown. After he caught the ball the official behind him partially raised his hand as if he were going to spot the ball but never blew his whistle. Still, some UConn and Louisville players stopped playing.

Following the play, television cameras panned to Taylor turning away from the field laughing at what he got away with.

That in itself was some of the worst officiating I had ever seen; surely instant replay could bail the official out of what he had done. Instead the referees ruled that a fair catch signal is not a reviewable call. Not a reviewable call? I was infuriated.

Isn’t the entire point of instant replay to get the call right? I would think so. But then again, I also think that without instant replay that official would have made the right call. But let’s say the mistake happens either way. This was a game-changing call. He scored on a 74-yard punt return. You can legally challenge a ball spot on a play that results in a 1-yard gain, but not this?

In addition, the fair catch rule is one of the most important ones. Without fair catch rules, no mother would ever let her son be a punt returner. On one of Illinois’ many personal fouls Saturday night, fair catch interference was called. In my anger at officials across the nation, I started yelling from my seat: “How can we trust officials won’t let a play like that slide, did you see the Louisville-UConn game Friday night?”

Trust is the key issue. In sports we need to be able to trust that the officials will get the call right and not leave it up to a TV monitor. Technology is a great thing. It has helped me pass many theoretical and applied mechanics tests. But if this is what technology results in, forget it.

Kevin Spitz is a senior in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]