Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Replay ruins everything

At some point during almost every football game Noel and I watched this season, he had to endure the same rant from me. It's the replay rant. There are ancillary rants, but they are all related to the replay rant. I can sum it up with the title of this post, although of course there are so many nuances.

Here are some of the things replay has ruined:

  1. Pace. It's very possible that replay is what prevented Oregon from competing in the national championship on Monday.
  2. Refereeing. All calls are provisional now. I even heard the color announcer Monday night praising the referees for making a call precisely to provoke a review so they could see what really happened.
  3. The rulebook. The infamous Calvin Johnson rule is only one example. Verities on which I have built my life -- the ground cannot cause a fumble, for instance -- are now subordinate to bizarre standards that stretch the definitions of "catch," "fumble," "possession," and even "move" into absurdity.
  4. Touchdowns. Even though the new rules require players to "control the ball" all the way through their fall to the ground and beyond, the "break the plane" standard for touchdowns means that as soon as the ball pierces that barrier, nothing that happens thereafter matters. Players shove the ball toward the plane knowing that even if it leaves their hands, they still score.
  5. Consequences. Coaches have challenges, which was supposed to keep the play moving on the field so that every incident wasn't litigated in replay. But now referees call for reviews much more often than coaches, and certain plays are automatically reviewed, so the coaches don't have to make those calculations about whether it's worth it to challenge.
Tennis is the only sport I know where replay -- in the form of the Cyclops -- has actually improved the game, helping the officials "get it right" without destroying the athletes' pacing and provoking an infinite regress of arguments. Baseball is moving in football's direction, even after only one season; the idea that a replay of a close play at first is more likely to yield the truth than the ump watching the foot and listening for the ball to hit the glove is a fantasy. And it's a dangerous one -- a fantasy that insists that higher frame rates and better definition and more detailed rules will result in more justice, when what it actually does is disintegrate the event under examination until it is completely lost.

If I ever teach that class on philosophy of sports again, I'm going to hold a class full of students hostage with that rant. I hope somebody in the league offices is wise and powerful enough to ski off this slippery slope before then.

1 comment:

Pilgrim said...

As much as I hate to see any of my teams lose on an erroneous call, I believe that they all even out in the end.

I too detest the break in the pace of the game. The only thing that makes me sadder is that official with the red sleeve (I guess they still do that) that holds up play until the TV commercials are done. Just watching everyone wait for that signal is frustrating to say the least.

Let 'em play...