Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The real story behind instant replay

Like it or not, instant replay is here to stay. Most sports have adopted some form of it already.
Tennis has their "eye in the sky", and within a few seconds after a disputed call, the digital monster pops up imagery and wham, it is what it is and "play on" ladies and/or gentlemen.
Basketball has it's version, which is mostly confined to whether or not a shot was already in the air before the buzzer sounded. That usually takes about 30 seconds for the courtside refs to determine.
Even stodgy old baseball has given in a little, allowing umpires to review close calls when it comes to home runs being fair or foul, or possible fan interference. Sometimes the men in black will huddle up on the field, talk it over, and make the call -- normally pretty quick. If they're still not sure, they head through the home team's dugout to a mysterious room somewhere and check out the replays. Even then, within a minute or two, they're back with their ruling. Case closed. Play ball.
Hockey's a little different. When an iffy goal is in question, as to whether the puck ever crossed the line, was batted in by a high stick, or maybe an offensive player was in the crease, the ref goes over to the boards and puts on a set of headphones. He doesn't view anything. Regardless of where the game is being played, the people that make the decision, in this case, are sitting in front of video monitors in Toronto, headquarters of the NHL. They decide, relay it to the ref over the phone, and he informs the teams, crowd in attendance and TV watchers. All that doesn't take too long either -- usually less than a minute.
One would think the NFL, with all their billions and forward thinking ideas, would have this down pat by now. Hardly. Truth is, they've got more hitches in it than Charles Barkley's golf swing.
Some plays are reviewable and some aren't. I'm not sure anybody, including the officials on the field, know all the rules. Coaches can throw a red hanky to challenge a call, but if it goes against them, it costs them a timeout and they can't challenge again for the rest of the half. At that point, some of those guys whine and cry so much, that maybe the hanky will come in handy for another reason -- like wiping away the tears or blowing their nose in it. Hopefully it's replaced with a new one, because if I was an official that might have to pick it up later..... well, nevermind.
But it gets more confusing. Inside the 2-minute warning of both halves, the rules change. ALL plays are subject to "booth review". So why not just do it that way all the time, check out any close calls, and get rid of the hankies? This would be a great idea if you liked games to last about 8 hours. Which brings me to...
The most confounding thing. When a play is reviewed, we at home normally see 5-6 different angles of it, always in slo-mo, and usually at least 3-4 times. All this takes maybe a couple minutes. We know what happened and could make the call in a heartbeat. Assuming the so-called guys in the booth are watching the same thing, why does it take them 8-10 minutes to figure it out and, even then, get it wrong half the time? It doesn't make sense. After all, those guys are supposed to be experts and even we couch taters can see the obvious. How can this be? I have a theory.
Nobody knows who these guys in the booth are, right? More importantly, nobody knows WHERE they are. Remember, in hockey, dose boys are in Toronto and speak fairly decent English, ay? Perhaps the NFL, in it's globe-trotting aspirations, has set up a call and video review center in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, or wherever we get connected to when we dial an 800 number for customer service from a large company. If the ref on the field, "under the hood", has to slog through all the same phone prompts, only to finally get connected to someone he can barely understand -- while the only sport THEY understand is the "other" football, then it's probably a miracle it doesn't take him a couple hours. But it doesn't make it right. 
Then again, maybe all the above lost a little something in the translation.

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