Fix instant replay!
The Utah Jazz squared off against the Philadelphia 76ers in a battle between the Eastern conference and Western conference leaders Wednesday night. This primetime matchup between two of the best teams in the NBA was living up to the hype. The 76er’s moved the ball up the court, down three points with under thirty seconds to go. With 28 seconds left and a three-point lead, Utah Jazz small forward Royce O’Neale deflected a 76er’s pass, saved it as he was falling out of bounds, and then passed a dime to Donovan Mitchell in transition. On the court, it was ruled that O’Neale had stepped out of bounds before he was able to feed the ball to Mitchell.
After ten minutes of replay review, the NBA officials announced it was 76ers basketball. This is frustrating on so many levels. Viewers had watched numerous slow-motion replay’s and countless commercials during the TV timeout which clearly showed Royce O’Neale’s feet above the ground as he made the lead pass to Mitchell. Furthermore, the lack of any explanation by the four NBA officials was staggering. Fans and even the broadcast booth had no idea until after the game that the ball had hit off referee Brandon Adair’s leg before O’Neale saved it. The NBA rule book explains that in this scenario the play is dead, and therefore it’s 76ers basketball, as O’Neal had yet to touch the basketball before it hit the referee. To review a crucial late game play in any sport and not give any explanation to the decision made is preposterous.
Instant replay across sports in the NBA, NFL, and MLB has reached a boiling point. Instant implies that something is urgent, pressing, happening, or coming immediately. Replay technology has grown and advanced to a point where the viewer almost gets instantaneous feedback, re-watching a particular play or highlight moments after seeing it live. Yet replay officials routinely extend games by twenty to thirty minutes reviewing plays that fans can figure out on their couch in thirty seconds. The entire point of instant replay is to correct human error. However, replay officials mess up too, as they are also human. This creates an endless cycle of mistakes that wastes our time and still leads to missed calls!
The NFL has taken baby steps by eliminating pass interference challenges and replays. Yes, it was disappointing when the Green Bay Packers defensive back Kevin King was called for pass interference on Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Tyler Johnson in this year’s NFC Championship game. It gave the Bucs a first down and essentially iced the game leading to a Tom Brady Superbowl appearance and win. Nevertheless, we accepted that the replay official may have made a mistake and moved on with our lives. After all, what is the point of reviewing pass interference when in 2019, only 4.9% of pass interference calls that were challenged were overturned. Assuming it takes 5 minutes to review a call, that means that only one mistake was fixed for every 100 minutes that fans watched officials review a challenged pass interference flag.
Personally, I would have no issue with banning replay review as a whole. Executives, players, and officials all make mistakes. The New York Mets are still paying Bobby Bonilla over 1 million dollars a year, and will continue to do so until 2035, despite his retirement over two decades ago. Russell Wilson, Super Bowl 49, goal line interception, need I say more? Throwback to Jim Joyce ruining Armando Galarraga’s near perfect game, calling a runner safe at first. Mistakes are a crucial part of sports at every level. They are part of what makes the game so interesting, uncertain, and unpredictable. There is no sure ending. It’s not a movie.
Sports were consumed for decades without instant replay, but at this point there is no turning back. Instant replay’s use across sports needs to be changed. The fans should still get access to the pylon cams, sky cams, and other great instant replay angles currently shown after highlights or a big play. There should be a designated replay official who sits in a press box in every stadium and has access to multiple camera angles. He can broadcast his call to the entire stadium to streamline efficiency through a connected microphone. A shot clock should be in place. If the replay official cannot decide within thirty seconds the original call should stand, unless there are under two minutes remaining in the game.
The days of watching NBA officials huddle around a tiny monitor on the side of the court, NFL refs call New York and wait for an answer, or MLB umpires take at least thirty seconds to gather before even initiating an instant replay must end. Second Link: