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Replay System Has To Be Considered For All Sports

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The time has come to bring a replay system to all professional sports for disputed calls that will impact the outcome of the game. In the past, I have argued for replay in Major League Baseball, based on an early June game involving the Detroit Tigers. But just in the past week at the FIFA World Cup games and in another baseball game involving the (bad luck) Tigers, there were some very bad calls that changed the outcome of the final score.

California’s Maurice Edu

In the USA soccer team’s game against Slovenia last week, Koman Coulibaly – a referee who, for all we know, has cousins working as umpires at major league baseball games – made a terrible foul call on American midfielder Maurice Edu’s goal, which would have given his team a 3-2 lead in the 85th minute. We cannot be sure how that impending victory would have changed things in the game USA lost against Ghana last Saturday, and maybe it would have meant nothing, but such an injustice has to do things to a team in a psychological sense that causes a difference in their playing mentality.

An opportunity to challenge the call using some kind of replay system would have proven that there had been no foul. Clearly, such a system would have also helped Frank Lampard, whose disallowed goal for England against Germany on Sunday would have proven to be what it was: a total disgrace of a call and maybe one of the worst calls in the history of sports.

Now, back to baseball.

We had the terrible call by umpire Jim Joyce on June 2nd that caused a pitcher, Detroit’s Armando Galarraga, to lose a perfect game. Then on June 27, Detroit got burned by a bad call again, this time by umpire Gary Cederstrom, who admitted he made a mistake when he called a game-ending third strike on Tigers batter Johnny Damon with the bases loaded against the Atlanta Braves, who won by a score of 4-3.

Watching the replay, anyone could plainly see that the final pitch was outside. Damon correctly took the pitch, should have had a walk, and an RBI to tie the game at 4-4. Cederstrom’s apology is all well and good, but Damon is still credited with being struck out and the Tigers have another game in their loss column.

Why is this all coming to the surface now? I think it’s because both fans and players want and deserve better from game officials in all sports. It is just not acceptable for a referee or umpire to adversely affect the game with amateur-caliber calls, leaving room later for them (and everyone else) to second guess what they did. Right or wrong on a call, an umpire or ref should be held accountable, because he/she is a professional and there is more at stake than wins or losses: it’s the integrity of the game.

Tennis seems to be way ahead of the pack here with the usage of Hawk-Eye replay used for close line calls. Tennis umpires use the system to settle all questionable calls at Wimbledon, and it is a much more equitable way of doing things than asking an umpire to make the call from a distance when it may not be possible to be certain. The replay takes away the second guessing of the players and the fans and seems to be the best way to settle disputes quickly and decisively.

Something does have to be done in all professional sports to alleviate the human error that we are seeing become more of a reality these days. Tennis has its replay system, and so does the NFL. Baseball has been reviewing questionable home run calls and that has been embraced by fans, and I think the next step is pretty obvious to everyone.

A manager or coach should have the right to dispute a call that impacts the outcome of a game. There should be a comprehensive and collegial attitude across the board from all parties that this is nothing but good for the game in their respective sport. Human beings can make mistakes, and this will alleviate all the after-the-fact apologizing and wondering, “What if?”.

All the apologies in the world – or lack of them for that matter – do not hand a team a championship trophy it deserved. It is time to use the modern technology available in the interest of equity for players, coaches, managers, and those officiating a game.

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charlie Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • Dr Dreadful

    It’s much easier for technology to be used in sports like tennis or baseball, which have natural stops and starts built into the game. Much harder in, say, soccer and basketball, which are of a more free-flowing nature.

    Hawkeye wouldn’t have helped in the England-Germany game because in soccer, it’s not a goal unless the referee says it is and blows his whistle to stop play. He didn’t, and play continued, by which time it was already too late for any hypothetical review. Neither would it have been any use in the other controversial incident of the weekend: Tevez’s offside goal for Argentina against Mexico. There’s no way a computer can predict where on the field a player is going to be offside.

    There is another technology involving putting a microchip in the ball which sends a signal to the ref when the ball crosses the goal line. It’s practical, foolproof and relatively cheap, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be used in major tournaments like the World Cup. Again, though, it wouldn’t have been of any use with the Tevez goal.

  • bigyaz

    I would support replay in soccer ONLY for situations like the England goal against Germany: Did the ball cross the line or not (similar to what the NHL does).

    Replay could not have helped in the U.S.-Slovenia game. That was strictly a judgement call, since the referee must often decide which fouls to call and which to let go (there was a lot of contact on that play). It would be a travesty to open up for possible review every foul that is or isn’t called, akin to reviewing a football touchdown and finding a holding infraction that the referees missed and calling back the play. In those sports you can always dispute fouls or infractions that require split-second judgement calls. That’s just part of the game.

    Fix the blatant, black-and-white calls (fair/foul, goal/goal, etc.) but let’s not ruin the game by nitpicking every little call. (Leave that to the bloggers and commenters.)

  • Victor Lana

    Well, the Hawk-Eye could be used to determine if a ball is fair or foul in baseball, or if a player makes a first down in football.

    Also, I’m thinking a series of numerous camera should be employed at all games, covering the whole field or court. This way an instant replay could catch every aspect of the game. I think it’s time to do something in light of all the mistakes officials have been making.

  • Biker

    The replay system will only work well for some sports but not others. Tennis, for example, uses Hawkeye and a player can challenge a call although there is a limit. Because there is a time lag in between points, it doesn’t affect the flow of the game.

    But for sports like soccer, I think it’s hard. Once you introduce a replay system, the flow of the game will be affected. Personally, I wouldn’t like a replay system for soccer. That’s how it has always been – a game with a certain degree of human error thrown in!

  • Dr Dreadful

    Biker is quite right. If every play in soccer was subject to video/computer revision and correction, what would the fans, newspapers and pundits have to talk about? :-)