The mind-blowingly obvious solution to “instant” replay

Scott Green, instant replay

Why must this charade continue?

Realistic rating: 9.5

There was much consternation last season about the inability to review penalty and missed penalty calls. Rightfully so. There were tons of critical penalties that were called or not called, many of which likely decided key games (e.g. Panthers-Patriots defensive holding no-call, Saints-49ers roughing the passer call, etc.)

The classification of what’s reviewable certainly does seem arbitrary, and the “challenge anything” movement appears to be building momentum. Sadly, though, a solution doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. Here are Tuesday’s comments from St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a member of the NFL’s competition committee:

“We discuss replay every year,” Fisher said. “I think we go back to the foundation of the replay system, it was designed to overturn an obvious error. We knew it was not going to be a perfect system, just from a time standpoint and a number of challenges standpoint. I think that will be discussed but I think it’s unlikely we move in the direction of penalties. That’s a hard thing to do. The only penalty that’s actually reviewable on the field is too many men on the field. I think once we look at penalties you’re asking for problems.”

Fisher’s first sentence immediately sets off my “but this is the way we’ve always done it!!!” dumb argument siren. Secondly, the “solution” for time concerns doesn’t make much sense. Rather than arbitrarily deciding what kinds of calls can and cannot be challenged, if one really wanted to limit replay time, it seems much more reasonable to simply limit the number of reviews. (For example, the vast majority of touchdowns and turnovers are pretty obvious, so it’s odd that the NFL has decided to automatically booth review all of these.)

The bigger thing, though, is that these time concerns are only an issue because of the current review system, in which a referee must trot over to a tiny monitor tent and manually replay the video for a seemingly endless amount of time.  Why is it called “instant replay” when the process is anything but “instant”? We currently live in a sporting world in which the millions of fans watching at home know the correct call long before the only guys who actually have the authority to make a decision. How absurd is that? How many times have you been sitting at home watching a game, watched a play live, seen a replay five seconds later that immediately clarifies what the correct call should be, and then…. Have to wait five minutes and a full commercial break while a ref to trots over to some cramped replay booth to look at the play on some tiny screen.

There’s such an obvious solution to assuage just about any concerns about accuracy and speed that it’s really quite shocking that no major sports league has implemented this idea yet:

Have the refs make all the calls. Have them all wear earpieces connected to a centralized review station. Have the review station—which watches the games on crystal clear HD monitors with slow motion replay—instantly radio in any wrong calls, and have the refs at the stadium quickly and seamlessly correct them as needed.

For example, if a ref throws a flag for holding, the the review booth immediately sees upon (actual) instant replay that there shouldn’t have been any call, they can instantly radio down to the crew chief to pick up the flag. Ditto for a player stepping out of bounds, a pass interference no-call, or just about any ruling.

This is of course assuming leagues are unwilling to install cheap and 100 percent accurate lasers or RFID tag technology that could (even more) instantly determine a large majority of calls. If we must accept that human eyes must determine all calls (for those who prefer on human eyes to machines, I hope you’re not an airline pilot, brain surgeon, or election ballot counter), then this replay format seems like a no-brainer.

Bottom line: The “instantly radio down any corrections” solution seems incredibly easy to implement. Hopefully, some day soon, a league will adopt it. (Or, you know, lasers.)

Update: After publishing this, I noticed that Brian Billick made a similar argument two years ago. Brian Billick! Who knew? Sadly, if this idea has been out there for two years with no progress, it’s not looking too great in the short-term…

Time to take judging out of ski jump

Carina deserves better.

Carina deserves better.

Realistic rating: 9.0

I tuned into some sweet ski jumping action last week and quickly realized it had to be the most boring sport I’d ever seen. Made-for-TV packaging doesn’t help either: The qualifying rounds, a condensed broadcast that just rapid-fired through all the action, still bores you after no more than a few jumps. Four-hour Tour de France stages are more interesting. Even the women’s final, which should have been an incredibly awesome finish (the last jumper, German Carina Vogt, took gold on her final leap), lacked any drama. So why does ski jumping fail so spectacularly as a spectator sport?

Answer: The lack of instantly identifiable exciting moments due to the fact that we have to wait for judges to assign “style points.”

The only noticeable cheers all week were when a German guy completely ate it on his landing and quickly popped up. So no, not a long jump, great landing, or anything else drew a really loud cheer—just the assurance that one of the competitors hadn’t become an insta-quadriplegic. Exciting stuff!

In a piece in The Atlantic this week, I wrote about why judging in ski jump should be eliminated and how this change could be implemented.

Now, I’ll concede that if there were ever an pure distance/height event that had some kind of landing component, this would probably be it. Admittedly, it does make some sense that a jumper who belly flops like a rag doll should be penalized a bit versus someone who sticks the landing, but those should really be the only two delineations: landing on your skis or not. (I’m trying to view this sport as it would be applied in real-life conditions. If you’re a CIA spy fleeing Soviets in Siberia, who cares if you don’t have a flawless landing when you ski over that cliff? If you crash and burn, though, then sure, that’s probably an issue.)

Read the full story here.

Bonus: I also offer my unequivocal endorsement for this addendum:

Why prevent NBA teams from only playing four players?


Chris Kaman seeing his psychiatrist.

Realistic rating: 9.5

Last night, Lakers center Robert Sacre invoked a little-known NBA rule when he fouled out of the Lakers-Cavs game. With the Lakers not having any players available on their bench at the time of Sacre’s sixth foul, they would have been down to only four players had Sacre been forced to leave the game, thus triggering Rule No. 3, Section I, which states:

“No team may be reduced to less than five players. If a player in the game receives his sixth personal foul and all substitutes have already been disqualified, said player shall remain in the game and shall be charged with a personal and team foul. A technical foul also shall be assessed against his team. All subsequent personal fouls, including offensive fouls, shall be treated similarly. All players who have six or more personal fouls and remain in the game shall be treated similarly.”

First off, let me say that as a huge proponent of instituting “power play”-type situations in many sports other than hockey (I’ll save that for a later post), I’m vehemently against this rule. Wacky things in sports like a shortstop having to pitch, a goalie having to take a shootout shot, or a quarterback having to punt are ALWAYS insanely entertaining—highlights fans talk about for years. Playing a basketball game with four players more than qualifies for that category. Why go out of your way to prevent such fun from occurring?

Possible exploitations

The other issue I have is that I don’t understand how referees can arbitrate when a team qualifies for this rule. The reason the Lakers triggered it was because they only dressed eight players that night, and that number shrank down to five due to a Nick Young knee injury, a Chris Kaman foul out, and a Jordan Farmar leg cramp all occurring prior to Sacre’s sixth foul. But how could the refs know if Farmar’s cramp was really a “cramp”?*

The reason I bring this up is because teams could theoretically lie about the health of their players if it would keep a star player with six fouls in the game. A prominent example of a situation in which a team could benefit from exploiting this rule would be Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. When LeBron James fouled out with 1:51 left in the first overtime, the Heat fell apart without the league MVP, eventually losing in a second overtime to notch the series at 2-2. Since LeBron was such a valuable asset to have on the floor, it’s almost certainly  worth the tradeoff of having any potential fouls he commits be technicals, so the Heat would surely prefer to have him on the court, even with that corollary in place.

The issue, though, is that according to the wording of the rule, it seems that since the Heat had available players on their bench, LeBron could not remain on the floor. This is wherein my question lies: What would have prevented Heat bench players like Norris Cole and Mike Miller from suddenly “””””“cramping up”””””” (add like seven more quotation marks) and reducing the number of available Heat players to just five, thus forcing LeBron to stay in the game? (Even if the Heat couldn’t sub out for the rest of the game, retaining a player of LeBron’s caliber would still likely make such a ploy more than worthwhile.)

*It should also be noted that the Lakers were on the verge of putting Steve Nash—who was resting that night—in the game, but decided against it. Wouldn’t that technically have made him “available,” thus negating the Sacre situation?

Miscellaneous issues

1. Another issue about this rule is that it—admittedly, very marginally—changes the strategy of the game before a player fouls out. Whenever a player has five fouls, it gives a strategic edge to his opponents, because the player theoretically doesn’t want to foul out, so he may be a bit more tentative on defense, allowing teams to deliberately go at him when they have the ball. Without that fear, a five-foul player may continue to play at his normal defensive standard.

2. If the six-foul player accrues a tech every time he fouls, what happens if he draws two of these? Does he simply not have a technical foul limit anymore?

3. Can other players who had previously fouled out now come back in the game with the technical corollary in effect? So many questions.

4. What if Sacre suffered a truly debilitating injury. Would his writhing body have to lay in the corner of the court while his teammates played? Or would the Lakers have had to forfeit, even though they had a double-digit lead?

It’s worth noting that the Golden State Warriors encountered a similar situation in 2010, but when Devean George fouled out, the referees forced Don Nelson to play a clearly hobbled Chris Hunter.** This seems like a clear double standard compared to the one the referees employed for the Lakers last night.

**Nellie had to swap in three injured players, instructing each of them to throw a quick intentional foul, so that he could eventually put George back in the game. Here’s a video of some of that genius strategy:


Well, the obvious solution to me, as referenced above, is to simply remove this rule and force teams to play with four players.

If the league *must* have some form of this rule, then I’d simply suggest a steeper penalty than just a technical foul whenever the six-foul player draws a whistle to prevent any of the aforementioned chicanery. Perhaps something like a flagrant foul—where the team gets two free throws and the ball—would do the trick.

Bottom line: Teams playing four players would almost never come into play, so changing this rule really isn’t that intrusive. (According to SportsCenter, it’s only happened twice in the last 10 years.) If a team screws up this badly, let the opposing team (and fans) reap the benefits.

Who to really blame for sports stadium subsidies


Your tax dollars at work.

Realistic rating: 5.5

Last week, I wrote a piece for the Federalist about how the media covers government subsidies for professional sports stadiums. (Like my last post on tennis ranking methods, this is a post about media coverage—not a proposal about a formal rule or protocol from a new team, but it still gets a “realistic rating” simply for the likelihood of it occurring.)

First off, if you aren’t familiar with this issue, I’d direct you to a piece in The Atlantic about how government subsidies for stadiums are a horrible deal for taxpayers. (In my article, though, you’ll see why you should skip the headline on that story and just go straight to the text.)

Unlike the tennis rankings post, this idea of placing more blame on the politicians who hand out these sweetheart deals rather than the owners who ask for them has a much higher likelihood of being more widely adopted by the media. (For obvious reasons, mainly that this isn’t some entirely new-fangled statistics idea being thrown out by some guy on the Internet but simply a shifting in what appears to be a 2-3 option decision.) And as the terrible effects of crony stadium subsidy deals become more well-known, more smart people will investigate the true causes and see where to point the finger.

Anyways, take a look at the whole piece here.