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…