Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Upon Further Review
By Zach

Since the news just came out a few hours ago, I'm still all riled up. The NFL announced that both touchdowns scored by the Giants on Sunday against the Seahawks shouldn't have counted. Of course, both were ruled TDs on the field, and both were reviewed by head official Larry Nemmers. His conclusions, according to the league, were wrong both times.

Is Nemmers to blame? It's hard to say. I think it's pretty clear Shockey never gets both feet down on his TD catch, but of course I have a biased reason to think that. Toomer's catch looked close, but since it was ruled a TD on the field I understand why that stood.

Still, this all boils down to one issue, the largest one I've had with the replay system since it was added. This whole idea that the ref has to see "incontrovertible" evidence to overturn a call is garbage. First of all, it's almost impossible that a ref would see such a thing. Camera angles are rarely perfect, and even if they are aligned in exactly the correct spots, players may get in the way. Or on certain plays (catches, mainly) the ball and the player's feet may not both be in the same shot. Furthermore, it's just too much to ask to find indisputable evidence that a player's knee was down or feet were in bounds or whatever.

But if the standards are so ridiculously high, how does any play ever get overturned? Simple, the refs take the law into their own hands. The problem is, each one has their own threshold for what constitutes the amount of evidence needed to overturn a call. Some require it to be a blatantly wrong call on the field, while others may be a bit more lenient. Clearly, Nemmers falls more into the former catagory.

The problem is, what's the point of having a set rule book if each referee interprets things his own way? There's already enough individuality in the way certain penalties are called (holding, pass interference, etc), why add to it?

The NFL should scrap the concept of incontrovertible evidence and tell their officials this: "we know you know the rule book. So when you go under the hood, take a look at all the angles. But make what you think is the correct call, regardless of how it was called on the field. If you can't tell, then fine, go with the original ruling. But if you think the play should be called another way, then by all means reverse the call."

The goal with instant replay should always be to get the calls correct in the end. Unfortunately, the current system has made some officials afraid to do just that.


Blogger Sports Litter said...

I think that the refs make far more correct calls by using replays than they do blown ones. No system can be perfect, except in tennis where they have lasers that can tell like a millionth of an inch if the ball was off the line.

If you want to talk about a sport where refs take the law into their own hands, then talk about baseball. Every ump has his own strike zone, even though there are clear rules stating what the strike zone is.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...


I really think your proposal calls for a system which would ultimately be problematic, rather than constructive. The point of the "irrefutable evidence" clause is to maintain some degree of objectivity in the rules.

"Make what you think is the correct call" only leads to a gray area of increased latitude. Your dismay at today's announcement is entirely justified, but imagine the subsequent uproar if a referee were to overturn a call because he "thought it to be correct," without more than some ambigious sliver of visual evidence.

This system, to some extent, would delegitimize the official, effectively admitting that a decision is ultimately a consequence of one man's subjective judgment. The notion of "irrefutable evidence" is certainly subject to interpretation, but not nearly to this large of a degree.

As just mentioned, no system is perfect, and I think this proposal effectively covers up one leak, only to spring two or three others somewhere nearby.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Two points:

1) I didn't say that refs were blowing a lot of calls with instant replay. In fact, usually they seem to get the call right. What bothers me (and what seems to have been the case with both of the calls in the Seahawks game) is that some refs stick more closely to the "irrefutable evidence" guidelines, while others seem more likely to overturn a call. I don't expect perfection, but I do expect common sense from the league and the refs.

2) See, in my mind, it's the current system that leads to a ton of ambiguity. How often have you watched replays on TV, saying "no way that's irrefutable," only to have the ref overturn the call. It seemingly happens at least once a week. The league already lets ambiguity exist, since referees are clearly instructed (in my opinion) to ignore certain calls. Just like the NBA has apparently decided that calling most travelling violations would hurt their game, the NFL has told officials to not call every offensive holding (because it happens on just about every play, and calling all of them would ruin the game). Furthermore, whenever you have humans as refs (as Sports Litter points out), there's gonna be a margin of error. What I don't understand is that we allow that margin on the field during live action, and then hold the refs to a ridiculously high standard when they go to the replay booth. Imagine if the NFL told officials "you must have irrefutable evidence that a penalty was committed." Either basically no penalties would be called, or the refs would ignore that edict.

In the end, the goal of instant replay should be to get the call right. This isn't a court of law, and no one's life hangs in the balance. The burden of proof isn't on anyone, and I'd rather have the official told that he should make what he thinks is the right call. Remember, each head official has been in the league for years, so it's not as if they're unqualified to make those judgements.

1:17 PM  

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