Sunday, October 12, 2008

One More Time: Replay Doesn't Fix Bad Refs -- Or Umps

The umpire must be quick witted. He may not, like the wise old owl of the bench, look over his gold-rimmed eyeglasses, inform the assembled multitude that he will 'take the matter under advisement,' and then adjourn the court for a week or two to satisfy himself how he ought to decide. No, indeed. He must be johnny-on-the-spot with a decision hot off the griddle and he must stick to it, right or wrong - or be lost. ~ A.G. Spalding

If I were to rank the performance of officials in sports from worst to best, the list would look like this:

Soccer - The world's most popular sport suffers from the world's blindest officials. Every time I watch another schlemiel draw a penalty by taking a dive and writhing on the ground (only to be saved by the trainer's magic sponge), I understand why soccer fans are so violent.

Basketball - Pro or college, it doesn't matter. They can't make up their mind about what constitutes a foul or goaltending. They get confused about the clocks. They make calls to please the home crowd (the imbalance in the NBA is so bad, it was hard to detect a ref who was out and out cheating). And they can watch replays so long that you'd think they took a break to watch Gone With the Wind.

College Football - What is it about the pass interference rule these guys can't get straight? Worse, why do they change their weird interpretation as the game progresses? And don't even get me started about holding.

Professional Football - Only by a whisker, since the pro refs seem to have a consistent pass interference call, and the pro replay rule doesn't allow them to dawdle around waiting to get a buzz from the replay official.

Hockey - I haven't watched a hockey game in a couple of years, since the NHL decided to implode, but hockey is still the fastest paced game of them all and the officials do a creditable job of trying to have eyes in the backs of their heads.

Baseball umpires - For years, network replays have shown them to make accurate calls. Yes, the strike zone wanders around, but you can blame the Lords of Baseball for a lot of that as they try to inject more or less offense in a given year.

Of that bunch, only baseball had held off instituting replay, mostly I think because the spirit of A. G. Spaulding's dictum ruled the game. Now along comes Bud Selig, whose brilliant decisions have included making the All-Star game decide World Series home field advantage and moving the Montreal Expos to Washington D.C. (which hasn't been able to support a baseball franchise since the Truman administration). Despite the aforementioned evidence of replays over the years, based on the results of one game, he decided that we must have the ability to hold up baseball games as we hold up all other sports by having instant replay.

Okay, I vented about all this not long ago. But two things have got me all hot and bothered again. First, the gang on Mike and Mike in the Morning have tried to start the bandwagon rolling to get calls besides home runs and fair/foul calls reviewed. Mike Greenberg, in particular, seems obsessed to have every close call that comes along covered by replay. Which is one of the things I was especially concerned about. Can you even begin to imagine how long a game would take with every close play on the bases being reviewed?

This morning, the local newspaper had a headline saying that the Lords of Baseball have announced that they won't expand the scope of replay. Of course, they instituted replay in the middle of the season (essentially changing the rules of the game in the middle of a pennant run), so we can hardly trust the integrity of that statement.

Once you let the replay genie out, it's only a matter of time. Yes, I know that hockey and soccer have limited replay to judging goals, but I still expect replay to someday be used on offsides calls (as soon as someone can be found who actually understands the arcane interpretations of offsides in both sports). At that point, the average soccer game will last 4 hours; "stoppage time" will be replaced by "replay time." Hockey games will have to be played over several days.

The other thing that got me going was this story by Peter King in which he tells us that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had a pep rally to tell his officials what a great job they're doing. Here's a bulletin, Commish: They aren't doing a great job. Replay can be thanked in great measure for this decline in performance.

What really gripes me is that, once again, Ed Hochuli is being sited as being a great official, and isn't it a shame he blew that one call which replay isn't allowed to fix. I beg to differ. Mr. Hochuli is not a great referee. His crew is not a great crew. They are about average in blown calls and lead the league in unnecessary conferences that stretch games out and kill momentum.

Let's put it this way: If Mr. Hochuli and his crew are the best or among the best in the NFL, then NFL officiating is pretty bad, perhaps even worse than Big 10 officials (who frequently appear to be watching some other game than the one on the field).

Hochuli and his crew are simply symptomatic of the general decline in officiating caused by instant replay. We are now reaching the point where the instant replay officials are declining as well. In the Oklahoma-Texas game yesterday, the replay guy (or guys) blew two calls, one that would have helped Oklahoma and one that would have hurt them, so it came out in the wash, but ask Oklahoma about Pac-10 replay guys and see what kind of reaction you get.

Hint: Be ready to run.

Games are played by human beings, people. They should be officiated by humans. We need at least one sanctuary from technology.

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